Hedrick Smith,

Random House,

557 pages, $30

Hedrick Smith is a dogged assembler of data. Practically every page of his "Who Stole the American Dream?" crawls with numbers, statistics and percentages like the following:

"The top 0.1 percent -- about 315,000 people out of 315 million Americans -- garner roughly half of all capital gains in the U.S."

"The typical 401(k) nest egg of people in their 60s ... is $84,469," yet "analysts project that most retired couples will spend $200,000 on [health-related] items only partially covered by Medicare."

This and similar material, which deserves to be thundered by an Old Testament prophet, is cushioned in a drone fit for an agricultural report. Smith was a celebrated reporter for the New York Times, and his lack of a discernible style probably results from many decades of suppressing his own voice in the interest of reporting the news objectively.

The 400-plus pages of drab, personality-free prose he has assembled on all the ways the rich have been sticking it to the middle class since the late 1970s read like a Times investigative report from hell.

Yet his closing 10-point program for getting ourselves out of the hole we've dug doesn't seem to have come from the same keyboard that's just spent 40-plus pages delineating the reasons Congress has ground to a standstill.

For example: He advocates removing the cap on the payroll tax for incomes above $106,800 and either increasing Medicare premiums for the top 10 percent of earners or applying a means test for coverage. He also proposes drawing down troops in foreign lands -- a sensible idea, given that our defense spending is "roughly equal to the total of defense expenditures for all the other nations in the world."

Maybe some of them could be ordered to hold Republican legislators hostage, since, unless something very surprising happens in November, that's the only way his tax proposals have a prayer of being enacted into law.