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The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  337 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Are we living the good life—and what defines 'good', anyway? Americans today are constructing a completely different framework for success than their parents' generation, using new metrics that TEDWomen speaker and columnist Courtney Martin has termed collectively the "New Better Off". The New Better Off puts a name to the American phenomenon of rejecting the traditional d ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by Seal Press
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Shirley Showalter
Nov 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Why would a grandmother read a book that clearly is targeted to the millennial generation? First, I have children and grandchildren and want to understand the world they live in. Second, I'm a teacher at heart and a life-long learner, so I love a good idea when I see one. Third, the two new stages in 21st century human development link the young and the old together as potential partners. The Emerging Adulthood stage (22-35ish) and Encore stage (60-75ish) have a lot in common. We are composing o ...more
Dec 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
As someone whose own thoughts and opinions align with the author’s assertions, I expected to like this book more than I did. I found the author’s tone and writing style somewhat flippant and glib, which rubbed me the wrong way. At times, she made very broad swipes and assertions that struck me as condescending to those who may not subscribe to her worldview. I also wasn’t completely satisfied with the way she addressed socioeconomic disparities and cultural privilege (some sections handled this ...more
David Sasaki
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Disclosure: I know Courtney, I admire Courtney, and I think you should buy her book. Hopefully, this is still honest critique that doesn’t shy away from criticism.

Living in America, at this unequal, messy moment, can break your heart—but it doesn’t have to break your spirit. Living in America is so interesting, so fertile, so up-for-grabs. It’s also disintegrating and reconstituting and recalibrating. It’s up to us to make lives that we can be proud of — and to make communities and systems and p
Jacquelyn Casazza
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book so much but...meh. I feel if you have Courtney's life (free lancer, live in California, live amongst a community of similarly minded people) then great. But as someone who has a "regular job" and a home, I felt like after reading this book I was somehow contributing to the downfall of society. Some of it's interesting, but not all examples are practical or feasible. Who has time (or energy) to talk about "the big questions" every 3 weeks? Who can just relocate to a coh ...more
Abbi Dion
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the most fascinating works of cultural criticism I've read in a long time. In our age of distraction, quick and loud and shiny, this is more meditative approach to living in the modern world -- and a beautifully optimistic one, which is why I bought the book. I was perusing the shelves for some recent-ish commentary on The American Dream and I discovered Courtney E. Martin's book. I read it slowly, intentionally, thoughtfully, sometimes skeptically and sometimes enchantedly... there were ...more
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
My interest in the book faded in and out. Some of her examples and concepts were thought provoking but generally based on anecdotal information not necessarily research. The last couple of chapters dragged for me especially. Overall it was worth reading and for the most part easy to read but not particularly provocative. It's a lot of cultural commentary most people are already aware of with some examples.

It was ok. Very nice cover art though!
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is about redefining success to be about connection and community. I really enjoyed it. The book didn't strike the right balance for me between memoir and research, but I'd nonetheless recommend it. ...more
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don't know why we all think it's just millennials who are redefining how to live, and searching for what it means to be alive. We're in an age now that ALL of us are waking up to the fact that there's more than one path in life, and we all need to take responsibility for living it. Even though reviews of this book keep giving millennials the credit, I'm glad that the author doesn't beat this old tune. In THE NEW BETTER OFF, she challenges each of us to re-examine ourselves, forge a new path th ...more
Melody Warnick
Mar 14, 2019 rated it liked it
I don't agree with everything in this wonky, well-written book, but generally I'm a fan of rethinking our definitions of success and happiness. ...more
Sue Kliewer
Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Excellent book that examines what 'better off' really means. It describes the way millennials are redefining what it means to be family and what it is to have meaningful work. ...more
Sep 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a very interesting read. It takes as its premise that unfortunately most people today in the US (and other Western countries) won't be "better off" by the traditional standards; home ownership, available leisure time, security etc. than previous generations. The book examines how people are choosing new ways to define better off, using measures of social responsibility, experience over possessions, flexible working and thriving in the "gig" job market etc. The book is engagingly written ...more
Daniel R.
Nov 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
I got this book expecting something in the same vein as Bowling Alone or Alone Together. Instead this book is about her personal journey to understand what the American Dream means. Accompanied by numerous anecdotes that reenforce her view, I never got the sense of how universal her angst is. If her perspective and questions resonate with you the book will be illuminating but if they don't it isn't a well researched viewpoint. ...more
Phoebe Schenker
Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is so incredible. It was like reading the voice in my head. I now have a zillion other things I want to read or look into. What an honest amazing glimpse into what it means to live a full life.
Paul Bindel
Mar 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: self-help
I wanted to like this more than I did. Good for referencing many different initiatives, businesses, and projects that are innovative and driven by values. But a bit slow and overly focused on the author's own life. ...more
Mark Brewer
Dec 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
Some good ideas sprinkled with lots of veiled political commentary. The side comments ended the book for me at about 60% of the way in. Did not finish.
Erin Williams
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very good read. I feel like I want all of the people around me to read it, if for nothing more than to start the conversation.
Brittany Wilmes
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a book for Americans in their 20s and 30s and 40s who are seeking more than seems available to them. Great thoughts on work and community and vocation and tribe.
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
"Independent contractors are increasing in number as well, growing by 2.1 million workers from 2010 to 2014, and accounting for 28.8 percent of all jobs added during the recovery. It is estimated that by 2020, freelancers will constitute more than 40 percent of the workforce." (p. 53)

