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Charles Murray`s "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010"
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January 30, 2012, 02:58 PM
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My review of Charles Murray`s new book on the evolution of the class system over the last half century appears in the February issue of The American Conservative, available to subscribers online now.

By the way, I`ve read various discussions over the last few days of Murray`s new questionnaire for determining what your class is on a 0-100 scale and how insulated you are from the rest of America, but most of the talk is based on an extremely crude version of the chapter in Murray`s book that somebody posted online with a lot of pictures. Don`t bother with that. 

Murray himself posted a rough draft of his quiz online about a year ago. The final version in the book is much better, reflecting the feedback he got from that early version. I discuss it in a little detail in my review, but I just wanted to point out here that you shouldn`t trust the dopey caricature that somebody put online.

On a different subject, one of the cool things that Murray does to make all his data come alive is to describe what daily life was like in America on the day before everything started to change: November 21, 1963. For example, the most popular car in America, the Chevy Impala, cost a little over $26,000 in today`s money, which is probably about or little more than what people pay for family sedans these days. But the average asking price of the homes in Chevy Chase, Maryland, the lovely suburb just over the border from the northwest side of the District of Columbia, was only $262,000. You can`t get a typical house in Chevy Chase for only ten times the cost of a family sedan these days. 

As Murray`s subtitle suggests, he uses the 1960 Census as his anchor point for many of his graphs. But, as his chapter on 11/21/1963 demonstrates, the whole Kennedy era makes a good baseline, not radically different from the preceding decade.

But that raises a question that Murray doesn`t particularly try to answer that I`ve been thinking about again. I believe I may have a fairly unusual answer to the old question: Why, in the popular imagination, did The Sixties not start until JFK`s assassination? Why does 11/22/1963 show up around a lot of inflection points in a lot of trends? Why do the Eisenhower and Kennedy eras seem more of one piece than do the Kennedy and Johnson eras? 

I`ll probably write up my idea of what exactly was it about the Kennedy assassination that put an end to one era and started another later, but I`d like to hear your suggestions first. Comment away!