Why American Men Choose Not to Work


Probably since time immemorial, each generation has thought the next one lacked industriousness. But for the last half-century, this belief has been true of American men. Even as the economy has grown, a rising share of prime-age males have opted out of work.

Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis, a brief book by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, drives this point home forcefully, drawing on an impressive array of data to explain what’s happening and why.

The chart that forms the core of Eberstadt’s case depicts the percentage of men age 25-54 who do not have a job.

Lunching With Thatcher, Dancing With Arafat

John le Carre

The novelist John le Carré has a desk in the basement of his chalet in the Bernese Oberland. Through a window he can see the peaks of the Jungfrau, the Silberhorn, and the Keines. He’s owned the chalet for 50 years. When they were younger, he brought his sons (presumably from both marriages, though he doesn’t say) there every winter to ski. Sometimes they came in the spring, too. It’s May, and he’s at the desk writing his memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life, longhand­­—the only way he’s ever written—and it’s raining.

The Optimists’ Prime

Rene Descartes, David Hume, George Berkely, Baruch Spinoza

Human knowledge is like a tree, Descartes once wrote, with each branch and twig representing one of the disciplines or fields of study. But the trunk of the tree, he insisted, is mathematical physics. And the root—the basis of all we know—is metaphysics. Thought begins in philosophy, and the deepest thinkers are the philosophers.

Were all that true, we would welcome a book such as Anthony Gottlieb’s new popular history of modern philosophy. A former executive editor of The Economist, Gottlieb published back in 2000 an accessible and enjoyable volume called The Dream of Reason, sketching the history of philosophy from the Ancient Greeks to the Renaissance.

Noel Field, Communist Quaker

Noel Field, right, as a representative of the League of Nations in 1939 / New York World's Fair

They came from the old American families: Quakers out of Pennsylvania, Puritans from New England. They went to the fine old boarding schools and attended ivy-covered colleges. Their childhoods were spent in pews listening to the most intellectual and morally sophisticated pastors in America. And then they grew up and went off to spy for Stalin.

We still have no fully persuasive explanation for why members of the elite classes of British schooling and intellectual upbringing—Philby, Maclean, Blunt—became spies for the Soviets in the 1930s. But we have even less explanation for why their American parallels—including such people as Alger Hiss, Laurence Duggan, and Noel Field—joined them.

Western Counterterrorism Strategy, RIP

Video footage is seen during a press conference by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police about a failed terrorist incident / AP

The real topic of the latest book by Australian counterinsurgency specialist David Kilcullen, an account of the bloody series of events that started around the middle of 2014, is contained in the book’s subtitle: “The Unraveling of Western Counterterrorism.” Kilcullen offers a unique perspective as a key architect of the very strategy whose demise he explains. His verdict is scathing: America’s abdication of responsibility as the steady leader of the international order has been apocalyptic. The Western world, left rudderless, is far worse off today than at the turn of the millennium.

The Meat Grinder

Battle of the Somme

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s First World War history, Somme: Into the Breach is at once easy and hard to read. Easy, thanks to Montefiore’s deep knowledge and exceptional writing. Hard, because it records what happened between July 1 and November 18 1916 in northern France.

As the battle began, British Army commanders were optimistic. Having successfully detonated explosives in tunnels beneath German strongpoints, commanders believed they had seized the early imitative. (Consider the vast explosion caught on film at a German position at the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt.) But success was momentary. Confusion between British Army headquarters and front line battalions meant that confusion reigned on the first day.

From Canned Foods to Banning the Big Gulp

Dinner meal of roast meat with potatoes, carrots, broccoli and broad beans on table

Here’s a curious fact: The single most revisionist account of the Great Depression may be a recent book about American cuisine. A fairly light book, for that matter, aimed at a popular audience. But somehow, in the pages of A Square Meal, the story of the Great Depression—and the lessons the nation took from the hardships of the 1930s—gets told in a new and unexpected way.

Perhaps that’s less surprising than it seems. Down at its root, economics always has something to do with food: To understand an era in history, we need to measure not just its coins but also its calories.