On a first read, the book may not seem to offer so much. It initially reads like a series of Vox articles about the lazy foibles of several particular sorts of white American that it’s currently fashionable to hector. There are plenty of questionably designed statistics and politically correct thinkpiece citations scattered throughout like so much gauche op-ed bling. However, the end grows more and more daring until we hit a triplet of stunning lines in the final six pages, the sole bolded sentences in the book of 200 pages:
When it comes to ordinary, everyday American life, how quickly will matters turn chaotic or disorderly again, and what forms will the implosion take? (p. 199)
The biggest story of the last fifteen years, both nationally and globally, is the growing likelihood that a cyclical model of history will be a better predictor than a model of ongoing progress. (p. 200)
All of this can happen even if you think the majority response will be a greater and greater love of peace. (p. 202)
The specific thinkers cited for ‘cyclical models of history’ are Vico, Spengler, and Toynbee, in that order.
With that triple-burst trigger pull, the race to a second, Straussian reading begins.
Taking a cue from those statements, consider that the book itself might be a cycle. Read forwards, it is a series of slightly overcooked thinkpieces that ends on a surprisingly bold note. Read backwards, one finds it hides a thrilling call to arms.
This is a contrarian reading; one I make no claim should actually be attributed to Cowen himself. Nonetheless, the coherences pile up too neatly to simply be ignored once seen.