Cold New World (Random House; $26) is better read as a character study of the nature of family than as a political statement. To be polite, you’d call it loosely organized. William Finnegan’s larger vision is often subsumed in the interconnected, disconnected families whose lives he’s chronicling. Everyone he likes manages to get a word in. Finnegan, as he’d be the first to admit, is seduced by his subjects. But as he points out, he sticks out like a sore thumb in New Haven’s projects and East Texas liquor stores, and occasionally his white-boy self-consciousness gets in the way of the story. He offers no from-on-high solutions for reigning in America’s alienated youth. Instead, Cold New World describes its subjects and their circumstances with so much sympathetic detail that the reader, like Finnegan, is motivated to step in and help.