"We're in the midst of a huge transition. Though many of the core ideas of what makes work meaningful and life bearable remain constant, we've come to realize that our old frameworks no longer serve us. The question
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is written in a way that could have a profound impact on anyone of any age who is thinking about how they are going to experience their life moving forward. I do not use the word profound lightly. Courtney E. Martin has presented a view of our world that outlines how many of us are, and many more of us might, view our relationship with the most fundamental elements of our life – love, money, work, home, faith etc.

For example, she provides many statistics and references regarding how th
Sep 15, 2019 added it
I can't remember why I requested this book from the library. The title -- and maybe whatever comment led me to it -- suggested a fairly bold new vision of how to live well. I was disappointed. Rather than confronting the dominant American late-capitalist paradigm, the book seemed to be a collection of anecdotes about how individuals, families, and small groups of people have found ways to humanize their lives just a little. It seems to be about a piecemeal adoption bits and pieces of core human ...more
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
"It was okay." I don't give a lot of two star ratings, but I think this is exactly how I felt about the book. It was okay, interesting, and I don't think I wouldn't have read it if my book club hadn't picked it (big part of why I'm in book clubs - to read books I wouldn't on my own!)

I think the topic of what is the American Dream now made for a good conversation topic, but my main issues were I didn't buy the author's arguments about themes and trends in our society applicable beyond a privileg
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
I mainly skimmed through this book as I realized that it was not relevant to me at all.

Are you an American millennial who is shunning the standard 9 to 5 job and has become an entrepreneur or freelancer? Then, this book is for you. It reaffirms the lifestyle you are living.

However, I felt many of the things the author claims are of the new generation redefining what is better off is actually a natural progression of society. Like fathers becoming more active in child rearing or stay at home dad
Zac Ogle
May 08, 2019 rated it liked it
I was fascinated by the myriad subjects this book covered, but my main criticism of Martin's work is that its an inch deep and a mile wide. Each chapter could be expanded into its own standalone piece, and I suspect she might delve into subject matter more fully in successive works, but as it stands I think the most useful section for exploring the far-ranging topics covered within is the greatly expanded bibliography and references section at the end. Overall, I view this as a lodestar by which ...more
Oct 24, 2019 rated it liked it
There are several ideas in this book that made me pause and say “hm, I may want to try that.” The author acknowledges that most of what she describes is only available to peeps of privilege. She quotes researchers about the “diabolical illusion” (Daniel Levitin) of multitasking, and the beauty of talking regularly with small groups of friends about life’s big questions. There’s both a challenge and simplicity to the “American Dream” she suggests peeps re-invent. I recommend it to anyone who want ...more
Andrew Westphal
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
Disclosure: I did not finish the book.
I appreciate the subject matter and believe that there is a lot worth saying about this topic, but this structure was not for me. It was very difficult to follow the author’s train of thought as she jumped between citing recent news, research, individual case studies, and personal anecdotes. The text reads more like a bulleted list of examples than a single, coherent volume.
Additionally, I did not like the author’s conversational writing style: reading prin
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
At the outset, I got a vibe that this was really just a rah rah Millenials! book - and I was sort of right, but not totally. It's definitely worth a read because it makes you think... both about the stories we are told about the American Dream and the possibilities to create a real dream that comports with your values and causes you to lead the most satisfying life... both for yourself and for the benefit of others. ...more
J Crossley
Oct 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Make sure that you assess your goals to ensure that you are not just buying into the “American Dream.” This can cause unhappiness as you are striving after something that doesn’t really have meaning for you. The money identity that you experience comes from how you experienced family finances growing up. In order to bond better with the people around you, periodically turn off your electronic devices.

Maya King
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well written and researched, I enjoyed the author's reflections about what the new American dream is, and what it could be. Some sections were more interesting to me then others - I was particularly intrigued by her observations and predictions about the changing nature of work and relationships, as I've seen a lot of that first hand as well. ...more
Jul 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Cultural commentary that broadly describes many of the social trends we millennials are living through in the current shifting economic reality. Some problems through with the often superficial statistics loosely underpinning the macro level observations. Overall a thought-provoking commentary on the hope we can find in the cracks of today's changing world. ...more
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
I've thought a lot about the issues the author raises in this book (living smaller, living collectively, trying to have a good quality of life on less income than my parents), so I'm a natural audience for it--but for me this reads too much like a long TEDtalk and should have gone deeper on the subject. ...more
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Courtney is a weekly columnist for On Being, a Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation, podcast, and Webby Award-winning website. Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream explores how people are redefining the "good life" in the wake of the Great Recession.

Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Christian Science Monito

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