American Stew: Hope in a Toxic Culture by Stephen James
Synopsis: America is in desperate need of new ideas. In the richest, most powerful nation in history, Americans are profoundly troubled. The level of fear, anger, and dissatisfaction with life in 21st century America is reflected in our many social ills and questionable national behavior, exacerbated by the general lack of insight to explain what is wrong. Where will the new ideas come from? In "American Stew: Hope in a Toxic Culture", cultural critic Stephen James draws upon his more than thirty years of experience, observation, and experience to offer a fresh perspective on the problems that plague America, as well as much-needed solutions. By applying modern social science and interdisciplinary thought to contemporary American issues, "American Stew" offers a sweeping and relevant analysis of a culture that has become toxic for its members by proposing that our drive to become the most powerful nation on earth can be understood in terms of the theories of the late Ernest Becker (September 27, 1924 - March 6, 1974). A Jewish-American cultural anthropologist, Becker wrote that all human beings dread death, and all cultures have developed measures to deny death and create opportunities for immortality. Unfortunately, our culture offers an inadequate antidote to death anxiety, pushing us to success as a nation, while leaving us anxious, driven, and unhappy. Our own culture has evolved to oppress and exploit us. It is, in a word, toxic. In the pages of "American Stew", Stephen James suggests unique opportunities for hope, as well as new forms of heroism, new values, and fresh approaches to life that counter death anxiety and promote satisfaction on a deeper human level. "American Stew" synthesizes ideas from a multitude of disciplines to help us better understand the complexities of culture and human motivation.
Critique: As informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking, Stephen James' "American Stew: Hope in a Toxic Culture" is a landmark work of observationally based insight that is truly impressive in scope and dimension. An inherently absorbing and challenging read from beginning to end, "American Stew: Hope in a Toxic Culture" is very highly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Social Issues reference collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for members of academia and non-specialist general readers that "American Stew: Hope in a Toxic Culture" is also available in a paperback edition (9781504929141, $23.95) and in a Kindle format ($3.99).
Small Press Bookwatch: February 2016 James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief Midwest Book Review 278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575