Wednesday’s Book Review: “One Nation, After All: What Middle Class Americans Really Think About”

book_cover-_one_natiOne Nation, After All: What Middle Class Americans Really Think About. By Alan Wolfe. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

I have been reading several books that relate to the cultural/economic divide in the present-day United States. Although published some 15 years ago, One Nation, After All: What Middle Class Americans Really Think About is one attempt to delve into these divisions among Americans. Alan Wolfe was a sociologist at Boston University when this book was published in 1998. It reported the findings from a broad ethnographic study of eight communities around the nation.

One Nation, After All sought to determine what the so-called middle class believed concerning such hot button issues are religion, patriotism, marriage and family, welfare, immigration, sexual orientation, and work experiences. At sum, Wolfe sought to understand the nature of morality and lifestyle in modern America. Interestingly, he finds more homogeneity than many others who have documented the left/right political divide in the United States.

The author undertook, with the assistance of an army of assistants and collaborators, a complex investigation of eight suburban regions in major geographic quadrants of the country. The areas investigated included Brookline and Medford, Massachusetts, near Boston; Southeast DeKalb County and Cobb County, Georgia, near Atlanta; Broken Arrow and Sand Springs, Oklahoma, near Tulsa; and Eastlake and Rancho Bernardo, California, near Los Angeles.

Wolfe questions that the U.S. is as sharply divided as many pundits say, finding a commonality that draws Americans together in terms of ideals and priorities. This may come as a surprise to many who have been involved in the culture wars since the 1990s. As a counterbalance to this sense of common purpose in One Nation, After All, I would recommend reading Culture Wars: The Struggle To Control The Family, Art, Education, Law, And Politics In America by James Davison Hunter. Published in 1992, it is another sociological study that finds sharp divisions in modern America. Perhaps the divisions are more class-related than anything else, certainly reading these books in tandem suggests that conclusion.

Regardless, Alan Wolfe’s study is one more data point, and an important one, for those seeking to understand the complex nation in which we live.

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