Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews

Book Reviews




On the Making of Americans: Essays in Honor of David Riesman. Edited by

Herbert J. Gans, Nathan Glazer, Joseph R. Gusfield, and Christopher

Jencks. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979. xiii + 350p.;

bibliography of Riesman's publications, note on contributors. $25.00.)

There is some question to what extent this high-priced volume actually does

honor to David Riesman; the facile generalizations and chatty tone of about

half the essays mar the quality of thefestshrift.

Joseph Gusfield's "The Sociological Reality of America" is a good example.

Pretentiously titled, the essay is pitched at such a high level of abstraction

that it tells us almost nothing. "Whatever else America may be," Gusfield

says at one point, "in the imagery of the sociologist, it is" (p. 50). Here and

elsewhere, the author is engaging in pseudo-profundity. Nathan Glazer's

"Individualism and Equality in the United States" is undocumented and filled

with textbook cliches and offhand judgments; the article does little justice to

Glazer's abilities. Reuel Denny's essay on "Varieties of Sociable Experience in

America" is overly theoretical-like Gusfield's it too often restates the obvious

in highfalootin' language, becoming in the process more a parody than an example

of social science. It is totally uninformed by the historical literature on clubs,

organizations, and lodges that might have put some facts on the essay's bare

analytical framework.

The volume is partially redeemed, however, by several contributors who

viewed their assignment as something more than an opportunity to publish pet

theories or cocktail party platitudes. Christopher Jencks' "The Social Basis

of Unselfishness" raises interesting questions about how different societies

restrain egocentric behavior, and Rolf Meyerson reassesses with considerable

insight Riesman's 1958 essay "Abundance for What?" in light of the current

trend toward scarcity. Gerald Grant's "Journalism and Social Science" compares

three types of journalists (police reporters, investigative reporters, and analytical

journalists). The recent emergence of the third type, who successfully use

social scientific analysis in their work, represents a distinctive phase in the

history of journalism that may have wider cultural implications.

Three essays with a strong historical orientation are among the best in the

anthology. Martin Trow's analysis of the differences between "elite" and

"mass" education is useful, although in failing to examine the community

college movement he may have underestimated the degree to which the United

States has recently adopted elements of the European "tracking" system in

education. Hidetoshi Kato, in an elegantly written article, indicates some

remarkable similarities (even down to the timing of the civil wars) between

Japan and the United States in the nineteenth century. His thought-provoking

comparison between the two nations' attitudes toward the frontier (using the

settlement of the island of Hokkaido as the Japanese example), education,

and mobility should be especially enlightening to those interested in comparative

history or cross-cultural studies.

Herbert Gans' "Symbolic Ethnicity: The Future of Ethnic Groups and

Cultures in America" is an important theoretical contribution. Gans argues