Why Nothing Works: The Anthropology of Daily Life

Front Cover
Simon and Schuster, Jan 11, 2011 - Social Science - 224 pages
From cults to crime to porno parlors—this book is about a lot of things that are new and strange in America today.

This book is about cults, crime, and shoddy goods, and the shrinking dollar. It's about porno parlors, and sex shops, and men kissing in the streets. It's about daughters shaking up, women on the rampage, marriages postponed, divorces on the rise, and no one having kids. It's about old ladies getting mugged and raped, people shoved in front of trains, and shoot-outs at gas pumps. And letters that take weeks to get delivered, waiters who throw food at you, rude sales help, and computers that bill you for things you never bought. It's about broken benches, waterless fountains, cracked windows, dirty toilets, crater-filled roads, graffiti-covered buildings, slashed paintings, toppled statues, stolen books. It's about shoelaces that break in a week, bulbs that keep burning out, pens that won't write, cars that rust, stamps that don't stick, stitches that don't hold, buttons that pop off, zippers that jam, planes that lose their engines, reactors that leak, dams that burst, roofs that collapse... It's about astrologers, shamans, exorcists, witches, and angels in space suits... It's about a lot of other things that are new and strange in America today.

—from the Introduction

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Preface to the Second Edition
Why Nothing Works
Why the Help Wont Help You
Why the Dollar Shrank
Why Women Left Home
Why the Gays Came Out of the Closet

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About the author (2011)

Marvin Harris is an American anthropologist who was educated at Columbia University, where he spent much of his professional career. Beginning with studies on race relations, he became the leading proponent of cultural materialism, a scientific approach that seeks the causes of human behavior and culture change in survival requirements. His explanations often reduce to factors such as population growth, resource depletion, and protein availability. A controversial figure, Harris is accused of slighting the role of human consciousness and of underestimating the symbolic worlds that humans create. He writes in a style that is accessible to students and the general public, however, and his books have been used widely as college texts.

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