Customer Reviews


107 Reviews
5 star:
 (49)
4 star:
 (24)
3 star:
 (18)
2 star:
 (8)
1 star:
 (8)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Way To Think About Some Very Old Problems
If I were to write a short list of contemporary authors who have most affected my thinking during the past two decades, Morris Berman would be at the top. His books "Coming to Our Senses" and "The Reenchantment of the World" not only gave me new insights into the notion of a more embodied existence, they also gave me a lasting epistemological appreciation of the kind...
Published on June 17, 2000 by Charles D. Hayes

versus
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars We need political action, not "monks" (3.5 stars)
According to the author, American culture, or American society, is in "shambles." It is a society that has been dumbed down and hollowed out as multinational corporations have virtually penetrated all of society's domains. What does such a society look like? In lieu of Enlightenment reasonableness, American society is kept in a superficial state of busyness by such...
Published on June 20, 2003 by J. Grattan


‹ Previous | 1 211 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars We need political action, not "monks" (3.5 stars), June 20, 2003
By 
J. Grattan (Lawrenceville, GA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Twilight of American Culture (Paperback)
According to the author, American culture, or American society, is in "shambles." It is a society that has been dumbed down and hollowed out as multinational corporations have virtually penetrated all of society's domains. What does such a society look like? In lieu of Enlightenment reasonableness, American society is kept in a superficial state of busyness by such mechanisms as the constant introduction of technological gadgetry (Internet, DVDs, etc), entertainment spectacles (Super Bowl, Olympics, etc), and sensationalism (Princess Di, OJ, Monica Lewinsky, etc), and infotainment, the dispensing of mountains of disconnected trivia or "information" that is not geared to inform. Kitsch, that is, "something phony, clumsy, witless, untalented, vacant, or boring [which is regarded as] genuine, graceful, bright, or fascinating" pervades the culture. There is a patina of vitality to the culture but it hides a spiritual dying.
A sub-theme of the book is that all civilizations, regardless of how grand, will face a decline, as did Rome's. One can look to such factors as social and economic inequality, declining returns on investment in solving social problems, dropping levels of social intelligence and understanding, and spiritual death as indicators of a civilization in decline. Being that the author holds that American culture is in the midst of such a decline, a purpose of the book is to serve as a guide to those who self-select themselves as "monks" who are willing to preserve non-commercial American culture and reject the global "McWorld" culture of "slogans, spin, and hype." The precedent for this monasticism is the transcription and preservation of the Greek and Roman cultures undertaken by some orders of monks from 500 AD to 1100 AD after Rome's fall, though the author admits that those monks had little understanding or appreciation for what they were saving.
Perhaps most indicative of American cultural decline is the state of education in America. Educational institutions have in a wholesale manner adopted a business culture; they are truly in the business of selling products and entertainment to students as consumers. The author finds little difference between the selling of diplomas for entry into good jobs by universities and the selling of indulgences for entry into heaven by the Church in the Middle Ages. None of these institutions are really interested in transforming the buyer. The author notes that only a small segment of the adult population reads so much as one book a year. The books that are sold consist largely of "short, sloganistic books that promise to improve lives overnight."
Much of the author's characterization of the corporate hegemony over American culture is quite accurate. But there is an element of narrowness to his thinking that could stand some review. In particular, there is a certain amount of harshness in his separation of the thinking class from the drones. Quoting Robert Browning from memory and being conversant with the works of Shakespeare, Flaubert, Virginia Woolf, and Voltaire would be a high hurdle for most to jump. And only a miniscule number of people could possibly produce the witty essays of a Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's, rich in their referrals to all manner of literary and historical items. That probably indicates some good fortune early in life. Also, we can all construct our litmus tests for passage into the select. A broader view is needed. At one point the author suggests that what is needed is a "healthy skepticism, individual creativity, and free choice." Furthermore, despite his criticism of universities, the author, at heart, clings to the notion of universities as being the ideal locale for learning. Frankly, many would question whether the young even have the worldly knowledge to fully benefit from a liberal education. There is no real reason for that dependency. Thinking, reading, and studying should be lifelong enterprises conducted anywhere that hopefully would have relevance in the general culture.
