Monthly book roundup – 2015 May

Books finished in May:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

Now, May was a really busy month.

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (2015) by Robert Putnam. Putnam’s (born 1941) generation grew up in the post-war period and experienced the economic boom and opportunities for upwards social mobility of that era. Their kids, the subjects of this book, have not done as well, however. Drawing mostly on interview material, Putnam tells the stories of many struggling families and how a class divide is growing. That divide is partly economic, but the cultural dimension is just as important, in particular the one having to do with parental behavior. Resourceful parents plan when to have kids, manage to exploit all opportunities, prevent risks, and raise their children to have the right attitudes, while parents with bad parenting styles don’t. Residential and social sorting is part of the problem – kids of not-so-great parents get less exposure to other good role-models than before. Putnam is concerned, first on the part of these people themselves, but also on part of democratic governance, as “the opportunity gap undermines political equality and thus democratic legitimacy (p.239)”, and “[a]n inert and atomized mass of alienated and estranged citizens, disconnected from social institutions (p. 239)” might give rise to “antidemocratic extremism (p. 239)” when pressured, as in Germany in the 1930s. He stresses that we have not seen the worst yet, as he believes that this type of inequality is still growing, and that we will see that when today’s kids become parts of the labor and education statistics. Recommended.

Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids (2010) by Mark Hyman. American culture in general and parents in particular are driving kids and youth in sports until it hurts. An example is overuse injuries and surgery for young athletes becoming much more common. Hyman recounts several stories of crazy parents and coaches, and though these surely exists, I believe he too often loses sight of the positive sides of sports. But I support the general advice to take it easy and listen to kids and stop before it hurts.

Ratings and old books are in the library.

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