Day before Yesterday: Reconsidering America's Past, Rediscovering the Presentby Michael Elliott
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.
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 Wara 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.
- Simon & Schuster
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- Product dimensions:
- 6.42(w) x 9.49(h) x 0.96(d)
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