The author's ideas concerning the pursuit of a "monastic option" are most puzzling. The author really presents no immediate purpose for his modern monks. In an era of overwhelming data, there is no need for the data preserving exploits like those of the monks in the Dark Ages. Apparently, when the global consumer culture eventually collapses of its internal contradictions, the monks will be ready to restore a pre-consumer culture primarily by example. But waiting for the system to collapse, which is bound to occur due to the unsustainability of the world's population on diminishing resources and a degraded environment, on the off chance that some underground monks, who unsurprisingly resemble liberal arts professors, will bring everyone back to their senses, seems to be a very risky proposition. In addition, the author eschews grass roots political action as a means of correcting the current corporate excess. Of course, that route has immense difficulties, but there is some chance that change could occur before the extinction of life, as we know it. Democratic action is in fact a huge part of our cultural past. Why not urge the thinking class to draw upon the American traditions of Jefferson, Paine, Lincoln, FDR, the Knights of Labor, the IWW, the Wagner Act, etc to reassert the right of citizens to participate in the governance of their affairs and institutions. There are probably more citizens disenchanted with American culture than the author realizes.
The book is strongest in its depiction of American culture and what it has become under corporate dominance. But the arguments for inevitable civilization decline, reliance on underground "monks," and the eschewing of collective political activity are far less compelling. It is difficult to contemplate a way out of the current cultural situation that does not involve a renewed sense of political participation along with cultural transformation.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Way To Think About Some Very Old Problems, June 17, 2000
By 
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
If I were to write a short list of contemporary authors who have most affected my thinking during the past two decades, Morris Berman would be at the top. His books "Coming to Our Senses" and "The Reenchantment of the World" not only gave me new insights into the notion of a more embodied existence, they also gave me a lasting epistemological appreciation of the kind of rigor necessary to bring light to any subject that one truly wants to learn more about. My views about the possibilities the future holds for humankind run hot and cold. I'm optimistic one day and pessimistic the next. But I've long held the position that while the mass of American culture seems to be, as Neil Postman observed, "drowning in a sea of amusements," individuals still have an opportunity to live as meaningful a life as is possible to live. Now Berman comes along with "The Twilight of American Culture," which captures this reality not only in a theoretical sense but also in a very practical way. Berman advocates creating "zones of intelligence" both public and private and says, "This is not about `fifty ways to save the earth,' `voluntary simplicity,' or some program of trendy ascetic activities. Nor does it involve anything showy and dramatic, and virtually anyone reading this book is capable of making an effort in this direction." "The Twilight of America Culture" is a rear-guard action for finding an oasis of meaning in an insane world. Highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finding American with Both Hands, August 9, 2000
In "The Twilight of American Culture," Morris Berman tells his readers that America is like any other civilization and that it will decline. In fact, he writes, American civilization has been in a steady decline for some time now. So what do we do? "If the historical record is clear on this point, there is no way out. We might as well fiddle while New York and Los Angeles burn." But Berman has a better idea. He calls it the monastic option. Here, one gets the sense of a secret order of the enlightened whose members may know of each other, and even be friends but never gather as an order. There are no "membership cards and badges (whether real or metaphorical), avant-garde language and appropriate party line, organization and even visibility," writes Berman Instead, Berman envisions these "monks," men and women, going about their business of preserving bits and pieces of their culture, shunning any inclination or attempt to institutionalize their work, for to do so "would be the kiss of death." In our current situation which Berman highlights with terms like Starbuckized, Coca-colonization and Rambification, any endeavor toward the excellent is likely to be bought out and sold by entrepreneurs ready to market it. Once the excellent has been packaged for sale, it is doomed to join the rest of American culture mashed together in an indistinguishable mess of the good and bad, the excellent and execrable, the elite and the rabble. While this book is an important addition to any thinking person's library, it will have a particular appeal to educators who are well aware "that our entire consciousness, our intellectual-mental life, is being Starbuckized, condensed into a prefabricated designer look...." To know the truth of what Berman has to say and suggest, all educators have to do is remember they work with the understanding that students are their customers.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


129 of 149 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative But Flawed Discussion Of Contemporary Culture!, September 4, 2000
By 
Barron Laycock "Labradorman" (Temple, New Hampshire United States) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This provocative, interesting and thoughtful book by social critic Morris Berman is both absorbing and troubling. Mr. Berman is right on target in much of what he contends in his quite literate and entertaining assessment of the sorry state of our contemporary intellectual and cultural malaise befuddling American society. Indeed, with mind-numbing statistics he effectively illustrates just how rampant the growing public ignorance is, and although I would question the meaning of some of the statistics used in marshaling his argument, I would not fault his conclusion that we are in the midst of a frightening decline in our collective understanding of how the work operates and what our meaningful place within it is. We are indeed now living lives that come increasingly close to comprising the brave new world of Aldous Huxley's frightening 1930s novel.
