Review of “Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century” by J. Bradford DeLong
I looked forward to reading this book because the reviews I read said that the author had a unique perspective on the topic. That is certainly true, but the subject of this book is not Economic History; this rather long book (~550 pages) instead discusses societal and political factors influencing the economic history of (mostly) the United States. I believe the title is misleading.
A good part of the text discusses equal rights and pays lip service to their impact on the economics of the U.S. while failing to close the loop on the macroeconomic relationship between the Civil Rights movement and changes in national productivity. In that respect it added nothing to, and even said less, than a previous book I reviewed here. This pattern–focusing on social issues and not showing a cause-and-effect relationship to the economy–was a recurring theme.
The story picked up towards the end, when Neoliberalism was contrasted with the New Deal era. I had always called this socioeconomic program Reaganism. The origin of the Washington Consensus is discussed and I admit that this is a subject that fascinates me; the U.S. imposed the current world order on everyone else (outside the Communist sphere) because it was the only existing superpower in the 1950s. The causes of American isolationism in the interwar era (1920-1940) are discussed in a global context, but it had to be trimmed because of too much social history.
I found the book a teaser and bought a title on Neoliberalism that appears to be more economics and less sociology. I’ll write a review of it when I finish reading it.
This book was made difficult to read by the ridiculously long sentences; strings of phrases are connected with commas when they are better treated as separate ideas. I had to reread large portions of it because I forgot the topic of the sentence. I think the author did too a couple of times. I guess that for some people, the point is to impress the reader with your eruditeness rather than communicate clearly.
I can’t recommend this book even though it contains some good analyses and a different (I wouldn’t go so far as to say unique) perspective on the numerous fundamental changes that occurred. I didn’t feel that I’d learned anything new about the subject when I finished.
Another random read, picked up at the discount table at a chain bookstore.
First, my comments on readability. The grammar and punctuation were good, but as with every novel I’ve read, the overall structure deteriorated at the halfway point. Sentences became wordier and context was sometimes lost, so that I had to reread previous paragraphs to catch up. Maybe I’m just a poor reader.
The antagonist is identified early, so this is indeed a story about being outfoxed, a cat-and-mouse game with someone’s life at risk, whose life was the first surprise. The protagonist thinks he is smarter but he’s shown up repeatedly by his adversary. This was well done, especially because the villain is introduced through one thread. This is a bold method that could have been exploited more, but it nevertheless works. Unfortunately, if the hero is always losing, there has to be a big scene where they get lucky. That is how this ends, predictably but surprisingly unexpected.
I had the impression from the outset that the story was going to end in an explicit romantic scene. That was okay, but the intimacy was overdone in my opinion, pushed beyond the inevitable romantic conclusion that was apparently the real plot. I don’t know anything about the author, but this reads like it was written for a specific audience that likes romance mixed with mystery, although there wasn’t much mystery in the perpetrator of heinous crimes. The red herrings weren’t very convincing.
I was totally surprised by the ending, which says a lot about the skill the author used to disguise what was in plain site, if I had been looking for it. However, this cool surprise was irrelevant to the story, and at times made some of the scenes implausible (in retrospect). At the time, I was totally fooled.
This novel smoothly integrates several themes into a sometimes-compelling story that isn’t really a mystery or a romantic drama. Overall, it was okay for casual reading, but don’t expect to stay up late reading…