TBR: Elsewhere, USA
Today's book (and possibly this year's winner for longest subtitle) is Elsewhere, USA: How We Got from the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms, and Economic Anxiety, by Dalton Conley.
This book looks at such modern phenomena as the blurring of work and leisure, savings and consumption. To take the growth of "weisure" (Conley loves making up compound words like that) for example, he remarks on the generally recognized growth of people working from home (and the history of the tax deduction for home offices was one of the few bits of the book that surprised me) and shopping at work, but also argues that "networking" forces people to turn their social interactions into an extension of work.
I picked up the book mostly because I was interested in hearing what he had to say about parental anxiety (he twice cites the same study that found that higher income mothers reported more time pressure than low-income mothers, even when they worked the exact same hours). He argues that women's higher earning potential is the main source of stress, as women who aren't working feel the opportunity cost. I think that's part of the story, but misses out on the degree to which working mothers also feel a high opportunity cost to their time.
Conley is a "real" sociologist, in the sense that he's a professor at NYU, but this isn't an academic book. The only original research is what Conley conducted by looking at the dual-income families around him. And Conley challenges the reader to evaluate the book by looking around him or herself and seeing if it resonates.
By that measure, I think this book would have done a lot better if it had come out a year or two ago. The argument that granite countertops are a form of investment, not consumption, seems very 2006, as does the claim that no one resents the rich because we all depend on them for our jobs. Conley's an interesting thinker, although not as profound as he thinks he is, but if there's ever a book that should have been a blog, it's this one.