Who We Are

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Few readers will read WHO WE ARE from cover to cover, but that is not the book’s intended use. Chapters discuss various facets of life in the United States, including demographic breakdowns by race, age, income class, family type, income, and wealth. Roberts also discusses work life, commuting, urban growth, and education. In the concluding chapter, he offers predictions for the future of the United States.

Although the book is filled with statistics based on the 1990 U.S. census, it is not simply a dry presentation of numbers. Roberts attempts to explain the numbers and what they mean. An urban affairs columnist for THE NEW YORK TIMES, he appears to have wide knowledge of the significance of many of the statistics collected by the government. The text gives reasonable explanations for many of the trends described and suggests implications of many of the statistics provided.

Roberts provides justification for his book in the first two chapters, titled “Who We Are” and “Why We Count.” The first gives a brief demographic profile of the United States, with comparisons through two centuries of census data collection, and the second describes the purpose of the U.S. census and gives a brief history of how it has been collected and how it has changed over the years. The second chapter contains the only obvious statistical error. Roberts states that the 1990 census cost $1,040 (rather than $10.40) per person to collect and process.

Many of the observations are enlightening. For example, in 1990 only 3 percent of all U.S. households consisted of the stereotypical working father, housewife mother, and two children. Careful readers will find many interesting, though not necessarily useful, tidbits of information, such as the fact that more babies are born on Tuesday than on any other day of the week and that August is the most common month of birth. Statistics are concentrated at the end of the book, with ten appendices filling twenty-six pages. Other tables are scattered throughout. A reasonably detailed sixteen-page index allows for quick searches.