Yet, Berman doesn't use this analysis as a point of departure to discuss the nature of what must come next to rescue us from this situation. Instead, he prefers to "give up the ghost" and initiates a passionate discussion of why it is critical to preserve the values and treasures of the Enlightenment. Wow! Hasn't anyone told him that, as novelist and poet Leonard Cohen once put it, you don't polish windows in a car wreck? Worrying about the accumulated treasures of intellectual pursuit at this point seems to be both curious and baffling. So, while I share his passionate concern for preserving the best from the past, I am baffled by his choosing to discuss or consider the much more pressing contemporary issue of how intelligent individuals can either moderate the alarming "dumbing-down" of American culture or prepare themselves for what he refers to as a coming dark age. With maddening casualness, he neglects to flesh out what the nature of this coming "dark age" might be, what possible factors might act as a trigger for it, or what we can do, either as individuals or in terms of social action, in the face of it. Given his concerns for the values of the Enlightenment, why not stand to fight for them now, when it counts? Instead, he engages in a feeble plea for proper appreciation of the classics and the intellectual proclivities such an orientation provides for. All this as preparation for an extended musing over what a new secular intellectual monastic movement might consist of.
This is not to deny the accuracy of Mr. Berman's heartfelt concerns for such intellectual preoccupations, but rather to bemoan his seeming lack of concern for what this means for the millions of people who will suffer from its collapse and his total disregard of the meaning behind the horrendous cultural crisis we now face. Likewise, in calling for concerned intellectuals to prepare to become the "thousand points of light" we will need to continue to illuminate the darkness and ensure the survival of the mass of accumulated human knowledge in the coming age of ignorance and barbarism, Mr. Berman ignores the existence of such a movement among the so-called neo-Luddites, or that such intellectual movements have a noted history in American culture, all the way from Thoreau's 19th century musings about self-reliance to Helen and Scott Nearing's retreat in the midst of the Depression to the woods of New England to live in self-imposed exiles as the first in a wave of subsistence farmers minimizing their dependence on a culture lurching wildly out of control.
Likewise, he never mentions contemporary authors like Sales Kirkpatrick, Theodore Roszak, Wendell Beery, or a number of others who have consistently warned of the dangerous instability and structured inequalities associated with global capitalism and the likelihood of its systematic collapse. Instead, Mr Berman prefers to give us a grand and entertaining education regarding what the previous Dark Age was like, what impelled Rome onto the slippery slope of cultural decline, and what the various monks and monastic orders in medieval Europe did to preserve the sum of existing knowledge. Similarly, while he correctly suggests Max Weber predicted the rise of a society based on increasing levels of bureaucratization and more and more complex hierarchies, he neglects to mention that Weber also warned that an integral aspect of this rationalization process would be to do foster the emergence of a class of specialized bureaucrats who would become "specialists without heart", monsters of effectiveness and efficiency increasingly lacking in any human vision or concern.
In fact, Herr Weber warned almost a hundred years ago of the potential threat the rise of an exclusively scientifically and technologically oriented culture posed for social democracies, with their tendency to trash traditional values and human orientation in favor of a faux rationality oriented almost exclusively on questions of effectiveness and efficiency. In such technically oriented calculations, human concerns take a back seat to accomplishing organizational goals. Sound familiar? We find no such discussion here, given Berman's concentration on a romantic fugue suggesting his thoughts regarding the particular shapes and modalities of the coming monastic intellectual orders, at one point actually suggesting the possibility of the same sorts of science fiction-based example as depicted in Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" for consideration.
