SOMETHING FOR NOTHING: Luck in America

Jackson Lears, Author, T. J. Jackson Lears, Author . Viking $27.95 (392p) ISBN 978-0-670-03173-3

Public moralists cannot abide the obsessive gambler. They bemoan the disintegration of a solid work ethic and condemn the search for the quick buck, the belief that it's possible to get something for nothing. But Lears, a historian at Rutgers and editor of the journal Raritan, finds a much more complex issue at the heart of gambling in America, one that raises fundamental ethical, religious and philosophical questions that strike at the very core of our culture. He writes, "Debate about gambling reveals fundamental fault lines in American character, sharp tensions between an impulse toward risk and a zeal for control. Those tensions may be universal, but seldom have they been so sharply opposed as in the United States, where longings for a lucky strike have been counterbalanced by a secular Protestant Ethic that has questioned the very existence of luck." Lears offers a history of conflicting attitudes toward luck, beginning with early English settlers and continuing up to September 11, 2001. The book often reads like a course in Western Civilization, moving easily among the disciplines of religion, history, literature, art, economics, philosophy and science. And yet the vast assemblage of information becomes so overwhelming, it's easy to lose the book's primary thread; i.e., the ways that gambling, chance and luck have shaped American culture. Furthermore, the emphasis on men as the primary actors is too narrow; where are the women in this cultural history? Despite its flaws, however, this challenging, erudite and original book is a significant contribution to American cultural studies. Agent, Loretta Barrett. (On sale Jan. 27)

Reviewed on: 11/11/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-14-200387-9
Open Ebook - 978-0-7865-3976-5
Ebook - 978-0-7865-3977-2
Open Ebook - 408 pages - 978-1-101-20037-7
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