David Brooks on Murray, Coming Apart

David Brooks reviews Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart in today’s NYT. Brooks has high praise: “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book that so compelling describes the most important trends in American society.”

Back in 1963, where the story begins:

Roughly 98 percent of men between the ages of 30 and 49 were in the labor force, upper class and lower class alike. Only about 3 percent of white kids were born outside of marriage. The rates were similar, upper class and lower class.

The Brooks review provides a few striking examples of the differences that have emerged since then with respect to male workforce participation, marriage rates, births out of wedlock, church attendance, etc., and some of the comparisons he draws are difficult to reconcile with the dominant narratives on the Right and the Left.

Brooks notes that Murray’s comparisons are “mostly using data on white Americans, so the effects of race and other complicating factors don’t come into play” (indeed, his book is subtitled: “The State of White America, 1960-2010). My guess is, none of this will matter to the critics, who have dismissed every word that Murray has written since Losing Ground and (in particular) the Bell Curve. From my own interactions with colleague/critics—an admittedly small sample–it appears the more clamorous they are in their rejection of Murray, the more likely it is that they have never read a word he wrote. Why would they start now?

Nonetheless, my order has been placed.

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