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55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Abdication of Authority
The essays in Heather Mac Donald's collection are all provocative, if not inflammatory, with the most ironically insightful her piece on reforming the contemporary American school system, "Why Johnny's Teacher Can't Teach." Mac Donald suggests the system may neither need nor even be open to meaningful reform since it is the perfect complement for certain modern...
Published on March 11, 2001 by Stanley H. Nemeth

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Starts as an interesting view - becomes a whine-festival
She starts out slowly to explain the transformation from an individual based responsibility society to one that resolve individual responsibility and blames all woes on the vary society that creates the problem. A hand full of perverts and commies have taken control of our institutions and perverted the institution’s purpose. Sounding like she stumbled upon some...
Published on September 14, 2004 by bernie


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3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book, October 21, 2002
By A Customer
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The Burden of Bad Ideas systematically breaks down the "solutions" offered by those on the Left. Without question, many of these solutions only worsened the problem. From welfare to community policing, the better it works, the less the Left agrees with it. Perhaps even more importantly, the Left misrepresents many of the groups they purport to be supporting.
If you want to understand the Left, read this book.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth is Depressing, June 3, 2002
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This review is from: The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society (Hardcover)
Having just completed this book I only want to warn potential readers that Mac Donald's strong dose of reality may cause one to slip into a state of depression! Read it anyway.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Of Course The Liberals Will Hate It!, October 30, 2001
By 
tony suggs (Antioch, CA United States) - See all my reviews
Over the past 8 to 10 years I have slowly changed the way I looked at things politically, socially. Beliefs I held as the gospel, no longer are able to be justified by facts. The truth is , the facts never did back them up. Ms. Mac Donalds' book gave me more information to show my liberal family, friends and co-workers.
(...)Yes, Ms MacDonald showed us the worst examples of welfare fraud, Social Sercurity fraud, educational malpractice. (...)
(...) why didn't Ms MacDonald try to understand the phenomena that created the problems the people she profiled, have? (...)Ms. MacDonald brings up that women applying for professorships at colleges, are allowed to write essays dealing with their hair or race than about the subject matter they will teach! Such a red herring! (...)
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54 of 112 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly sloganistic, January 19, 2001
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This review is from: The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society (Hardcover)
This book starts out with a bang. In a thoughtful, well-written introduction, Heather MacDonald lays out her territory: How is it that civic values have changed so much for the worse? And why is it that the media does not report the truth about what poor people say about their situations? These are good, strong questions, and they deserve good, strong answers.
Unfortunately, most of what follows fails to deliver on the promise of the introduction. While I found her history of the decline of charitable foundations to be more or less accurate and rather chilling, even that chapter is marred by her unrelenting hostility towards anything she thinks is liberal and elitist.
The essays usually state facts without sources. This makes them suspect, in a book like this one, where the point is to push a particular political agenda. She mixes truly insightful passages with slander and blanket dismissal of things she seems to think she is supposed to disapprove. She finds the worst example of any liberal program and insists that this particular example is the epitome of that program, that the entire program must be just like this one example. But for rightist policies, she insists that each program be judged on its own merits, rather than being tarred by the more excessive cases.
