It certainly has plenty of people in a tizzy. David Frum was so upset by it that he had to break his response into 5 separate Daily Beast posts.
David Brooks, on the other hand, just loved it.
I gather from the reviews I've seen that Mr. Murray's chief argument is that the white "working class" (you know, the people folks like Brooks, Frum and Murray have never met) have created their own brand of perma-misery by being drunken, sex-crazed, lazy louts.
Well. Now that we know that, what do we do? Why, we educate and uplift the poor unwashed masses, of course! Murray contends that the upper class has attained and retained its comforts because it practiced superior moral habits, such as stable marriages, in-wedlock child rearing, churchgoing, etc. He commands these sterling, doughty souls to leave their enclaves forwith, go forth and preach The Way to the heathens.
(Which leaves me wondering: who will be the chief Upper Class Virtue spokesman? Newt Gingrich, with his multiple marriages and affairs? Bill Clinton, his nearest rival in the horny-toad contest? Or perhaps we could catch one the Kennedys in between rehab stints. Or maybe Bob Packwood or John Ensign could be persuaded to come out of retirement...There's nothing like a good "Do As I Say, Not As I Do" speaking tour!)
I haven't read the book- or rather, I haven't read all of it. What prompted this post was an excerpt I found. Murray has created a quiz he calls "How thick is your bubble?" Here's his explanation of what he means:
A new upper class that makes decisions affecting the lives of everyone else but increasingly doesn’t know much about how everybody else lives is vulnerable to making mistakes.How vulnerable are you?
Well, I couldn't help myself. I rubbed my hands with glee and immediately started taking the quiz.
It's wonderfully offensive. For example, one question asks "Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck?" (You score 2 points if you answer yes.). Another revealing query: "Have you ever purchased Avon products?"
Truly incisive. What Murray doesn't realize is that in trying to illuminate the lives of the ordinary for clueless Ubermenschen, he tells us more about himself than anyone else. In interviews, Murray claims that he specifically limited himself to describing the shortcomings of white Americans so as to avoid the nasty accusations of racism that followed publication of The Bell Curve. Yet the questions in this quiz leave little doubt that, if he had included minorities, he would have also asked, "How often in the last year did you eat beans?" or, "Did you serve watermelon at your last party?"
But I digress. The purpose of this post is to encourage as many people as possible to actually take the quiz. After all, it may be the only portion of Coming Apart you ever voluntarily read.
(Full Disclosure: I scored a 45.)