Cold New World: Growing Up in a Harder Country

William Finnegan, Author Random House (NY) $26 (432p) ISBN 978-0-679-44870-9
Finnegan, a staff writer for the New Yorker, here functions as both a messenger and as a journalist His message is that America is raising a new generation of young people shaped by an ""oppressive sense of reduced possibilities."" If that phrase smacks of sociological jargon, the book itself does not because of Finnegan's unobtrusive reportorial style that combines intuition with insight and fieldwork. While in the past 25 years poverty among the elderly has dropped by more than 50%, it has increased by 37% among children, notes the author. To find out what that means in human terms, he met with young people in four impoverished or lower-middle-class communities: the black slums of New Haven, Conn.; rural San Augustine County in Texas; the Yakima Valley in Washington, where the economy relies on underpaid Mexican labor; and Antelope Valley in California, a distant suburb of Los Angeles caught up in a struggle between warring bands of teenage skinheads. From each community, Finnegan draws vivid portraits of individuals caught between a sense of despair that they can never achieve the good life and an almost utopian dream that they can somehow break through to the middle class. The struggle between gangs is probably the most arresting section of the book, but the level of grim insight throughout will disturb the optimism of a healthy economy supposedly reflected in Wall Street's rising numbers. This book is a vibrant eye-opener. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/04/1998
Release date: 05/01/1998
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-375-75382-4
Paperback - 978-0-375-75198-1
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