Since the publication of Thomas Sowell's classic "Race and Economics" more than 20 years ago, many others have followed in his footsteps, deconstructing the myth that racism is a primary factor in people's well being in desegregated America.
Most such books include some discussion of what we call affirmative action but are more concerned with destroying the premises on which race-based preferences stand. Even Sowell's "Preferential Policies," which examined racial set asides on a worldwide basis, did not make a detailed study of the American model.
Now comes "Backfire" by ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick, which is the first book I've seen to leave the world of the theoretical and focus exclusively on the ungodly mess affirmative action has created in American society.
In plain, unflinching language, Zelnick exposes not only the injustice of giving preference by race but also the unprecedented power it has given government in virtually every area of our society.
The program has evolved from noble beginnings in anti-discrimination laws designed to break down barriers for the worthy to an atmosphere in which testing is considered biased because of "disparate impact."
While most people think of affirmative action as a minor social program that effects hiring in marginal cases, Zelnick shows how government has used it to conduct social engineering on a massive scale in virtually every area of public life.
Jobs, school admissions, mortgages, insurance, promotions, and grades can no longer be based merely on objective criteria, he writes. It has gotten to the point, Zelnick writes, of discussions on whether a Washington, D.C., police officer really needs to know how to read and write. (The "doesn't" side prevails.)
The affirmative action story in "Backfire" is an Orwellian world of Big Brother control and unintended consequences of Kafkaesque proportions.
Through hundreds of anecdotal cases, Zelnick shows that the affirmative action mentality is really an attack on the very notion of merit and on the idea that private choices can be made in the marketplace without government interference.
He also writes of government agencies run amok. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program, for example, finds bias in 75 percent of the cases it investigates and often ruins through paperwork those in which it does not.
One such ruined company, Zelnick writes, was a business owned by a Puerto Rican-American with 100 percent minority employees that could not afford the agency's paperwork demands.
Far from "mending" affirmative action's flaws, as President Clinton had promised, he notes, the administration has pushed the policy in even more intrusive directions.
Just when you thought there was nothing new to say on this topic, Zelnick rips the lid off a can of worms that is slimier than even many of its opponents imagined. He makes his case through sheer weight of detail and excellent reporting, rather than relying on rhetoric or theory.
This system is a mess, and that's a fact.