While all of this is great fun, and shows Mr Berman's keen intelligence, scholarship, and sense of imaginative conjecture, it has little to do with either the nature of our current dilemma or what we might practically do to either avert it or moderate its effects. Unless you want some interesting intellectual diversions in what seems more like science fiction than serious social commentary, I suggest you pass this by in favor of Neil Postman's "Technopoly" or Scott Nearing's "Living The Good Life". The single best strategy for dealing with whatever horrors as may face us is to live a life of meaning and purpose, and to do so as far removed from dependency on the current regime as possible. Unless Mr Berman can provide some more practical advice regarding how one survives to eventually live out his fantasies, planning to become a new monk in the forthcoming monastic orders that he predicts is really just an amusing exercise in mental masturbation.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Painful, but too true., September 1, 2000
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I don't want to duplicate what has already been said below, but I think it's important to point out one particularly valid idea in Dr. Berman's book: He debunks the commonly held myth that economic prosperity and intellectual excellence are corollated. So often we hear how American economic prosperity is evidence of our superior intellectual achievement. In fact, according to Dr. Berman, economic prosperity (a myth in itself) is a function of a techno-corporate conformity and mindless consumerism that together stifle the natural intellectual curiosity so important to a healthy and balanced human condition.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Civilization Is Impossible Without a Hierarchy of Quality", July 22, 2000
By 
Stanley H. Nemeth (Garden Grove, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Morris Berman is to be commended for taking the insights of our principal contemporary novelists and essayists to heart and presenting decline as decline. His is not a vision that sells, but his may be the highest courage: to call things by their rightful names. Assuming that Don DeLillo, Thomas Frank, Lewis Lapham, and Mark Edmunson among others are to be taken seriously, he confirms the dumbing down that has occured under the influence of such current power brokers as airhead CEO's, media celebrities, and jackass college deans. At first reading, one might think Berman exaggerates our plight. But that is because he is what Flannery O'Connor called "a realist of distances." He views events and sees connections at a level deeper than those who are fully comfortable and at home in the world. His seeming "exaggerations" serve to make the obvious unavoidable to people whose hearing has been weakened and sight dimmed by media and information overload. If ours were a society that took its profounder critics seriously instead of ignoring them, Berman would doubtless be offered a cup of hemlock.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Those who do not know history�. better get crackin', June 27, 2001
By 
Daryl Anderson (Trumansburg, NY USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I know I've got a powerful work of non-fiction on my hands when I start writing down the names of other books the author refers-to. If you are a person who is captured by books, by ideas, and especially by their conjunction, you've probably noticed this same affinity for books that demonstrate the same pleasure in crediting their antecedents. My list for Berman's "The Twilight of American Culture" was a full page long!
Let me say right off the bat, though - Berman is no William Bennett, muscling-in with his insistent, canonical listings or telling you precisely what your 6th grader needs to know (as a teacher I'm especially touchy about that one!). Berman does, in the end, articulate a powerful vision of the importance of being aware of some of the classic works of western culture. But along the way he takes a peek at everything from the movie "Blade Runner" to Don DeLillo's "White Noise" and Miller's "A Canticle for Leibowitz."
Berman's claim boils down to "same old story" - civilizations, including ours, move toward decline. This is, itself, something that has been said many times before, back to Spengler and beyond, but Berman's telling is engaging in all sorts of ways. And his proposal for spanning the decline is unique.
For one thing, Berman brings a clear-eyed directness to his extensive and eclectic description of the indicators of decline. He acknowledges the important efforts of many individuals to bring about change through personal transformation and grassroots activism, then replies "lets not kids ourselves: The ability of these sorts of approaches to significantly deflect the juggernaut of global corporate capitalism in a decade or two is non-existent."
A central element of Berman's discussion is, indeed the role played by the corporatization of the planetary culture, the merging of corporate and adolescent ethics, the "culture of McWorld" as he and others have termed it. In this he differs from many on the political right who have called for a return to the traditional values of the "western canon" while shining the boots of corporate capitalism. Under this economic juggernaut Berman cites four factors that are present when a civilization collapses (a) accelerating social and economic inequality, (b) declining returns from investments in solutions, (c) dropping levels of literacy and general intellectual awareness and (d) spiritual death - packaging of cultural content in formulas, kitsch.
Berman does not propose halting or reversing the decline he outlines, but he also does not propose despair. Instead he suggests that we learn from history that decline is sometimes followed by regrowth; that the pace of such rebirth has been hastened or delayed by the involvement of institutions that bridged the dark eras by carrying pieces of the old into the new. Berman proposes a similar "monastic" option with more than a casual nod to the uncertainty in either defining or accomplishing such an endeavor.
