The State of the Nation: Government and the Quest for a Better Society

Derek Bok, Author
Derek Bok, Author Harvard University Press $38 (0p) ISBN 978-0-674-29210-9
Paperback - 264 pages - 978-0-674-29211-6
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-9660180-1-1
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Bok, president emeritus of Harvard and a professor at the Kennedy School of Government, knows that tables and statistics are the most subjective of objective facts. But in his attempt to pin down exactly what the state of the nation is and why Americans are so gloomy about it, Bok has accumulated hundreds of them. He measures the reality and the perception of five basic goals that Americans tend to agree on: economic growth; quality of life (e.g., healthy environment and cultural life); chance for advancement; security; and maintenance of certain basic values. Bok proves that, overall, America is closer to these five goals than it was 20 years ago, but the speed of its advancement is poor compared to other industrialized countries. Nowhere is that more obvious than with education, largely because the country spends ""twice as much educating college students as it does training those who merely graduate from high school, and more than five times as much as it does on high school dropouts."" Bok sees this as the first of two volumes, with the second aimed at probing ""more deeply the question why our policies and programs so often fail to meet our expectations."" Perhaps because it is more descriptive than prescriptive and because it is precisely not polemical, The State of the Nation is often dry. There are plenty of interesting facts and points that readers will want to store away for future reference, but the argument they add up to is rather diffuse. (Jan.)
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