Andrew Shapiro, 23, looks about as imposing as Doogie Howser. Nonetheless, he expects to command the attention of George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jerry Brown, all of whom are on the list to receive his new book, We’re Number One! Where America Stands — and Falls — in the World Order.
Shapiro was an intern at The Nation magazine last year when the U.S. victory in the Persian Gulf made the phrase, ”We’re number one!” a ubiquitous boast for Americans. Well, Shapiro wondered, are we? He made a few phone calls, tabulated some statistics, and then typed up a four-paragraph column for The Nation. The column evolved into a paperback that concludes, ”We are number one, but not the way we think.” America is number one in teen pregnancies, budget deficit, and golf courses, among other things.
”It’s not that there aren’t positive things here,” Shapiro says. ”But when you juxtapose one statistic with another it highlights the paradoxical, contradictory nature of life in America. We have the most billionaires and the largest number of children and elderly people living in poverty. Seventy percent of us live in big homes with five or more rooms, but per capita we have the most homeless.”
Shapiro, who graduated from Brown University and now teaches world cultures to eighth graders at New York City’s exclusive Dalton School, is eager to see what happens when Vintage releases the book with a cover blurb by historian Paul Kennedy averring that ”all the presidential candidates should be asked to respond to it.” Says Shapiro: ”I’m a punk, a kid just two or three years out of school. I’m not a policy expert. I’m not a statistician. But if I came to any conclusion in writing this book it was that I think we need to do better. But I also think we need to be less obsessed with being number one.”