David Brooks has set out to explain why Americans are considered the “bimbos of the world,” and he feels that we can arrive at the roots of this perception with a study of the suburbs and their denizens. The book begins with an overview of the changing demographics and values of American society, particularly in terms of where we live. Then he gives us numerous examples of the behavior and social mores that add up to the “bimbo” perception.
Brooks writes in a highly descriptive style, preferring to make his point through “tours", vignettes and case studies rather than through purely didactic musings. So instead of just reading his thoughts on overly involved mothers, we read a profile of a representative übermom who is shuttling her child from swim class to gymnastics, cooking nutritious meals, and redecorating the living room while single-handedly running the school bake sale.
From the particulars of modern society, he moves on to some historical concerns, such as the American work ethic from Benjamin Franklin to today. He also allows other voices to weigh in on these issues, giving an interesting perspective as we see what others have thought of America and its good and bad points over the years.
On Paradise Drive is a sociological study with a humorous edge. But there’s a good-natured edge to the satire; his tone doesn’t harbor contempt. He is never apologetic about skewering American conventions like the food warehouse club and motivational speakers, but he is also never apologetic about praising Americans’ admirable qualities, like a constant optimism that lets them keep striving for something better. The things Americans do while striving for that something better are certainly fair game, but you’re left with a positive impression of the American psyche, even as you lament its more vacuous aspects. On Paradise Drive proves to be a thought-provoking and entertaining read.