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Looking on the Bright Side

by Andrew Stuttaford

The Myth of America’s Decline: Politics, Economics, and a Half Century of False Prophecies, by Josef Joffe (Liveright, 352 pp., $26.95)

There is usually a moment in the course of a typical English picnic of drizzle, hard-boiled eggs, and chill, when someone looks up at the gray, unyielding sky and brightly announces that the weather is “clearing up.” If Josef Joffe attends English picnics, he would be that someone.

In this cheery take on America’s prospects, Joffe, the editor of Die Zeit, looks around and ahead and decides that, for all its problems, the U.S. will do just fine. He reminds us that pundits and politicians have been awaiting the end of America since its beginning. In itself, of course, this proves nothing: Time passes, facts change; what once was set in stone ends up slithering on sand. Joffe takes care to say that the failure to come true of previous prophecies of America’s decline “does not mean that [one] never will,” but, given the broader themes of this book, those words — and a handful of others like them — are the equivalent of the quick-fire muttering that accompanies some car commercials, caveats that no one is meant to notice.

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