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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent Cautionary Work
Charles Murray is one of the most distinguished and insightful social scientists of our time. His work over the past few decades has systematically and methodically probed into some of the most consequential and momentous societal and policy issues. Unfortunately, due to the highly politicized and contentious nature of many of such topics, he and his work have been...
Published on Feb. 20 2012 by Dr. Bojan Tunguz

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1.0 out of 5 stars A repugnant thesis, a repugnant book
It’s not economic inequality that’s causing America’s problems. It’s the moral deterioration of the working class that’s to blame!

Charles Murray knows how to stir up controversy, and "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," certainly does that.

What you get when you read Charles Murray these days...
Published 7 days ago by ronbc


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent Cautionary Work, Feb. 20 2012
By 
Dr. Bojan Tunguz (Indiana, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Hardcover)
Charles Murray is one of the most distinguished and insightful social scientists of our time. His work over the past few decades has systematically and methodically probed into some of the most consequential and momentous societal and policy issues. Unfortunately, due to the highly politicized and contentious nature of many of such topics, he and his work have been subject to some very severe and withering criticism over the years. It's a testament to Murray's courage, integrity, and intellectual honesty that he stuck to his guns and pursued his research and intellectual interest, often paying a pretty high price in his professional career.

"Coming Apart" is intended as Murray's valedictory. It's a book that crowns his professional career, recapitulates certain points and topics that have long been at the center of his interest, and offers his views of what the future may hold - both for the society and for the research into these issues. It is also a sequel of sorts to "Losing Ground", Murray's seminal 1980s book that explored the consequences (intended and unintended) of various welfare policies between the 1960s and 1980s. That book has pretty much launched Murray's career as a public intellectual, making his influence well beyond the academic and scholarly circles. "Coming Apart" explores the consequences of those same policies over the period of another thirty years of their implementation, ending roughly around the year 2010.

The first two parts of the book are primarily scholarly and descriptive. Here Murray lays down the facts in a very straightforward and informative way. He has always been incredibly adroit at presenting even the most arcane social science data in a way that makes them seem almost effortlessly intuitive. Using all the statistical and methodological tools that are at his disposal, Murray paints a very grim picture of the drastic divergence of the classes in American society. In order to avoid the false impression that the class division is in fact the racial division, Murray concentrates primarily on the divergence of the "white" classes in America. At a later point in the book he actually includes the figures for other ethnic group, but only to make the overarching point that the class divergence has very little to do with the racial and ethnic factors. Murray concentrates primarily on cultural and sociological measures in which the classes have grown apart, such as out-of-wedlock births, religious attendance, etc. One of the more interesting pieces of insight in this book was that, aside from the few large metropolitan areas (New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco), the elite neighborhoods are in fact very evenly split along the cultural and political lines.

The last part of the book is largely discursive and polemical in nature. Here Murray tries to give his own interpretation of the social forces that have driven America apart over the course of the past half a century. His overwhelming message is that America needs to go back to instilling its "founding virtues" in order return to the kinds of social cohesion and solidarity that was prevalent until the 1960s. (He indirectly blames LBJ for the start of the decline, although he never spells this outright.) The four virtues that he has in mind in particular are industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity. I particularly give him credit for including the latter two, especially considering that most libertarians have largely avoided (at best) promoting them. This is one of the main reasons why I have long held Murray in the highest esteem when it comes to discussing policy and social issues.

The founding virtues have in fact never gone out of fashion, and are significantly much more likely to be practiced by the wealthy educated elites than they are by the rest of the society, particularly those in the "underclass." This is very unfortunate, as these virtues are exactly what had enabled many of those in elite circles to obtain their high status. For this state of affairs Murray blames in large part the cultural norms of "inclusivity" and "acceptance," where it has become unfashionable to think that certain cultural norms and behaviors are, in fact, better in every meaningful sense. In Murray's words, it is high time for the elites to start preaching what they practice.

Even though this book is filled with a lot of sobering and depressing statistics, the saddest part for me was in the acknowledgment section. Murray refrained from mentioning ANY of the social scientists that he had consulted while researching and writing this book, because this could prove extremely harmful to their academic careers. It is a really sad that someone who I consider the foremost intellectual giant of our time has to be treated as toxic in the highest intellectual circles. It further highlights how much more someone of far lesser stature must be thought of as unpalatable by the same academics.

