Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass

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Here is a searing account-probably the best yet published-of life in the underclass and why it persists as it does. Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychiatrist who treats the poor in a slum hospital and a prison in England, has seemingly seen it all. Yet in listening to and observing his patients, he is continually astonished by the latest twist of depravity that exceeds even his own considerable experience. Dalrymple's key insight in Life at the Bottom is that long-term poverty is caused not by economics but by a dysfunctional set of values, one that is continually reinforced by an elite culture searching for victims. This culture persuades those at the bottom that they have no responsibility for their actions and are not the molders of their own lives. Drawn from the pages of the cutting-edge political and cultural quarterly City Journal, Dalrymple's book draws upon scores of eye-opening, true-life vignettes that are by turns hilariously funny, chillingly horrifying, and all too revealing-sometimes all at once. And Dalrymple writes in prose that transcends journalism and achieves the quality of literature.

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About the Author:

Theodore Dalrymple is a physician and psychiatrist who practices in England. He writes a column for the London Spectator, contributes frequently to the Daily Telegraph, and is a contributing editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. His other books include Our Culture, What's Left of It, Mass Listeria, and So Little Done. He lives in Birmingham, England.

From Publishers Weekly:

Filled with poignant stories of women and men trapped in destructive behaviors and environments, this volume puts forth a vision of the modern world and of intellectualized modernism as hell but offers few concrete or theoretical solutions. Dalrymple, a noted conservative columnist in London's the Spectator, collects pieces he wrote for the conservative City Journal, using his own work as a physician in British slums and prisons as fodder for an analysis of the underclass: "not poor... by the standards of human history" but trapped in "a special wretchedness" from which it cannot emerge. Most of his patients put their violence in the passive: the murderer who says "the knife went in" as though he had no control; the man who beat his girlfriend and then exclaimed, " `I totally regret everything that happen' [sic] as if... [it] were a typhoon in the East Indies." The fault, Dalrymple asserts, is not bad environments, but a pervasive liberal view and agenda that creates "passive, helpless victims," encourages the idea that the acceptance of "unconscious motivations for one's acts" obviates personal responsibility, and the "widespread acceptance of social determinism." Dalrymple makes many astute observations on British social attitudes about wealth, the tattooing of white youths and urban redevelopment, and his writing is graceful and often witty. But his main points get hammered home too quickly and too often. His critique of liberalism and the welfare state, while sometimes provocative, is spelled out in the introduction and repeated again and again. While Dalrymple is preaching to the converted, his vivid writing and often heartbreaking stories rise above his deeply felt but repetitive social analysis.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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