This book was incredibly disappointing. She mocks women of color for writing about their hair, yet from the jacket photo, it appears that she has a hairstyle that, were she not white, she might likely be forced to subdue in many jobs. Does she not see that there's a relationship between her "right" to wear her hair as she likes and the color of her skin? And that women who have been told they can't braid their hair or wear Afros at work might be describing something that actually happens? By tainting her good points and her genuine evidence with this sort of mockery and contempt, she weakens her case.
It is always interesting to read thoughtful people, whatever their point of view, at least when they manage to make their points. But it's hard to take seriously a writer who views _The_Economist_ as a quintessential example of left-wing media bias. It's hard to see past her anger and contempt to the heart of the matters she seeks to expose.
And thus the book is disappointing -- there's room out there for an articulate writer on the side of the conservative approach to social issues. Unfortunately, MacDonald is too busy being a jingoistic cheerleader to be that artiulate writer. Too bad, because she lays out just the right territory to explore.
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43 of 103 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Amusing, but ultimately really bad, September 4, 2003
By A Customer
As a university student not offended by leftist politics, I found this book to be a hilarious read. MacDonald scours the land for the most absurd, the most "out there" intellectuals, and, to encourage outrage in the reader, she takes their ideas completely out of context.
What makes this book hilarious to read is the fact that she assumes her readers are like-minded conservatives, so she doesn't bother to make her case. Then she'll give the above-mentioned examples of "ludicrous" ideas. Sometimes these ideas are as ludicrous as promised, but at other times, I found myself agreeing with the ideas I'm supposed to be [mad] about.
Just one quick example: "The final cornerstone of progressive theory," writes MacDonald, "was the disdain for report cards and objective tests of knowledge. These inhibit learning, [supposedly wacko leftist] Kilpatrick argued; and he carried the day, to the eternal joy of students everywhere."
Anyone who has been through twenty years of schooling knows that passing a test does not guarantee that the knowledge stays with you. I've forgotten plenty of material I learned for tests that I aced. And furthermore, a student who fails a test doesn't learn the material, either. A test is okay, but why not let the student take the test as many times as they need to in order to learn the material? What's really important, the grade at the end of the year or whether the student learned the material? Often, they have nothing to do with each other. Grades really are pointless.
But MacDonald assumes I'll be outraged. That's why it's kind of funny to read. Another example is her outrage at cuckoo leftist intellectuals who characterize criminal behavior as somewhat political in nature. Is that really such an absurd proposition? If you're dirt poor, have no future, and are extremely angry, you might end up committing a crime. To say that the reasons aren't political in nature is... ignorant.
What's really amusing about the book, to me, is that someone actually paid attention to these radical, elitist intellectuals. I thought it was generally understood that they were elitists and no one in the "real world" took them seriously. They try so hard to be outrageous, and finally, someone actually bothered to get [mad] at their outrageousness. Way to go, MacDonald Like Bill O'Reilly suing Al Franken, thus launching his book to the bestseller lists, MacDonald proves the old adage that "there's no such thing as bad publicity." I'm planning on checking out some of the intellectuals she quotes in her book.
But ultimately, I can only give the book one star, because her argumentation has no substance at all. In the chapter entitled "Why Johnny's Teacher Can't Teach," she says "we had better take a hard look at what education schools actually teach." Her idea of a "hard look" is giving the reader a play-by-play of what took place in ONE classroom of ONE department of ONE college on ONE particular day. Professor Anne Nelson of the City College of New York is MacDonald's punching bag. After MacDonald decribes this ONE day to the reader, she asks "How did such navel gazing come to be central to teacher education?"
Uh, Ms. MacDonald, I think you still have yet to make that case...
A really bad book that I found quite amusing.
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36 of 88 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Anybody can prattle on and on about how broken things are, April 3, 2005
[Sadly, many readers base their votes as to
how helpful a review is, on whether it agrees
with their own views. Few non-conservatives
would even bother reading reviews of a book
like this, so I expect most readers will find this
review "not helpful" merely for political reasons.]

