From Publishers Weekly
Inspired by Richard Hofstadter's trenchant 1963 cultural analysis Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
, Jacoby (Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism
) has produced an engaging, updated and meticulously thought-out continuation of her academic idol's research. Dismayed by the average U.S. citizen's political and social apathy and the overall crisis of memory and knowledge involving everything about the way we learn and think, Jacoby passionately argues that the nation's current cult of unreason has deadly and destructive consequences (the war in Iraq, for one) and traces the seeds of current anti-intellectualism (and its partner in crime, antirationalism) back to post-WWII society. Unafraid of pointing fingers, she singles out mass media and the resurgence of fundamentalist religion as the primary vectors of anti-intellectualism, while also having harsh words for pseudoscientists. Through historical research, Jacoby breaks down popular beliefs that the 1950s were a cultural wasteland and the 1960s were solely a breeding ground for liberals. Though sometimes partial to inflated prose (America's endemic anti-intellectual tendencies have been grievously exacerbated by a new species of semiconscious anti-rationalism), Jacoby has assembled an erudite mix of personal anecdotes, cultural history and social commentary to decry America's retreat into junk thought. (Feb. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Identifying herself as a "cultural conservationist" (but by no means a cultural conservative), Jacoby laments the decline of middlebrow American culture and presents a cogent defense of intellectualism. America, she believes, faces a "crisis of memory and knowledge," in which anti-intellectualism is not only tolerated but celebrated by those in politics and the media to whom we are all "just folks." The Internet, for all its promise, is too often "a highway to the far-flung regions of junk thought." Meanwhile, twenty-five per cent of high-school biology teachers believe that human beings and dinosaurs shared the earth, and more than a third of Americans cant name a single First Amendment right. In such an environment, Jacoby argues, the secular left and the religious right can have no fruitful dialogue on issues like the separation of church and state. She offers little hope that the situation will improve, opining that, despite increasing levels of education, "Americans seem to know less and less."
Copyright © 2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker