The Debate Over Coming Apart Book Charles Murray

March 22, 2012 by staff 

The Debate Over Coming Apart Book Charles Murray, Charles Murray’s Coming Apart is a frustrating book, and not because it fails to resonate but because he identifies a real problem, then fails to convincingly document or explain it. Part of this is the limiting and confusing way he uses data to craft his story, and part is his unwillingness to look beyond individualistic explanations.

First, let me say that despite these foundational critiques, I hear real passion and concern in Murray’s voice, a concern that many readers will share, as I did. Whatever you think of his work, and I’ve been a longtime critic, Murray is a man who has spent a long career paying close attention to society. And I found this book to be a lot better than some of his earlier work. The data problems in Coming Apart–problems that have the potential to mislead readers–are not as bad as the ones in Bell Curve, where Murray was hammered by social scientists for his misuse of IQ as a predictor of various outcomes, along with specious (and incendiary) arguments about race and genetics (Wikipedia has an excellent section on these criticisms).

What’s so frustrating here is the difficulty of figuring out what Murray is really talking about. Many will share his angst about the growing gaps in our economy–the growing economic (and for Murray, cultural and behavioral) distance between income classes. But that’s not news. The rest of what he’s getting at here is surprisingly hard to tease out.

For example, from his evidence, it’s hard to judge the magnitude of the problem he details throughout these 300 pages. He clearly believes it’s large, but the groupings he chooses are so idiosyncratic, and leave out so much of the population-including the middle class!-that I found it impossible to judge.

In fact, I believe he’s focusing on a real but shrinking problem, and ignoring a much larger–and growing–one.

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