If you are a dyed-in-the-wool conservative merely looking for a feel-good experience in the form of an endless diatribe against liberals, this book is for you. Read no further. Buy the book.

If, however, you are interested in solving the social problems that face our country today, and want to learn about the various merits and pitfalls of programs and suggestions for solving those problems, then you should forget this book and go in search of an author who cares at least as much about solving the problems as she does about dumping on liberals--because that's all you'll get here.

Anybody can blather endlessly on what's broken; but to impress me, you have to suggest a better way--or at least give me the impression you actually care about resolving the problems in the first place. The problems historical to our welfare system, for example, are no secret to anyone. But hats off to those who care enough to keep trying to get it right. For her obvious lack of empathy, I can only assume MacDonald is among those many conservatives who, having gotten theirs, see no need for any form of welfare whatsoever, under any circumstance, and simply want it to disappear altogether. Such people say they would gladly help anyone "truly" in need--it's just that they can't imagine anyone ever actually being "truly" in need, because, to them, anyone in need is simply lazy.

I am light years from being a left wing extremist, and I am absolutely FOR welfare reform, but I certainly know better than to cite examples of thirteen-year-old children to illustrate how people should be left to suffer the consequences of their irresponsible behaviors. What heartless fundamentalism! If you cannot understand how not having a decent parent can foster "irresponsible" behavior in a child--a child!, and demand that that child basically be left abandoned to her deserved punishment, then you have nothing meaningful to say. If your tough love isn't based on love, it is worthless.

One of the 13-year-old children MacDonald discusses is a girl who was pregnant due to rape (not due to personal irresponsibility). Her siblings and parents were living horror stories of drugs and violence. Social workers sought to place the girl with other relatives, where she would have a more suitable environment for success. Instead of lauding those efforts, MacDonald's gripe about this case is that no one forced the girl to give up her baby. That there was no irresponsible behavior on the girl's part mattered not to MacDonald. The young woman should be made to suffer--for the rapist's irresponsibility, I guess.

MacDonald takes every opportunity to depict the poor (and of course these would be the "undeserving" poor, since that is all she concerns herself with) in the worst possible light--anything to make any form of welfare look silly. If you are bright enough to understand that welfare is intended for the truly needy, not the "undeserving," and wonder how MacDonald would address the needs of a responsible person who is truly in need through some unfortunate circumstance beyond the person's control, don't hold your breath. She doesn't even acknowledge a need, and the last thing she would do in this book is to cite an example that might support even a conservative program to help the poor.

The author cites projects that were clearly experimental, titled as such and referred to by MacDonald herself as experimental. Yet she then goes on at length to announce, as if bringing some great revelation to our attention, what failures they were. You'd think somebody was trying to incorporate them into routine policy! If nobody, or only a handful of extremists that no one is listening to, is arguing for something, why the pompous declarations? Answer: the point is to ridicule liberals, not find solutions.

I heard this book in audio format, while traveling, and every few sentences, I could only blurt out, "But...!" because of the lapses of logic or, more frequently, important parts of the discussion totally ignored. What about the "deserving" needy? Or the "undeserving" needy who are, nevertheless, needy? Do we just let them starve? (MacDonald would not permit begging.) Maybe letting them starve is an argument of merit, but MacDonald only tells us how broken things are, she doesn't address solutions nor even outline what she sees as the problems--if any.

She spends a chapter scoffing at the notion that homeless people would like to be housed. A study showed that many of them did not. Okay, that is a good thing to know, and it will inform our homeless policies. But again, don't hold your breath for MacDonald to discuss those who *do* need and want housing. Go to work for any homeless shelter (according to a friend who worked for several) and you will find cases of bright, formerly well-employed people who lost everything (often due to illness of a spouse). What about them? It is a non-issue with MacDonald, who finds it easier, and perhaps more fun, to scoff at those who care and try and make mistakes and try again. Nor does she address the endlessly botched (and largely conservative-based) healthcare policy in the U.S. and how it might directly relate to homelessness.

Some of her strongest ridicule is reserved for anyone who would think self-esteem is important enough to pay any attention to, when we develop school policy. Again, anyone can cite the most absurdly extreme examples of experimental efforts. But isn't it equally absurd to suggest the choice has to be all or nothing? Hey, if *I* didn't need anyone to help foster self esteem in me, then why should some 9-year-old black kid who didn't have a father and who's mother was a junkie need it? I got *my* caring parents, you get yours!

When MacDonald talks about the horrors of our museums trying to make their displays more diverse and inclusive, it frankly sounds like sour grapes. I mean, curators got a clue and started fixing things... damn! Even if (big IF) some museums have overcompensated in their laudable efforts toward balanced and inclusive presentations, she can't bring herself even to hint that perhaps indeed there was a problem to start with. Her attitude is like that of whites who complain that we don't have a "White Awareness Month." (In fact, in one of her examples, she complains that if a white student had written the same kind of essay that a black student had written, there would be outrage. Is that the extent of her rational insight and maturity?) If museums have erred on the side of too much diversity, after a couple of hundred years of erring on the side of too little, how bothered can a sane person get? Tweak the solution and move on! At this point it actually crossed my mind that MacDonald could be an "angry straight white man" using a pseudonym! We white males had it so good for so many years, and now that the scales tip a little closer to balance--or, God forbid, half an ounce too far--the sky is falling!

