Why Nothing Works

The Anthropology of Daily Life

by Marvin Harris

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Original Title

America Now - the Anthropology of a Changing Culture


Preface to the Second Edition
  1. Introduction
  2. Why Nothing Works
  3. Why the Help Won't Help You
  4. Why the Dollar Shrank
  5. Why Women Left Home
  6. Why the Gays Came Out of the Closet
  7. Why There's Terror on the Streets
  8. Why the Cults are Coming
  9. Why America Changed

amazon-buyWhat's so special about this book previous section

This book is about cults, crime, and shoddy goods, and the shrinking dollar. It's about porno parlors, and sex shops, and men kissing in the streets. It's about daughters shaking up, women on the rampage, marriages postponed, divorces on the rise, and no one having kids. It's about old ladies getting mugged and raped, people shoved in front of trains, and shoot-outs at gas pumps. And letters that take weeks to get delivered, waiters who throw food at you, rude sales help, and computers that bill you for things you never bought. It's about broken benches, waterless fountains, cracked windows, dirty toilets, crater-filled roads, graffiti-covered buildings, slashed paintings, toppled statues, stolen books. It's about shoelaces that break in a week, bulbs that keep burning out, pens that won't write, cars that rust, stamps that don't stick, stitches that don't hold, buttons that pop off, zippers that jam, planes that lose their engines, reactors that leak, dams that burst, roofs that collapse... It's about astrologers, shamans, exorcists, witches, and angels in space suits... It's about a lot of other things that are new and strange in America today.

-- from the Introduction

The description of "America today" in the above excerpt refers to the United States of 1980, but it can easily be considered fit for most (if not all) Western countries of 1999. I suppose you'll agree with me that Harris got the reader's attention right from the start. Of course, anyone would like to know why things changed so much for the worse in (Europe and) America, but what anthropology has to do with it? Isn't anthropology about primitive people, trading pots with spears, and dancing under the moonlight with the whole tribe?

Apparently not. And that's what is so special about this book...