cover image Is the American Dream Killing You?: How the Market Rules Our Life

Is the American Dream Killing You?: How the Market Rules Our Life

Paul Stiles, . . Collins, $24.95 (305pp) ISBN 978-0-06-059378-0

In this slapdash but passionate and provocative treatise, former Wall Streeter Stiles (Riding the Bull: My Year in the Madness at Merrill Lynch ) argues that go-go, unfettered American capitalism "has become the driving force of American decline." The "Market," he writes, now functions like "a financial version of The Matrix, an ethereal boundary that undergirds society" and manipulates social structures to optimize commercial productivity. Thus, the market is to blame for America's ever more demanding cycle of work-buy-work and its attendant cultural problems, from road rage to divorce, "Inhibited Sexual Desire," latchkey kids and an overall decline in spiritual and moral values. To his credit, Stiles reinforces his argument with statistical data that document increasing levels of stress, depression and consumer debt, as well as with examples from his own life. And the book's most original sections outline how the language of patriotism, business and spirituality, including the word "moral," have been manipulated in the media to suit the market's needs. But Stiles's selection of numbers and his delineation of cause-and-effect relationships is often conveniently loose, and his tendency to anthropomorphize the market (as in, "The Market ponders the situation like a general analyzing his battle plans") tends to obscure that real people are the ones choosing to make decisions in favor of financial, rather than social, interests. Nonetheless, this barbaric yawp stimulates and illuminates, if only because it shows how many social ills usually viewed as discrete can be traced back to one underlying principle. Not since Thomas Frank's One Market Under God has there been such an ardent portrayal of the dark side of the free market. (Oct.)

Correction: The author of Lennon Revealed (Reviews, Aug. 29) was misidentifed. Larry Kane is American.