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Pity the well-off American parent. The money’s decent and the attaché case is stuffed with nifty gadgets, but between the kids’ needs and the sense of always having to be on the clock, security is hard to come by. If you’re that person, you probably don’t need to be told the whys and wherefores of any of that; the relevant articles have been Twittered, blogged, Facebooked, and otherwise sent your way. So the target audience for Dalton Conley’s new book about these phenomena, Elsewhere U.S.A., is actually the one least in need of the book: Despite his buzzy portmanteaus describing the blending of work and play (“weisure”) and high-end multitasking (“intravidual”), much of the post-industrial American economic landscape he describes is familiar. But in some ways this reflects admirable restraint. Unlike the self-coronating futurists who clot convention keynote slots, Conley, the head of New York University’s sociology department, doesn’t spin trend data into gooey prescriptions for better living. And Conley is the rare number-crunching sociologist who writes gracefully—his 2000 memoir, Honky, was both an emotional portrait of growing up white in a predominantly black and Hispanic housing project on the Lower East Side and a clear-eyed schematic of the forces that spurred the inequalities there. The best parts of Elsewhere U.S.A. borrow that book’s spirit, addressing, albeit briefly, how the BlackBerry-era economy affects those on the lower rungs. A fuller treatment would make for a worthy follow-up—and with any luck, one that feels less like an attempt to channel Malcolm Gladwell.
CONLEY DISCUSSES AND SIGNS COPIES OF HIS WORK MONDAY, FEB. 9, AT 7 P.M. AT POLITICS & PROSE, 5015 CONNECTICUT AVE. NW. FREE. (202) 364-1919.