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Day before Yesterday: Reconsidering America's Past, Rediscovering the Present
     

Day before Yesterday: Reconsidering America's Past, Rediscovering the Present

by Michael Elliott
 

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In this analysis of how we see our past, Michael Elliott maintains that when we compare America today to the "golden years" following World War II, when the United States reigned supreme, we ask ourselves the wrong questions, get the wrong answers, and find disappointment and despair rather than energy and practical optimism. He shows us how to find the character,

Overview

In this analysis of how we see our past, Michael Elliott maintains that when we compare America today to the "golden years" following World War II, when the United States reigned supreme, we ask ourselves the wrong questions, get the wrong answers, and find disappointment and despair rather than energy and practical optimism. He shows us how to find the character, ideas, and habits to address our present problems and discover a source of renewal.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Elliottan Englishman living in the U.S. since the early 1970s, who covered Washington for the Economist and is now editor of Newsweek Internationalasks: Why do Americans whine so much about the state of the nation and its economy? His answer is that by not understanding their recent past, they have created an impossible illusion about the way things should be. Americans, he argues, look at the so-called Golden Age, the decade or so following WWII, as the norm, with the domestic economy booming and the U.S. dominating the world. Elliott maintains, with a decade-by-decade analysis of the years since 1945, that "the messy, fragmented Babel of a place" that America is today "is the way America has usually been." The Golden Age created an educated middle class that was the envy of the world, but it also made redundant the low-skilled, high-paid working class that made such a time possible. Those left behind found scapegoats: blacks in the '70s, foreign investments in America in the '80s, immigrants in the '90s. But Elliott ends on a guardedly optimistic note. He sees a new America taking shape. A period of "traumatic change in family life" is ending. A "vibrant corporate sector and an expanding world economy" can provide a shared prosperity that may once again unite the country. The trick is not to try to do the impossible, to recreate the myth of the '50s. The book is a long editorial, an op-ed piece run wild, but it is snappingly and engagingly written. (July)
Library Journal
Elliott, the editor of Newsweek International and former Washington bureau chief of the Economist, speaks to how the breakdown of the nuclear family, job and career instability, unchecked immigration, rampant urban crime, and increasing racial tensions have left most Americans wondering what went wrong. Elliott contends that things are not as bad as they appear; the real problem is the public's insistence that the period following World War II be used as the only measure for what is normal and attainable. He theorizes that the period's high economic growth, stable two-parent families, near-zero rate of immigration, and unquestioning faith in our government were abnormal from the perspective of any other period in U.S. history and unlikely to be repeated. When viewed in a broader historical context, today's most pressing problems mirror past eras in our history. Elliott's work offers a rare, well-thought-out, optimistic view that emphasizes what is right with this country. Recommended for informed lay readers.Robert J. Favini, Bentley Coll. Lib., Waltham, Mass.
Jay Freeman
It has become a national pastime in the U.S. to bemoan our loss of economic dominance, national solidarity, and social peace. Indeed, as Elliott acknowledges in this superb and encouraging work, we do suffer from a series of very real maladies. He also notes, however, that our troubles are anything but new. For most of its history, the U.S. has endured the problems of social fissures, periodic spasms of social dislocation, and the constant turmoil of absorbing and "Americanizing" immigrants. Yet, Elliott shows convincingly that there is a strong case for optimism. The vibrancy of our economy remains the envy of the industrialized world; despite our continuing racial divisions, the gradual incorporation of an oppressed minority into the mainstream has borne some undeniable fruits; and, meanwhile, incoming immigrants continue to show an unquenchable thirst to "become" American, even if that thirst often remains unsatisfied for at least a generation. Elliott doesn't sugarcoat our problems, but he does offer a realistic perspective on where we are and where we can go.
Kirkus Reviews
The postwar golden age of America, to which conservatives fondly advert, is a historical anomaly that will not likely be repeated: So writes Newsweek International editor Elliott in this well-conceived, thoughtful exercise in political punditry.

A Briton, Elliott brings a helpful distance to his analysis of lost glories and current crises. "Americans whine," he says bluntly. "They live in the most prosperous society that the world has ever seen. . . . And yet they are convinced that their life is miserable." We are miserable, he suggests, because we pine for an unrecoverable time, a blip on the screen of history's radar, an era we celebrate for its economic growth, small-town virtues, security, and cultural homogeneity. That moment, which ran from 1945 to 1970, was, Elliott writes, "a massive freak," a false yardstick that fuels a nostalgia verging on heartache. Attuned to such matters, Elliott explores the myth of America as a classless society of equal opportunity, looking at cities like Detroit to show that a huge gulf divides American society: "For mindboggling contrasts in the quality of life, the Mexican-American border is rivaled by the line that separates the horror of Detroit from a suburb like Grosse Pointe, with its faux châteaus and country clubs." Yet, Elliott continues, this gulf is an old one, bridged only for a short time by the boom that accompanied the first half of the Cold War—a conflict that is misnamed, Elliott insists, inasmuch as more than 100,000 Americans died on battlefields between 1945 and 1989. The costs of that war and the resulting inflation, he writes persuasively, effectively destroyed the economic boom. Strolling in a leisurely fashion through postwar history, Elliott shows that the reigning bitter class divisions and current furor over international trade and immigration are, in fact, normal conditions in our history.

While he stops short of telling Americans to cheer up and shape up, Elliott effectively shows that yearning for our past is unlikely to improve our future.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684809915
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
07/30/1996
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.49(h) x 0.96(d)

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