coming-apart-140Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010
Charles Murray (Thailand 1965–67)
Crown Forum
407 pages
$27.00 (hardback)

Reviewed by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 1975–77)

WHILE READING CHARLES MURRAY’S NEW BOOK, I thought about our recent national obsession with civil discourse and events in Oakland, California. Since it never snows in Oakland, Occupy Wall Street has been very visible there. It would have been most illustrative to seat Mr. Murray at a cloth covered table, set on a high platform overlooking the street below. A finely dressed and polite moderator could have introduced him while the author poured himself a glass of water from an imported bottle.

“Charles Murray is an American libertarian, author and PhD invited here to explain that you do not have jobs because you are fat, lazy and dishonest sons and daughters of bitches.”

Murray cloaks these terms in ten dollar words and phrases but they represent his conclusions for the disappearance of the American working class. Forget the war on unions, the use of technology to cull the workforce in the name of efficiency and a tax system that rewarded giant companies for relocating overseas. Forget our Congress, filled with men (and women) who spend more time at tanning spas and hairdressers than they do actually writing laws. Forget our court system that has decreed a corporation a person except with more rights and a President who emptied the national cash register for bankers but never even proposed banking reform. It is all our fault. Shame on us!

This 407 page book is chock-full of cherry-picked statistics and unenlightening footnotes. The author has interesting conclusions. For instance, he ignores all historical comparisons of the American Standard of Living and concludes that “The poor didn’t really get poorer . . . Real family income for families in the middle was flat.” (p 50) When discussing the long hours (without overtime) that Americans now work, he concludes that we “live in a world where work has more of the characteristics of fun than ever before.” (p 43) Best of all, when he compares the working world of today to that of a half century ago, he concludes that “the world is usually the same.” (p 44) This sounds like an English Lord describing Serfdom. I was surprised that he did not propose a debtor’s prison.

Instead of cruising books and websites, the author could have offered much more had he simply bought used clothing at a flea market and tried to find a job with an extremely meager budget (like most of us). Hopefully, he would have found a real job — maybe as a Wal-Mart greeter since he is the right age. He would have discovered that his conclusions are as fictitious as a Disney cartoon which is possibly why his book was published by Crown Forum, the publisher of A Crown Imperiled: Book Two of the Chaoswar Saga and The Church of Liberalism Godless and not published by either of his alma maters: Harvard and M.I.T.

When analyzing the rich and powerful, Murray can be critical. He notes that “Washington is in a new Gilded Age . . . that dwarfs anything that has come before.” (p 294) He’s a libertarian so rules are bad and a spontaneous “awakening” is invoked. Didn’t Ronald Reagan imply something similar? Empathy and compassion are the children of sacrifice. Just as Reagan had Voodoo economics, Murray offers us Voodoo social theory. He bemoans a lack of social responsibility among our wealthy but completely ignores history. Our system is based upon greed, and unbridled, it is nobody’s friend. The Gilded Age gave birth to reform which is exactly our hope for this era.

This is a great example of how anyone with the right connections can get a book of nonsense published commercially. It is also a great example of how the Peace Corps experience does not necessarily spawn kindness, patience and wisdom. The experience can also produce acid-tongued know-it-alls.

Years ago after a night of mischief, my buddies and I often went to the local midnight movie theater showings. While smoking Mary Jane, we giggled at experimental films and old cartoons. So, Lorenzo sez five stars for Coming Apart. Buy it, toke-up, read and laugh until it hurts.  The next day, crawl on your knees in penance to the nearest libertarian and beg forgiveness. Offer to propose a debtor’s prison. It worked for Charles Dickens’ father, right?

Lawrence F. Lihosit is the author of various books including essays, short stories, poetry, history, memoirs and travel narratives. His latest book, Peace Corps Experience: Write and Publish Your Memoir will be published in April.  He is not nor ever has been a libertarian.