This is an outstanding, magnificent work that ought to be read by anyone interested in public policy and the cultural forces that are driving Americans away from each other.
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1.0 out of 5 stars A repugnant thesis, a repugnant book, Nov. 20 2014
By 
ronbc (Vancouver, BC) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
It’s not economic inequality that’s causing America’s problems. It’s the moral deterioration of the working class that’s to blame!

Charles Murray knows how to stir up controversy, and "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," certainly does that.

What you get when you read Charles Murray these days is pretty much what you got when you read Charles Murray a couple of decades ago. Except that this time, his subject isn’t the mental deficiencies of African-Americans and Latinos, but the white lower class’s abandonment of the “founding values” of the country.

The new upper class, the “cognitive elite,” is a function of culture, not money, Murray argues. Consistent with Murray’s libertarianism, he approvingly see this elite as a meritocracy, the members of which retain and practice the core American values of industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity. These, he argues, are the values on which the U.S. was founded, and they are the values that made the country great.

Indeed, it’s Murray’s concern over the decline and possible disappearance of American “exceptionalism” which largely motivates the book. Murray supports his thesis with a ream of charts, all of them looking pretty much the same, with the values of the elite soaring up just as far as the values of the poor sag down. But some of his assumptions — and most of his judgments — are highly questionable.

I don’t intend to summarize all of the content of "Coming Apart." There are many other reviews that do a good job of that. I intend to focus on the underlying assumptions and attitudes that inform Murray’s interpretation of the statistics he parades before his readers.

It will suffice here to report that Murray’s explanation for the “coming apart” of American society is that, on the one hand, the white elite (the top 20%) continue to work hard, act with integrity, marry for life, and go to church. At the same time, the white poor (the bottom 30%) have lost the Puritan work ethic, want the government to give them something for nothing, have 40% of their children out of wedlock, and (this one is surprising) go to church less often than the elite do.

This decline of true American values, Murray claims, is at the root of the social problems and the drop in living standards that plague the bottom third of white Americans. White Americans? Why focus on white Americans? Murray’s stated reason is so that no one can accuse him of racism, or of a classism based on race. A classism based on privilege and opportunity is okay, apparently.

Murray repeats over and over that it’s not money, it’s values that separate the highest and lowest classes of American society. The Wall Street profit frenzy and the bank crisis, the ever-expanding gap between the incomes of the privileged and the incomes of the disadvantaged — these aren’t the problem. The problem isn’t the greed or the social insensitivity of the elite. The problem is that the poor don’t work hard enough, aren’t honest enough, don’t practice the proper family values, or sufficiently worship God.

It’s an outrageous claim. Why are the poor poor? Because they’re morally inferior to the rich! Really. Strip away the academic jargon, and that’s what he’s saying.

Here’s just one example of the kind of ideology-driven interpretation with which Murray fills his book. One of the statistics Murray uses to show that the poor lack industriousness and honesty is that the personal bankruptcy rate has skyrocketed in the last two decades. What, you may well ask, does going broke have to do with hard work or integrity?

Murray’s argument is that the growing bankruptcy rate doesn’t reflect the growing hardships of the working poor — the corporate attack on labour unions, falling wages in the face of global outsourcing, changes to the tax structure that have reduced government support for struggling workers and small businesses, the housing crash and the banking crisis, and so many more well-documented problems.

Oh, no. What the growing personal bankruptcy rate indicates is that the poor have lost their “sticktoitiveness,” their willingness to work harder to overcome economic trouble without crying to the government welfare nanny for help.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s a small part of what Murray wrote: “the propensity to declare bankruptcy has changed and … integrity has deteriorated.” Shame on you for going broke is an approach to social justice that belongs in Little Dorritt, not in the 21st century.

But doesn’t the elite bear any responsibility for the declining American social fabric? Yes, but certainly not any economic responsibility. Murray is firmly libertarian in denying any benefit, any at all, to any kind, any at all, of government-assisted equalization of opportunity or resources.

The elite’s one fault in all of this, Murray believes, is that it has been too wrapped up in itself to provide proper and necessary moral leadership to the poor. If you live in your gated community and interact with the poor only when your gardener and your pool man are around, how can you provide moral leadership? Ever the good libertarian, Murray argues that it’s in their own interest that the elite must reach out to — reeducate — the poor, without whom the elite’s lifestyle cannot be sustained. And without the elite, where would the country be? It’s apparently too terrible even to consider.

By now you are aware of the deep disgust I felt while reading "Coming Apart". Despite this revulsion, I did finish the book. I was hoping that somewhere there would be a saving social sentiment. I didn’t find any.

