two-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
By: 
David Brooks
user_rating: 
0

How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense

A-ParadiseDriveBrooks outlines three goals in On Paradise Drive: to describe life in America’s suburbs, to solve the mystery of motivation, and to extract conclusive proof to his fundamental question: "Are we as shallow as we look?" Brooks characterizes and satirizes the middle-class population (think Patio Man, Wireless Man, and Realtor Mom) in search of an answer. His conclusion? The same restless striving for success and self-fulfillment is what drives the desire for new barbeques, SUVs, and the Diaspora to the exurbs, places that have "broken free from the gravitational pull of cities and now float in a new space far beyond them." It’s our heritage and future, all wrapped up in one.
Simon & Schuster. 304 pages. $25. ISBN: 0743227387

Plain Dealer 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Brooks’ eye for detail is still strong, and so is his penchant for generalization. … He bases much of his writing on the work of sociologists but gives the impression that his own research involves little more than eavesdropping on conversations in Starbucks and driving slowly through interesting sections of town." James Sweeney

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 2.5 of 5 Stars
"What Brooks is really after is something beneath the Turtle-Waxed surface. … He’s looking for the America of Emerson, Whitman and Lincoln, for the last best hope of earth. And what he finds is that the same spirit that drives our noblest impulses drives our impulse purchases too." Tom Maresca

San Diego Union-Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"… when it’s time to locate what’s sublime in the paradises we pursue, his writing dries up. … It’s as if Brooks can’t reconcile the nobility of our desire for paradise and the banality of how it is currently manifested." Stephen Duncombe

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"He says he wants to rescue American civilization from the charge that it is shallow, and his main argument against that charge is that seemingly shallow behavior like shopping for the perfect barbeque or marketing the perfect French fry is actually a deeply spiritual quest, on a continuum with those of the Pilgrims arriving from the east and the pioneers heading west. We’re certainly not going to buy that notion if the author himself can be distracted from it whenever the possibility of a good joke floats by." Michael Kinsley

Boston Globe 1.5 of 5 Stars
"… there isn’t much here that hasn’t already been explained better many times over. The mystery isn’t so much what motivates Americans; the mystery is why we need Brooks to rehash all this for us." Bill Beuttler

Washington Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Brooks is examining all of America—all of its middle class, anyway—and he’s reaching for a larger theme that will explain how its various subcultures relate to one another. Unfortunately, he never finds one." Timothy Noah

Critical Summary

Woe the conservative who finds favor with the "liberal" press. After his breakthrough turn in Bobos in Paradise, Brooks, a New York Times op-ed columnist, was the rare elephant in the living room that the Blue states could cuddle up to. While none of the criticism seems overtly motivated by politics, there is a tone of disappointment in most of the reviews (see opposite page). Brooks still has a way with his well-honed cultural skewer, although a tendency towards generalizations bothers many critics. The loudest grumbles are provoked by Brooks’s incessant need to go for the easy joke, many of which just aren’t funny. More importantly, critics raise questions about the relevance of his argument. It seems, for the moment, the zeitgeist has Mr. Brooks in its rear-view mirror.