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Publishers Weekly
January 10, 2000

How We Got Here: America Since the Seventies—For Better or Worse; Review; book reviews

David Frum. Basic, $25 (432p) ISBN 0-465-04195-7

In a new twist on the belief of many conservatives that the 1960s was the beginning of the end of a righteous and moral America, Frum, a contributing editor at the Weekly Standard, aims "to describe—and to judge" the transformation of American values during the ‘70s.

Surveying politics, legal cases and opinion polls as well as popular culture, he links what he sees as America’s loss of faith in government; the rise of "sourness and cynicism" and the culture of licentiousness and divorce, among other social changes, to events in that decade. Frum can be perceptive, as when he notes that Betty Ford’s confession of her drug dependencies represented a major breakthrough in the discussion of private problems by public figures or when he considers how the "language of marriage" changed as "husbands and wives" gave way to "spouses" and then "partners." Yet his insights are often undercut by scornful assertions: e.g., that Ford "may have believed she was rendering a public service," but she opened the door to a "let’s talk about me!" culture; or that linguistic changes eroded the family. Until his final chapter of overt political analysis—in which he asserts that "it was better when more people showed more loyalty to family and country... talked about themselves less, [and] restrained their sexuality"—Frum writes a popular history, although his disdain for those he does not agree with constantly shows through (e.g., he belittles Jane Fonda and Meryl Steep for daring to call themselves "artists" and suggests that Steve Martin is not funny). Filled with shaky, often unfootnoted facts and a palpable dislike for social change, this attempt at evenhanded social science devolves into a polemic that is likely to infuriate all but the most conservative readers.

© 2000 Publishers Weekly

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