One need not wonder whether MacDonald ever got as bent out of shape over too LITTLE diversity and minority representation as she does over her irrational fear that such issues might now be slightly overstated rather than grossly understated.

There is no question that caring can go too far, or, better put, that many things that have been tried haven't worked or need tweaking. No one disputes it. But what is the point of announcing, almost with apparent glee, that something didn't work? A meaningful, worthwhile work would discuss the problems themselves and attempt to make another inch-worth of progress toward resolving them. To imply that the old ways were just fine doesn't cut it for me.

I have a longstanding commitment to hearing all sides, and that's why I endured this marathon rant. It was largely a waste of time, because I already knew what was wrong. The only reason the book rates a star is that you do learn some history, some details about the things that were wrong--which can be interesting for the learning, if not for a solution. The only reason for an undeserved second star is to keep from looking like an extremist that people won't bother to read. Other reviewers who gave this book only one or two stars are right on the mark. They say it better than I. Take a look at them.

As for the audio version, the reader drones about as much as one possibly could. The only excitement or change in tone seems to be in direct quotes when she livens up to make a minority person sound as dumb as she can, or to make an opposing view sound as silly as possible. Count on a lot of coffee if you want to stay on the road with this one.
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36 of 88 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Lemon by Any Other Name ....., July 13, 2002
By A Customer
As indicated by the big yellow warning label on the cover, this book is a lemon. It contains a superficial discussion of various issues affecting poor people and minorities from a decidedly unsympathetic point of view. A host of neoconservative ideologues, including William J. Bennett, Robert Bork, Lynne Cheney, Dinesh D'Sousa, and Gertrude Himmelfarb, have written similar polemics against the progressive ideas of the 1960s. The only books of this kind that I have found worth reading are "The Closing of the American Mind" by Allan Bloom and "The End of History and the Last Man" by Francis Fukuyama. The rest, including this one, constitute examples of what Richard Hofstadter described in his 1962 book, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life."
I take particular exception to the author's condemnation of the critical legal studies and critical race and gender theory courses pioneered by Harvard Law School in the 1970s and now offered by many American law schools ("Law School Humbug," pages 61-81). When I graduated from Harvard Law School in 1965, I was completely unprepared for what I would have to face in corporate law practice: being expected to lie for clients (they didn't call it lying, they called it "advocacy") and help them cover up their crimes (they didn't call it tax evasion, they called it "tax avoidance"). The corrupt business practices recently revealed in the media are not the transgressions of "a few bad apples" as Mr. Bush would have people believe. They are now, and always have been, an integral part of mainstream business culture. Having grown up in the bible belt during the McCarthy era, I entered law school believing corporate executives and other business people to be pillars of honesty and respectability. If Harvard's critical legal studies program had been in place at that time, I might have been less gullible when I graduated and able to avoid the painful process of learning the truth about business and legal "ethics." In fact, I would recommend that something similar to critical legal studies be offered, perhaps even required, for high school students so that some who would otherwise be attracted to legal or business careers by the promise of big incomes might instead choose a more honest, if less lucrative, way of making a living. The author's wholesale dismissal of current academic and government approaches to the solution of economic and social problems and her failure to offer a comparable critique of business culture suggests that she favors private sector market solutions that would be equivalent to welcoming the fox into the chicken coop.
The greatest shortcoming of this book is the absence of an introductory or concluding chapter that ties together the themes common to the other chapters and clarifies the unstated assumptions underlying the book's subtitle: "How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society." For example, what are the author's objections to postmodern theory? Why does she believe that education and other public programs should be positive and celebratory rather than ironic and self-reflective? Have the terms "positive" and "celebratory" ever been anything other than euphemisms for salesmanship, boosterism, con-artistry, and gingoism? Do not "ironic" and "self-reflective" describe the kind of critical thinking that has been the foundation of the Western intellectual tradition from the time of Socrates to the present? Is this lemon perhaps laced with a dose of hemlock? These and similar questions deserve an answer. I think that what the author and other neoconservatives are really complaining about is that many Americans are no longer willing to suspend disbelief. The charade is over. The players have been unmasked. We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
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29 of 74 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just ideas that go against the author's politics, December 16, 2005
I chose this book quickly before a business trip thinking from the title that it was going to be an engineering-style analysis of various bad ideas that held sway for a long time despite being clearly wrong. Just reading the back of the book, though, makes it clear that this book is about modern policies that the author disagrees with.

