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Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire Paperback – January 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this provocative, scattershot jeremiad, cultural historian Berman (The Twilight of American Culture) likens America to ancient Rome on the brink. On the geopolitical plane, he contends, the United States is a belligerent, overstretched empire, saddled with huge deficits and a hollowed-out economy, vulnerable to terrorist blowback and, worse, collapse if foreign creditors finally pull the plug. The rot is cultural and spiritual, too: Americans are cold, alienated shopaholics immured in suburban anomie, each encased in a private bubble of iTunes and media noise and indifferent to the public good. Culprits include globalization, technology and, more fundamentally, the individualism and commercialism that is the bedrock of American identity. Because American civilization is a "package deal," the author considers it impervious to piecemeal reform and, given Americans' ingrained "stupidity" and willful blindness, unsalvageable. Berman's attempts to tie every American dysfunction to an all-encompassing sickness of soul overreaches, leading him to lump together serious issues like poverty and the Abu Ghraib outrages with trivialities like annoying cell phone yakkers or the "freedom fries" phenomenon, which he bemoans as "symbolic of an emptiness at the core." Often stimulating and insightful in its particulars, his indictment, like the jingoism it abhors, is too sweeping and essentialist to fully capture American reality. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

A despairing analyst of contemporary America, Berman continues criticism begun in The Twilight of American Culture (2000). One character crystallizing Berman's thoughts is President George W. Bush, under whom, according to Berman, the U.S. is incipiently, if not actually, suffering a "presidential dictatorship," a "de facto Christian theocratic plutocracy." In that vein, Berman undertakes a wide-ranging condemnation of American economic and foreign policy of the past 50 years, which he believes has propelled America into disastrous decline. That Berman inveighs against free markets and thinks the cold war was partly a dynamic of the Soviet Union acting defensively infuses this work with a solidly leftist viewpoint. In Berman's vigorous arrangement of evidence, current events are propelling us upon an irreversibly downward trajectory toward a societal situation resembling the Dark Ages. However, Berman offers no positive ideas to reverse this perceived free fall, making his tome more of an alarm than a solution. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: The Final Phase of Empire
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (January 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393329771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329773
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #712,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

196 of 206 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on April 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A work of breathtaking erudition and synthesis, DARK AGES AMERICA offers no hope for arresting America's career as a self-destructive global hegemon. While that's a difficult conclusion to swallow, Berman amply defends his thesis, drawing his supporting evidence from a variety of disciplines: history, cultural studies, polling data, economic analysis, sociology and social psychology. The possibility of America's turning away from its dark destiny, which in Mr. Berman's analysis is now clearly manifest, is made to seem remote, and, regrettably, convincingly so.

Particularly compelling is Mr. Berman's discussion of America's need for an enemy, an Other upon which to focus in order that we never turn our attention to the emptiness at the center of the American psyche: The Red Menace, the Cold War, the War on Drugs, The War on Terror. Each of these wars has served to diminish and even outlaw critical thinking about America's empiric career. In a constant state of emergency, history for Americans is a set of bullet points which are cynically served up as justification for the latest military adventure. Berman's anecdotes and survey findings paint an American populace that is self-absorbed, provincial, and willfully anti-intellectual, a people for whom bullet points more than suffice.

We watch television shows about tightly knit families and groups of friends, staving off the loneliness generated by the individualistic, devil-take-the-hindmost ethos that is America's real civil religion, Berman says. We turn away from the terror that we inflict on innocent people in order that we may claim their oil wealth and so keep this dwindling life-blood flowing in the veins of the American project of global empire.
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171 of 185 people found the following review helpful By Fred Strohm on April 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Americans, perhaps even more than the citizens of other nations, are fond of repeating that their country is the greatest nation on Earth. They are not the ideal customers for the news that their nation is in the Dark Ages.

And given their boundless enthusiasm for hi tech, they are likely to find the notion absurd. How can we possibly be in the Dark Ages, when our copying machines would have seemed supernatural to medieval monks?

But the shadows on the wall of Plato's Cave are not any more real when displayed on a 62-inch flat screen TV.

Whatever crimes this book may be charged with, its worst offense is stating the plain truth.

Of course everyone will complain about the shortage of recommended cures.

But if a doctor isn't sure how to save a patient with a dozen fatal diseases, the patient's chance of survival is better if she at least knows what ails her.
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169 of 186 people found the following review helpful By Alex Marshall on March 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a true-blue American, my blood rings with the "Gee Whiz, we can lick this" attitude that is in so many of our DNA, and that traces back to Howdy-Doodee, Will Rogers, Horatio Alger, and so many real and not so real characters. The idea that some problems, and some bad state of affairs, are simply not solveable is difficult to swallow. It seems well, unamerican. So it's ironic that Morris Berman's argument that America itself is heading downhill, and is, in a sense, unsolveable is so well made. He makes a strong case that we are on the downhill slope of empire, trapped in our own hubris, with too many systemic flaws built into the operating system. His work is comparable, I suspect, to Kevin Phillips' new book, American Theocracy, which, according to reviews, also paints a dark picture of our future. Whatever side you take on this country's future, Morris Berman's latest book is well worth reading.
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Jason Mierek on November 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The guy behind you in the theatre bellows into his cell phone for the first fifteen minutes of the film, and then threatens to kick your butt when you ask him to be quiet. Someone in a Hummer sideswipes your car on the interstate off-ramp and then explains to the police that she shouldn't be ticketed because she couldn't see your car from "up there." The U.S. invades and occupies a sovereign nation based on ever-changing rationales and in violation of international law, kidnaps and tortures that nation's citizens, and then wonders why the world responds with contempt and violence. Meanwhile, those American citizens who protest the actions of their government, including things as beyond the pale as the legalization of torture, are called traitors.

What do all of these seemingly disparate phenomena have in common? According to Morris Berman, they are all indicative of a nation that is rotten to the core, an empire on the verge of collapse, and they are all the consequences of the laissez-faire, dog-eat-dog, me-first-and-devil-take-the-hindmost ethos that has permeated American culture since it's inception.

Ironically, this ethos is the "shadow side" as it were of those ideals that once made the United States great in the eyes of the world: its traditions of challenging monarchic authority and of guaranteeing individual freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Berman argues that this shadow side undermined any sense of community or commons and paved the way for a contemporary society in which financial success is the sole standard of achievement. Without any higher goals or deeper virtues than winning at any cost, American success has been surprisingly and shockingly empty.
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