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Publisher's Summary

Combining historical analysis with contemporary observation, Susan Jacoby dissects a new American cultural phenomenon - one that is at odds with our heritage of Enlightenment reason and with modern, secular knowledge and science. With mordant wit, Jacoby surveys an antirationalist landscape extending from pop culture to a pseudo-intellectual universe of "junk thought". Disdain for logic and evidence defines a pervasive malaise fostered by the mass media, triumphalist religious fundamentalism, mediocre public education, a dearth of fair-minded public intellectuals on the right and the left, and, above all, a lazy and credulous public.
Jacoby offers an unsparing indictment of the American addiction to infotainment - from television to the Web - and cites this toxic dependency as the major element distinguishing our current age of unreason from earlier outbreaks of American anti-intellectualism and antirationalism.
With reading on the decline and scientific and historical illiteracy on the rise, an increasingly ignorant public square is dominated by debased media-driven language and received opinion.
At this critical political juncture, nothing could be more important than recognizing the "overarching crisis of memory and knowledge" described in this impassioned, tough-minded book, which challenges Americans to face the painful truth about what the flights from reason has cost us as individuals and as a nation.
©2008 Susan Jacoby (P)2008 Tantor
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Critic Reviews

"Smart, well researched, and frequently cogent." ( The New York Times)
"Electric with fearless interpretation and fueled by passionate concern...brilliant, incendiary, and, one hopes, corrective." ( Booklist)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By J. D. Portnoy on 03-18-13

A very bad match!

Susan Jacoby's book is intelligent, thought-provoking, and worthy of anyone's time. However, the reader, Cassandra Campbell, was the worst possible choice to narrate this text, because she is unable to pronounce many, many names, as well as ordinary words. She is a perfect parody of everything Jacoby is trying to say, albeit the irony was surely not intended. To cite just one of her many gaffes, at once point she pronounces the name "Kristol," referring to Irving Kristol, as "ChrysTAL," as in the alcoholic beverage. This very good book deserves to be recorded again by someone better educated than this reader. Listen to the book if you have a strong tolerance for the ignorant.

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9 of 10 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars
By T. Andrew Poehlman on 07-15-08

Interesting, but explanation by redescription

So, what did I learn from this book?

1) A lot of facts about stuff that has happened in America. Interesting enough.

2) I have heard a defense of middle-brow morals from the late 50s and early 60s which was pretty compelling (although, it is not coincidental these are the morals with which Jacoby was raised).

3) That the Beatles aren't as good as Chopin (for which there is never a cogent argument besides that "it's obvious" or "Paul Simon doesn't think he's a poet").

4) And that TV is evil and has ruined our society (maybe to some extent, but is that really explaining anything? The question is why has it made us anti-intellectual vs. the Europeans).

I would have to say the anti-Beatles argument really sums up the weak points of this book. While its strengths are in its recitation of the intellectual history of America, its weaknesses are that it usually just hinges on, "well, come on, the Beatles are pop music, not as good as classical, come on!" It's not particularly moving as an argument, frankly.

That Jacoby can never separate her own personal tastes for the intellectual life (NPR, Russian Literature and wine and cheese) from her story about why America has been dumbed down to an almost comical level is a true shame. Because even though the topic could be a fascinating explanation of what's gone wrong with American minds, the book reads more like a personal indictment of things Jacoby doesn't like. Right-wing neocons? Yup she doesn't like 'em. Academic politics? She doesn't like 'em (and boy does she go on about it!). Pop culture? She doesn't like it.

In sum, it's very well read and very interesting, but never goes beneath a surface level of vitriol against the intellectual life to which Jacoby clearly aspires.

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31 of 37 people found this review helpful

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