Why Our Best Efforts to Be A Better Nation Fall ShortBook - 2006
Examines the narratives that are the basis of the cultural identity of the United States and demonstrates how the "American mythos" has legitimized American society and prevented it from realizing its ideals.
Princeton University Press
America was built on stories: tales of grateful immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, Horatio Alger-style transformations, self-made men, and the Protestant work ethic. In this new book, renowned sociologist Robert Wuthnow examines these most American of stories--narratives about individualism, immigration, success, religion, and ethnicity--through the eyes of recent immigrants. In doing so, he demonstrates how the "American mythos" has both legitimized American society and prevented it from fully realizing its ideals.
This magisterial work is a reflection and meditation on the national consciousness. It details how Americans have traditionally relied on narratives to address what it means to be strong, morally responsible individuals and to explain why some people are more successful than others--in short, to help us make sense of our lives. But it argues that these narratives have done little to help us confront new challenges. We pass laws to end racial discrimination, yet lack the resolve to create a more equitable society. We welcome the idea of pluralism in religion and values, yet we are shaken by the difficulties immigration presents. We champion prosperity for all, but live in a country where families are still homeless.
American Mythos aptly documents this disconnect between the stories we tell and the reality we face. Examining how cultural narratives may not, and often do not, reflect the reality of today's society, it challenges readers to become more reflective about what it means to live up to the American ideal.
Springing from the notion that the way ordinary people think about their lives can provide a useful, and even profound guide to national character, this thought-provoking volume examines American attitudes and mores with regard to religion, race, and economic success, among other topics. For his research, Wuthnow (sociology, Princeton U. and director, Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton U.) employed numerous interviews, particularly with recent immigrants, as well as surveys of public opinion, some of which he himself directed. In his detailed consideration of this material, Wuthnow discusses how American culture has changed, but also offers ideas as to why it also remains the same, despite the constant influx of new peoples and cultures. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)