What a shame 21st century USA is so polarized where being a liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican (etc.) means either entirely accepting without question ideas along party or ideological lines -- or entirely without question rejecting them. People don't want to give "the (domestic political) enemy" a full hearing, let alone even partly CONSIDER a foe's arguments, even if they're reasoned and make actually make SENSE.
It's a shame because this book (published by the conservative publishing house Regnery, which is itself like waving a red flag in front of a bull for some people) is so engaging,
well-written, convincing and solid that Dinesh D'Souza may one day be considered a modern day Alexis de Tocqueville.
Three fascinating levels mark this highly perceptive book:
1. D'Souza, who became a US citizen in 1991, shares how his life would have been quite different if he had grown up in his native India.
2. He makes fascinating observations about how US life and culture differ from various parts of the world, especially the Third World. These are the ones future generations may consider on the same level as de Tocqueville's.
3. And then there is material directly related to the book's title. He makes the case, in a nutshell, that other cultures (especially fundamentalist Islamic) detest the United States
because Americans are inner-directed and can write their own life's script, while Islamic culture seeks a life controlled and dictated by others.
One key conclusion certainly will not endear him to Islamic fundamentalists. He says the Islamic world is nothing without oil revenues.
"The only reason it (the Islamic world) makes the news is by killing people," he writes. "When is the last time you opened the newspaper to read about a great Islamic discovery or invention? While China and India, two other empires that were eclipsed by the West, have embraced Western technology and even assumed a leadership role in some areas, Islam's contributions to modern science and technology is negligible."
In this book, written after 911, he concludes that terrorism is merely "a desperate strike against a civilization that the fundamentalists know they have no power to conquer" so they try to "disrupt and terrify the people of America and the West."
The book is worth its price ALONE for his observations on how American culture differs from the third world and many Islamic countries: Americans have to be convinced they are fighting a war for noble reasons; young people go away to college and don't return, whereas in other countries this would be like "abandoning one's offspring"; other cultures cherish age, the US worships youth; people welcome visitors for long periods in the Third World where Americans want to get rid of visitors within days. And more.
D'Souza also takes on the "multiculturalists" who, he writes, detest the melting pot idea and "want immigrants to be in America but not of America." And he shows many flashes
of great wit. Two of them:
--On French criticism of the US: "Many Americans find it hard to take the French critique seriously, coming as it does from men who carry handbags."
--On calls for reparations for African-Americans (he completely DEMOLISHES arguments for reparations) he writes debating foe Jesse Jackson: "I found the concept of this rich, successful man -- who arrived by private jet, who speaks at the Democratic
National Convention, whose son is a congressman -- identifying himself as a victim of oppression a bit puzzling and amusing."
D'Souza decimates critics' arguments against American foreign policy, history and culture. . But his greatest analysis is how World War II's "Greatest Generation," tempered by surviving the Great Depression and the brutal war, upheld traditional values by cherishing necessity and duty -- only to fail to replicate these values in their offspring who made answering their inner voices, pursing their own desires and personal authenticities the focus of their lives....until. Sept. 11.
"Only now are those Americans who grew up during the 1960s coming to appreciate the virtues,...of this older sturdier culture of courage, nobility and sacrifice," he writes. "It
is this culture that will protect the liberties of all Americans."
on October 6, 2006
What a surprise. From the title and cover art I was expecting a 4th of July - My country `tis of thee - stand at attention and salute book full of patriotic drivel. But this is a very substantial and thoughtful study of America's institutions and its critics. And the author has a gift for straightforward, easy to understand exposition.
Dinesh D'Souza came to the U.S. as an exchange student from Bombay, India in 1978. He has had an illustrious career in this, his adoptive country. He's been active in politics as a Presidential advisor and in other capacities, but is mainly a scholar and writer. He spent ten years with the American Enterprise Institution and at the time of writing this book was a Fellow at the Hoover Institution.
The first chapter tackles all the standard criticisms of America which eminate from the Left, Europe and Islam. In a style that characterizes the entire book, D'Souza presents the arguments and/or complaints against America, its actions, culture, or whatever. He then replies with a calm, logical, polite but emphatic refutation. As well as being informative, this book is a lesson in the proper way to conduct a debate.
Not all the complaints against America are refutable. America is not perfect and D'Souza is the first to admit it. He never engages in casuistry but admits the faults, past and present, with candor. In a Chapter titled "Two Cheers for Colonialism" he describes the wrongs of Western Colonialism, but also argues convincingly that by and large the benefits for those Colonized have outweighed the wrongs.
He avers that the reason the West became the dominant civilization in the modern era is because it invented three institutions: science, democracy and capitalism. The freedom in the West derives from this combination and allows the human being to become a different sort of person than those still living in traditional societies.
As D'Souza concludes: "America is a new kind of society that produces a new kind of human being. That human being - confidant, self-reliant, tolerant, generous, future oriented - is a vast improvement over the wretched, servile, fatalistic, and intolerant human being that traditional societies have always produced, and that Islamic societies produce now."
on May 4, 2002
...an important point the author made in the book.
If all cultures are equal, if everything is relative, if no culture can really be termed "superior" to another, why is it that every year, all over the world, millions of people vote with their feet for America and the American way of life? People immigrate here from every corner of the world, and it's virtually a one way traffic. How many Americans choose to emigrate to Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Thailand, or Poland? But people from other countries are so eager to come here that they will do it illegally if they cannot do it any other way. If America is so terrible, how did we become the richest, most prosperous nation on earth? I know many would say it's because we are oppressors, and we have exploited the rest of the world, both people and natural resources, until we are on top, but this doesn't wash. While we are no angels, to be sure, neither are we really comparable to history's REAL oppressors, such as the Nazis, or the communists (who not only killed more millions of people than the Nazis, but had a far, far worse record of raping and polluting the environment than any Western country). I have yet to hear a multiculturalist give me a convincing answer to this.
