The assertion on the back cover of Reaching the American Dream: What You Need to Know couldn’t be bolder: “All you need to know is in the content of this short, easy-to-read book.” But some self-help books go overboard on claims, and Kenneth Smith’s 32-page volume is no exception.
Smith, a financially secure Navy veteran and retired Realtor who’s been married for more than 40 years, must have some insightful, hard-won tales about his quest for the American dream. Yet they are all but absent from this slim book. Instead, Smith offers advice that, at least in the early chapters, is so elementary and general that it’s hard to know who might benefit from it. “You can chose [sic] to go to college but you don’t have to if you don’t choose to or feel that you can’t afford to,” he writes. Elsewhere he pens, “There are programs out there in the way of grants and student loans sponsored by our government.”
Much of the book comes across as preachy, the kind of rhetoric kids hear, and ignore, all the time – get a job, save for the future – but without fresh or compelling reasons to back it up. Some tips are a bit out of touch, such as recommendations to hand-deliver a job application without an email address and pursue an occupation from which to retire “with a good pension.” Who expects this anymore? Certainly not the Millennials Smith’s book is apparently trying to reach.
The later chapters about money – one outlines how much of a $22-an-hour paycheck an employee actually keeps after taxes, insurance and Social Security, and another offers guidelines for boosting a credit score by balancing debt ratio – contain more detail.
Despite Smith’s good intentions, Reaching the American Dream feels less like a book than a grandfatherly pep talk, albeit a warmhearted one.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.