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Customer Review

on 6 May 1998
This book is by turns enlightening and astounding. Coontz takes on the pervasive myths surrounding the American Family (tm) and shows how the generalizations many of us take for granted don't tell the whole story. From the idyllic legends of the 1950s, to the role of feminism and other civil rights movements, to the persistent (and often ugly) myths surrounding the families of minorities--Coontz tackles them all, with persuasive arguments and an almost mind-numbing amount of data.
She suggests strongly that it isn't family life itself that's the problem, but our own attitudes to it and our responses to far-reaching changes that can be traced back to the 19th century and beyond. Among her more provocative assertions is the statement that our image of the "ideal" 1950s nuclear family is far more myth than fact; in fact, she says, the nuclear family was itself an anomaly, offset both before and after by very different ways of life.
The core of Coontz's argument seems to be that family life is shaped far more by social and economic forces than by any ideals we may hold. Corollary to this is the compelling argument that the very values of individual striving and success, so cherished in American culture, both contributed to the development of the nuclear family and to its disintegration. Agree or disagree--Coontz definitely has an agenda, and it often shows--this book is well worth reading, if only because it will make you re-examine some of your own assumptions about what many have taken to be the core structure of American life.
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