Does an excellent job outlining actual trends in American families. Conclusions are backed up with lots and lots of facts with extensive annotations to make further research easy. It particular does a good job debunking the pop culture image of the American nuclear family and illustrating how many other family types are 'normal' in the US.
This is a dense book due to the amount of info in it. If you're looking for a quick overview of the subject, this book may be too weighty for you. If you're already somewhat familiar with some of the issues addressed here, this is a great book for further reading.
Interesting from a sociological point of view
I got bogged down quite a bit in all the research and detail, but it was worth it to plow through this very helpful work. I've pulled from it many times to help people who have "failed" to live up to an image of the way we never were. Look elsewhere if you are searching for an "ideal" model to shoot for in your own personal life. In the meantime, Coontz's survival suggestion at the end is quite helpful, stay connected to the larger community around you for both support and service, contribution and succor.
From the author of _Marriage: A History._ Eye-opening look at the myths surrounding American families. Everything *wasn't* better in the Fifties, or in the Forties, or at any other time.
Here's the Amazon review:
Did you ever wonder about the historical accuracy of those "traditional family values" touted in the heated arguments that insist our cultural ills can be remedied by their return? Of course, myth is rooted in fact, and certain phenomena of the 1950s generated the Ozzie and Harriet icon. The decade proved profamily--the birthrate rose dramatically; social problems that nag--gangs, drugs, violence--weren't even on the horizon. Affluence had become almost a right; the middle class was growing. "In fact," writes Coontz, "the 'traditional' family of the 1950s was a qualitatively new phenomenon. At the end of the 1940s, all the trends characterizing the rest of the twentieth century suddenly reversed themselves." This clear-eyed, bracing, and exhaustively researched study of American families and the nostalgia trap proves--beyond the shadow of a doubt--that Leave It to Beaver was not a documentary.
Gender, too, is always on Coontz's mind. In the third chapter ("My Mother Was a Saint"), she offers an analysis of the contradictions and chasms inherent in the "traditional" division of labor. She reveals, next, how rarely the family exhibited economic and emotional self-reliance, suggesting that the shift from community to nuclear family was not healthy. Coontz combines a clear prose style with bold assertions, backed up by an astonishing fleet of researched, myth-skewing facts. The 88 pages of endnotes dramatize both her commitment to and deep knowledge of the subject. Brilliant, beautifully organized, iconoclastic, and (relentlessly) informative The Way We Never Were breathes fresh air into a too often suffocatingly "hot" and agenda-sullied subject. In the penultimate chapter, for example, a crisp reframing of the myth of black-family collapse leads to a reinterpretation of the "family crisis" in general, putting it in the larger context of social, economic, and political ills.
The book began in response to the urgent questions about the family crisis posed her by nonacademic audiences. Attempting neither to defend "tradition" in the era of family collapse, nor to liberate society from its constraints, Coontz instead cuts through the kind of sentimental, ahistorical thinking that has created unrealistic expectations of the ideal family.