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The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike

The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike
Author: Peter Baldwin
ISBN 13: 9780195391206
ISBN 10: 195391209
Edition: 1
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 2009-11-05
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 336
List Price: $74.00

There is much heated rhetoric about the widening gulf between Europe and America. According to the American right, Europeans are lazy, defeatist and irreligious, while Americans are entrepreneurial, optimistic, and pious. And according to Europeans, America is harsh, dominated by the market, crime-ridden, violent, and sharp-elbowed.

But are the US and Europe so different? Peter Baldwin, one of the world's leading historians of comparative social policy, thinks not, and in this bracingly argued but remarkably informed polemic, he lays out how similar the two continents really are. Drawing on the latest evidence from sources such as the United Nations, the World Bank, IMF, OECD and other international organizations, Baldwin offers a fascinating comparison of the United States and Europe, looking at the latest statistics on the economy, crime, health care, education and culture, religion, the environment, and much more. It is a book filled with surprising revelations. For most categories of crime, for instance, America is safe and peaceful by European standards. But the biggest surprise is that, though there are many differences between America and Europe, in almost all cases, these differences are no greater than the differences among European nations. Europe and the US are, in fact, part of a common, big-tent grouping. America is not Sweden, for sure. But nor is Italy Sweden, nor France, nor even Germany. And who says that Sweden is Europe? Anymore than Vermont is America?

Writing with flair and armed with an impressive stock of evidence, Baldwin paints a truly eye-opening portrait of Europe and America. Anyone interested in American-European relations—or simply curious about American and European society—will want to read this revelatory volume.

Publishers Weekly

While pundits and politicians frequently seize upon the differences between “hissing cousins” Europe and America, Baldwin (Disease and Democracy) combs a dizzying array of statistics (on, for example, life expectancy, greenhouse gas emissions, homosexual experiences, voter turnout, blood donations, illiteracy, prison populations) to measure how deep and wide the chasm actually is. His findings, punctuated by easy-to-interpret charts and insightful analysis, reveal just how different the two continents really aren't—and that the animosity isn't “symmetrical”: European disdain for all things American is much stronger than any enmity the other way. Still, Europe and America are comparable on primary and secondary education spending, on religiosity in certain regions and, surprisingly, on health-care outcomes. While no endorsement of the current U.S. system, Baldwin's data shows that American health-care outcomes are comparable and often better than those in Europe. An exhaustive and enthralling catalogue of our commonalities that begs a reconsideration of just what it means to be European or American. (Nov.)