It's so one-sided that it could only be enjoyed by someone looking for selected facts to support regressive political positions. Counter arguments are almost never addressed. The book takes a self-righteous tone that gets tiresome after a while.

Some of the points she makes seem out-and-out wrong:

1) She frequently refers to people she disagrees with as "elites". Often these are the people who at least claim to be trying to do something to help the neediest members of society. It seems to me that the "elites" would be the people who don't need any help whatsoever.

2) She describes a law student who was brought to tears when she was exposed to racism against her for the first time. No one should have to deal with racism, but it strikes me as funny that one incident of racism in someone's life is worthy to write about in a book. I've heard there are other aspects to law school that are more grueling than being exposed to racism one time.

3) Often times it seems like the author's arguments are meant to appeal to the reader's envy. She is reminding people that wasteful projects to help the needy are costing people who aren't needy. Isn't the more important issue that resources are being wasted that could have helped more needy people? Not for the author.

I try to ask myself how I would react if the book were equally one-sided and superficial but put forward ideas that I personally agreed with. After all, I have enjoyed reading through Michael Moore's books which are even less balanced and intellectual than this book. Why do I like Moore's books more? Maybe it's because he has fun with the ideas; I'm not sure.

I cannot recommend this book except to someone who already agrees with regressive politics and wants some easy reading.
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44 of 108 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Superficial Political Tract, December 29, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society (Hardcover)
Although Ms. MacDonald has some good points to make about the failures of the welfare state and the excesses of left wing "political correctness", her book, unfortunately, is cut from the mold of those she is ostensibly attacking. MacDonald, after a thoughtful opening, quickly descends into a fast paced and superficial barrage of demogogic sloganeering, conclusory assertions and personal attacks, most of which have a dubious factual basis and none of which are backed by any footnotes or citations to authority. No wonder she is described as a "non-practicing" attorney. In the process, MacDonald proceeds to slander and dismiss "elitist" thinkers-some of whom are widely respected on both the Left and the Right and are the product of our most prestigious intellectual institutions, in little more than one or two paragraphs-some like Michel Foucalt, whom she has obviously never read and whose views she misrepresents, in one sentence. MacDonald similarly breezily dismisses and trivializes some of the more profound issues of our day such as the cultural plunder of Native American artifacts and human remains by museums and universities, an unjustice that Congress, to its credit, has begun to rectify. MacDonald's book may be a good read for those in the A.M. talk show milieu, however, intellectually serious and thoughtful people, whether liberal or conservative, should not waste their time on this superficial political tract.
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19 of 61 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars unreadable, June 7, 2005
After the first 20 pages of the book you will already have heard everything the author has to say, it's all about racism and sexism.

It's good to see someone exposing on the fact that anti-sexist, anti-classist and anti-racist thinking is shaping the way many things are handled, some good points are made in this book but the truth is that once you have read 20 pages you have read the whole book, all it does is blame the same factors on everything and I found myself skimming thru the 3 later chapters trying to find something new to read about, but it just keeps on going on the same thing.

This book may be novel and insightful, but the author lacks the writing skills to put it together into a coherent and readable essay on the subject.

not worth buying, not by a long shot
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The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society
The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society by Heather Mac Donald (Hardcover - August 22, 2000)
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