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AND I QUOTE / What Political Books Are Saying : THE DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY: Reconsidering America's Past, Rediscovering the Present. By Michael Elliott (Simon & Schuster: $24; 306 pp.)

July 28, 1996|John Balzar

"So what makes [Americans] so miserable? It isn't simply that there is much about their country that is indeed depressing. More to the point, Americans have lost the ability to accurately assess their present condition. They constantly compare America to a world that we have lost. A billboard once seen on the road from the airport into Tulsa, Okla., captures the mood of America in the 1990s. 'Tulsa,' read the sign. 'America the way we remember it.' That sad little phrase holds the key to understanding why America is an unhappy place. It isn't simply that the nation has problems; it is that Americans compare their present lot to another time--to the Golden Age that followed World War II. But that period of America's history was a massive freak. . . . Our obsession with those years is like the ultimately hopeless task of trying to recapture a dreamtime."

****

Quit whining, Americans. It's time to restore faith in ourselves. First step, rethink our myths. In this fast-paced, stimulating analysis of 20th Century America by a British transplant and former Economist correspondent, the path ahead is not into the unknown, but is rather well-marked by experience. Elliott argues that the worst of this era's disconcerting turmoil is over, that a "new stability" is upon us--in our economy and social mores. The challenges ahead are familiar. And history can be read as proof that progress is not beyond reach.

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