If you've read lots of this sort of cultural history stuff you might find Berman's treatment glib - certainly not academic; and if you're hip-deep in counterculture you might already have worked out your own gloom and doom scenarios. But if, like me, you've got one foot in each world, only a glossing of classical education and an itching nihilism, this book might be the scratch you're looking for.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dumbed down -- now what?, June 15, 2001
This review is from: The Twilight of American Culture (Paperback)
No beach book is this. Like John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down, Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, and Daniel Boorstein's The Image, Berman's The Twilight of American Culture is a book that inspires copious note-taking and several runs to the library to find the many texts to which he refers in making his impassioned argument for a monastic approach to preserving what is best about our culture.
Writes Berman, "Our entire consciousness, our intellectual-mental life, is being Starbuckized, condensed into a prefabricated designer look in a way that is reminiscent of that brilliant, terrible film, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (a great metaphor for our time)."
Other reviewers may offer an erudite deconstruction of Berman's text; admittedly, his argument is flawed in places. But I am not as concerned with Berman's missteps because his abiding conviction that we must quietly, monastically pursue the preservation of what is best about our culture -- our history, our literature and music, our scientific knowledge, our ability to critically reason -- resonates with me.
In short, eschew McWorld. Be not afraid when you allude to Shakespeare, the bible, or Dickens and your audience looks at you askance. Be an alien in our culture's "hardening phase," when its form is preserved but its content is lost. Be like a lonely monk, gathering scraps of what is best about about us for the civilizations that follow after our dark age.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Immaculately Insightful Masterwork!, October 22, 2001
By 
This review is from: The Twilight of American Culture (Paperback)
Morris Berman's "The Twilight of American Culture" stands as a wonderfully well-thought out cultural study of America's current state of affairs, as it predicts prophetically future events and the slow road of capitalism and it's effect on this society and the rest of the world. Using various examples he illuminates the pages with astounding data showing the decline of America socially and economically while providing a historical roadmap to how we live in a society in which, "The cash value of things is the only value of things", and how the "mind-numbing global corporate consumerism" has produced a bunch of disturbing developments along class and educational
lines, among other misfires of these power games.
He states that America cannot survive in it's present condition and calls on the reader to try to live a life free of self-promotion, and living only for profit or materials, and lead challenging lives that may leave a memory trace to future American generations at what is humanly important, and what lasts. I have read other sources backing up his economic data, and to see this cultural vacuum of emptyness masquerading as energy and liveliness all one has to do is take in the whole "Horizon" and you will see the truth of his tale; And with current events like the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, it further cements his already fascinating thesis.
This is not at all a bash America fest, but of empiricism, brainwashing, social conditioning, and symbolism that ceases to stand for what a culture nourtured and protected as it's own values. This is an issue of freedom from barriers and chains that can hold our minds back, and free us from fundamentalism and encourage us to entertain ourselves and delight in this world full of so much wealth that cannot possibly be bought, let alone the whole universe of creation.
Scott Alan Wheeler
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ever more accurate with each passing year, June 28, 2007
This review is from: The Twilight of American Culture (Paperback)
If things looked bad when this slim but powerful volume was originally published, they've gotten far worse in the intervening years. Dumbing down of culture, a loud-mouthed pride in ignorance, endless consumerist addiction to flashy, meaningless garbage -- we've all see it happening around us, from the streets to the centers of entrenched power. As complex & intelligent cultural narratives dissolve under a corrosive flood of simplistic social acids, where bumper stickers & empty slogans pass for intelligent discourse, we find ourselves in the inevitable ruins of a world awash in banality, inanity, and coarse brutality.

I'd like to believe that Berman is being overly pessimistic in claiming that it's too late to turn things around, but the news every day seems to be proving him right. His more recent book, "Dark Ages America," goes into further disturbing detail about the decay he described so forcefully in this book. Thus his concept of the Monastic Option sounds more & more like the course of sanity. There's a popular phrase about being the change you want to see in the world. If Berman is right, we won't live to see that change -- indeed, he'd say that it's already too late for it. But we can still live whole & meaningful lives, at the very least as an act of witness.

Again, I'd like nothing better than to see Berman proven utterly wrong in the coming years. But both my heart & mind tell me that he's probably closer to the truth about our future than the optimists. In which case it's up to each of us to live & embody & preserve as much of the truly Good Life as we can, rather than simply submitting to the coming Dark Age.

Profoundly disturbing but absolutely necessary reading!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 211 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

The Twilight of American Culture
The Twilight of American Culture by Morris Berman (Paperback - June 17, 2001)
$18.95 $15.50
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.