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Anti-Intellectualism in American Life Paperback – February 12, 1966

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Editorial Reviews

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"The most comprehensive, succinct, and well-written one-volume treatment of the subject now available."--Walter Laqueur

From the Publisher

"The most comprehensive, succinct, and well-written one-volume treatment of the subject now available."--Walter Laqueur
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 12, 1966)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394703170
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394703176
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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421 of 424 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Hefele on May 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
"The age of philosophy has passed...that of utility has commenced..." said an orator at Yale in 1844. Richard Hofstadter uses this telling quote and well as a wealth of other information to show how a thread of anti-intellectualism runs through the history and culture of "practical" America. He dissects anti-intellectualism, goes into its history and origins in the US, and shows its impact in education, politics, and business. This thorough analysis won him the 1964 Pulitzer Prize in Non-Fiction.

Hofstadter is careful to define what he means by the intellect and intellectuals. The intellect is the critical, creative, contemplative side of mind that examines, ponders, wonders, theorizes, criticizes, questions, imagines. It is the province of writers, critics, skeptics, professors, scientists, editors, journalists, lawyers and clergymen. Just being a "mental technician" in these fields is not enough; one also acts as an active custodian of values like reason and justice and truth.

Unfortunately, America's practical culture has never embraced intellectuals. The intellectuals' education and expertise are viewed as a form of power or privilege. Intellectuals are seen as a small arrogant elite who are pretentious, conceited, snobbish. Geniuses' are described as eccentric, and their talents dismissed as mere cleverness. Their cultured view is seen as impractical, and their sophistication as ineffectual. Their emphasis on knowledge and education is viewed as subversive, and it threatens to produce social decadence.

Instead, the anti-intellectuals believe that the plain sense of the common man is altogether adequate and superior to formal knowledge and expertise from schools.
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345 of 365 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
One reviewer below insists that this book, while excellent, is "dated." I find this an astonishing evaluation. What stunned me about this book was how familiar the anti-intellectualism from each period in American history felt. True, we are not today facing McCarthyism--our own particular moment in history feels Orwellian more than anything--but Hofstadter's overall point about anti-intellectualism being a constituent part of the national character has not been invalidated by the past forty years. Indeed, his points have been confirmed at nearly every point. And while the anti-intellectuals in the fifties may have railed against "eggheads," today the GOP directs much of their fury against the "liberal elite." Since most of "the elite" is comparatively poor compared to the Right-wing economic elite, clearly they are aiming their guns at the intellectual elite. Figures Hofstadter quotes from the 18th century sound like they could be one of today's right wing pundits.

Few books that I have ever read have helped me understand the American character as well as this one. Many of the chapters in American history that he chronicles are somewhat forgotten, but just as essential as the more familiar figures and events.
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160 of 167 people found the following review helpful By Brooke276 on June 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
Before this book, I had never contemplated the differences between intelligence and intellectualism, but now, armed with Hofstadter's witty, sophisticated study, I can, with confidence, better survey our national landscape. Not only does the author reveal our anti-intellectual roots, he deconstructs the origins of our commitment to "practical knowledge." Whether it's religion or the business ethic, American culture has sanctioned and outwardly promoted a disdain for intellectual contemplation in favor of more "functional" learning that will (must), in the end, bring about conformity, commercialism, and commodification, NOT abstract thought. The book is a masterpiece and if there are any people left in this country who believe the mind is the last refuge of true freedom, it should serve as a revolutionary cry for all of us to follow.
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66 of 74 people found the following review helpful By daibhidh on January 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
Hofstadter's book seems even more vital today than it was when it first came out, back in 1964. As the title suggests, he explores the anti-intellectual roots of American society, particularly along three lines: the rise of evangelical, fundamentalist religion (emphasizing intensity of faith versus book larnin'); the growth of business (corporate) culture in America (with its emphasis on "practicality" and "pragmatism"); and the egalitarian impulses of what Americans consider democracy.
This book is incredibly detailed and thorough, with ample footnotes throughout. When people use the term "exhaustive" to describe a work, it comes to mind with this one. I found sections of it to be fascinating and informative, and other parts less so.
What this book seems to lack is really a sense of what to do about it; in his exploration of the anti-intellectual culture of America, he sort of paints himself into a corner -- especially when he notes that intellectuals themselves have come to incorporate themselves with mainstream society and few assume the gadfly social critic role they historically occupied.
I think American readers today can read this and realize: a) this problem has been with America a long time; b) it seems to be getting worse; Europeans can read it and get a sense of what makes Americans tick.
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