Cold New World

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

William Finnegan has been a reporter in war-torn regions of Africa and has written three books about his experiences. In COLD NEW WORLD: GROWING UP IN A HARDER COUNTRY, Finnegan decides to tackle a different war, one of poverty and racism in America.

The book is divided into five sections, corresponding to the four different regions Finnegan studied and the conclusions he has drawn. The book contains forty-three pages of notes, which provide rich historical detail as well as statistics, and a bibliography. Four of the sections feature a central character that allowed Finnegan into his or her life and is enriched by commentary from the individual’s family, friends, and community figures such as police, social workers, and even local politicians.

In each of the locations Finnegan visited: New Haven, Connecticut; San Augustine, Texas; the Yakima Valley of Washington State; and Lancaster, California, he found evidence of economic decline among his own generation, the parents of his teenaged subjects. Drugs played a central part in the local culture in all four locations, but not all of Finnegan’s subjects partook, and only one parent was an active drug user. Yet the parents of these teens were unable to provide them with even the standard of living they had enjoyed growing up.

Physical violence, either as an inevitable part of the drug scene or the street fighting of rival gangs, figured strongly in all the subjects’ lives. At times, Finnegan finds himself shocked at the teens’ acceptance of and capability of vicious physical attacks. Another troubling aspect Finnegan found was the entrenched racism and social assumptions of the local police agencies and political elite, as revealed through personal interviews.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, May 15, 1998, p. 1570.

Business Week. June 1, 1998, p. 26.

Dissent. XLV, Summer, 1998, p. 104.

Library Journal. CXXIII, June 1, 1998, p. 137.

The New York Review of Books. XLV, July 16, 1998, p. 12.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, June 14, 1998, p. 9.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, April 13, 1998, p. 63.

Time. CLI, May 25, 1998, p. 80.

The Village Voice. May 12, 1998, p. 135.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, June 28, 1998, p. 7.