The thought that kept running through my mind, again and again, was how smug, how condescending, how morally repugnant it was to blame the poor for being poor.

But then, if you’re a Murray-pure libertarian, that’s exactly who you’re going to blame, isn’t it?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very insightful - packed with charts, July 27 2013
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This review is from: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Hardcover)
This book is an excellent read. Murray tells the story of America through data. Full of insights and charts - quite enjoyed it...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A stark and disturbing picture of the class divide, Jan. 9 2013
This review is from: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Hardcover)
A stark and disturbing picture of the growing class divide in the US -- between an affluent, educated elite and an increasingly dysfunctional and desperate underclass.

While Murray's analysis of the problem is compelling, his libertarian politics don't allow him to suggest any meaningful solutions. He shares this dilemma with the vast majority of his fellow Americans – rich and poor. As a nation, they prize individual freedom as a fundamental legacy of the pioneers and founding fathers. Their belief system continues to preclude the kind of social democracy and state intervention that has levelled the class playing field in western Europe.

Murray acknowledges the European alternative, but dismisses it as mere statism – godless and corrosive of the human spirit. His views are far too parochial for so complex a subject.
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5.0 out of 5 stars MASTERPIECE : Lingering Questions and excellent social analysis., Sept. 17 2012
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This review is from: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Hardcover)
In Coming Apart, Charles Murray presents, and defends through an amazing amount of statistics, that America is coming apart at the seams. We are coming apart because "the American project has been historically based on industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity" and the united culture in which the American project began is now a divided culture. Murray questions whether or not the American project can exist much longer in such a divided culture.

Coming Apart isolates the white culture of America to avoid the impact of race on the formation of values. Murray compares the culture of the 1960s to the culture of 2010 using a wide array of studies. At times, the amount of information is almost too much to take in. But the implications are hard to miss.
To make it easier on the reader, Murray created two fictional communities, Fishtown and Belmont. Fishtown represents those without a college education and who works in a blue collar jobw or low level white collar jobw. Belmont represents those withe a college degree and who work in high-prestige professions or management. These two fictional neighborhoods represent the top 20% of education and income (Belmont) and the bottom 30% of education and income (Fishtown). And the differences between the two are staggering.

On all four values of hard work, honesty, marriage, and religiosity, Belmont and Fishtown are night and day apart. Marriage is still a practiced value in Belmont, but not so much in Fishtown. A large number of children are born to single mothers in Fishtown, but not in Belmont. Unemployment is through the roof in Fishtown.Etc., etc., etc.

Murray's point is not that the two extremes are, well, the two extremes, but that they are the two extremes based upon the values they embrace. Because Belmont still values hard work and marriage, they are in the top 20%. Because Fishtown has abandoned the same, they are in the bottom 30%.
His larger point is that the divide between these two "cultures" is getting worse and problematic. The Belmonts of America are increasingly self-isolating from the Fishtowns, to the point that most Belmontians have no idea what life in Fishtown is like. And since the Belmontians are the influencers and decision makers of America, they have lost touch with the reality that most of Americans experience. His analysis of "super ZIPS," where these Belmont clusters have isolated from the rest of America is worth the price of the book alone.

Murray is careful not to say that Belmont is higher and mightier than Fishtown per say. In fact, Belmont is in real danger. Belmont itself is forsaking the convictions that what made Belmont is the values of hard work, marriage, and religion. If Belmont thinks it can reach the same end on a different path than the values that brought it there, Belmont may end up like Fishtown.

Coming Apart will make you think, and leave you thinking with a whole lot of "what do we do with this" kind of thoughts. But a good book is supposed to do that. But you will come away convinced that America is indeed, coming apart.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A very important book, Aug. 23 2012
This review is from: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Hardcover)
Very well researched, extremely well written, imporant thought provoking issues, clear arguments. Although this book discusses American social issues and social policies, it is a very important book for Canadians - we can see the same trends in our society, even if these trends develop more slowely or do not impact the Canadian society as deeply (yet).
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, April 4 2012
This review is from: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Hardcover)
Since the credit crises I've read an assortment of books concerning the financial drama that's played out. Often detailing how GDP growth has eluded the middle class. And middle class prosperity has disappeared. This is the first book that informs why. The middle class as conventionally defined has disappeared, and this drove the financial outcomes. Not the reverse.

He boils the facts with a bias. But it's hard to argue the conclusions
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Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010
Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray (Hardcover - Jan. 31 2012)
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