Doron Taussig, "What We Mean by the American Dream: Stories We Tell about Meritocracy" (Cornell UP, 2021)

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Doron Taussig invites us to question the American Dream. Did you earn what you have? Did everyone else?

The American Dream is built on the idea that Americans end up roughly where we deserve to be in our working lives based on our efforts and abilities; in other words, the United States is supposed to be a meritocracy. When Americans think and talk about our lives, we grapple with this idea, asking how a person got to where he or she is and whether he or she earned it. In What We Mean by the American Dream: Stories We Tell about Meritocracy (Cornell UP, 2021), Taussig tries to find out how we answer those questions.

Weaving together interviews with Americans from many walks of life—as well as stories told in the US media about prominent figures from politics, sports, and business—What We Mean by the American Dream investigates how we think about whether an individual deserves an opportunity, job, termination, paycheck, or fortune. Taussig looks into the fabric of American life to explore how various people, including dairy farmers, police officers, dancers, teachers, computer technicians, students, store clerks, the unemployed, homemakers, and even drug dealers got to where they are today and whether they earned it or not.

Taussig's frank assessment of the state of the US workforce and its dreams allows him to truly and meaningfully ask the question that underpins so many of our political debates and personal frustrations: Did you earn it? By doing so, he sheds new light on what we mean by—and how we can deliver on—the American Dream of today.

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