The Day Before Yesterday: Reconsidering America's Past, Rediscovering the Present

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The Day Before Yesterday: Reconsidering America's Past, Rediscovering the Present

By Michael Elliott
Simon & Schuster, 1996
320 pp. $24.00
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An imaginative survey of the transformations that have overtaken America since the Golden Age after World War II. Elliott, the editor of Newsweek International and former Washington editor of The Economist, argues that the nation's discontents seem oppressive only by comparison with the years of false reference after 1945. Extend the comparison backward before 1914 -- to a country with sharp class divisions, immigrants tearing at the national identity, and an economy with high levels of foreign ownership -- and it is the Golden Age that appears exceptional. The author writes like a therapist trying to get his patient -- the nation -- to adjust to the anxiety brought on by bereavement and loss, and he is firm in his conviction that Americans need to stop wishing for what they cannot have. But if the Golden Age is over and cannot be recovered, there is, he insists, plenty of room for optimism about America's prospects. The book is weakest in the sometimes strained comparisons between today and the more distant past; its strengths lie in the exuberance of Elliott's prose, the sharp eye he casts on the social and economic transformations of the past 50 years, and his almost giddy appreciation of the vitality and diversity of American life.