Multiculturalists, like most modern leftists, live in an idealized universe; they have long since lost the habit of testing ideas against their actual results in the real world. If you look the facts in the face, it's very hard to disagree with most of what D'Souza says.
on April 30, 2002
For college students such as myself, D'Souza's book serves as a front line of defense against relentless attacks, by the institutionalized left in academia, against America and American culture as a positive force in the world. I am not entirely unbiased, however. I was lucky enough to assist in research for the book, and the experience was quite rewarding. What is unique about this book, though, is that it is more than just blind patriotism. D'Souza gives some of the best expositions of the critiques of America before answering them. Moreover, he meets today's most prominent critique, the Muslim critique, on its own assumptions, or better put, in the context of its own worldview. This book is especially relevent for all Americans, because the issues he addresses are not only those issues that come from the left, but also from some on the right. In very direct terms, D'Souza speaks to conservatives concerned about the moral state of America, Asian cultures that seek "modernization without westernization," multiculturalists, Muslim fundamentalists, and the current leadership of the Civil Rights movement. Regardless of political ideology, this book will make its readers think. It is humorous, provocative, and one that the reader will return to more than once for its many insights.
on March 28, 2004
I tend to vote for Democratic candidates more than Republicans, and liked this book. The arguments are very well done, and I agree with the vast majority of them.
So, why do I give this only 3 stars? Well, I wanted to give it 3.5 but Amazon doesn't let me; but I don't give it a higher rating because of one key weakness.
D'Souza would have you believe that there's some monolithic "liberal" philosophy that agrees on all of the subjects that he dissects and discounts one-by-one. Maybe this is the case in the left-leaning wings of academia, but here in the "real world" I don't get the impression that most people care about things like reparations for slavery, believes that the third-world is better than America, or believes that our "decadence" will be our downfall.
Because D'Souza gets to project a boilerplate image of "liberals" that he wants, he gets to choose the easist subjects to argue against. As a result, some less thoughtful conservatives might be inclined to think in "black and white" terms, and use this book to conclude that anyone except a person that always votes for Republicans is against all of D'Souza's arguments. It simply isn't so. In this way, D'Souza uses a similar technique that Rush Limbaugh (and Al Franken and Michael Moore) like to use too. D'Souza provides a much more thoughtful analysis and does a much better job than a conservative like Limbaugh, however.
I guess D'Souza sort of had to take this approach. After all, "real issue" books (as opposed to those lambasting "neo-cons" or "liberals") are a lot harder to sell. Thankfully, D'Souza doesn't stoop as far down to the inflammatory level of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, or Al Franken. I give him a lot of credit for that.
Anyway, I thought it was a good read and it's well worth the time and money.
One more note: Subsequent to reading this book, I read D'Souza's "The Virtue of Prosperity" and didn't enjoy it nearly as much as this one.
on February 10, 2003
Someone who reads this book and still feels that Mr. D'Souza is just blindly singing the conservative mantra is either ignorant, or is lying about reading this book. The one thing this book is not is a sugar coated treatment of America. The author is brutally honest in acknowledging those criticisms with valid and cogent points. Mr. D'Souza also writes from the perspective of a foreigner who has lived in, and understands both the American and non-American points of view. When you read his book you will finally see America as its enemies see it. But, here the author truly shines as he then explores, debunks and counter balances those detractors using the logic of informed argument. It is quickly apparent that his is the great mind of a true scholar. It is also clear that the author knows American history, certainly better than many in current acedemia. He explores issues of racism, multi-culturalism, slavery, Islamic fundamentalism, colonialism, and the basic core principles upon which this country was founded.
Yet, at no point does this author show a dismisive attitude in this discussion. He sees the flaws inherent in uncontrolled freedom and unbridled capitalism. But his ultimate point is that these are necessary evils inherent with a free society. The Islamic world values their interpretation of "morality" (as they define it religiously) above freedom, and certainly above self determination. This leads to their hatred of the west, and their jealousy as their world has remained mired in the middle ages long after the West broke free.
I especially loved the way the author connects the history of the world and it's myriad of dynasties to the evolution of social and political change. One can see the ripple effects of time in a world setting as D'Souza interweaves these themes in a way I had never connected clearly until now. Sadly, this book makes it clear that perhaps America's greatest detractors are those within our own country. They perpetuate many of the anti-American myths which this author examines and answers. This book should be a required primer for any political science/law/history class on any college campus in America. Yet its ideas are expressed so clearly, using example, analogy and logic that it commands respect and agreement. Simply the best socio-political "thriller" I've ever read.
on May 7, 2002
In order to fully grasp the essence of this very insightful tome, perhaps, it is helpful for the reader to note the advice of an ancient philosoper when he said, "One thing I know for sure, I know nothing for sure" because to get the gradual development of the belief systems of the various cultures, an individual must take a neutral position in order to follow the comprehensive approah Mr.D' Souza reveals in the tome and not miss the powerful and insightful message. Most individuals formulate their opinions on an issue from their own experiences or observations, however, to do so with this book would be missing a valuable part of its essence as the author unravels the history of thought which establishes much of the premise that affects the current way America is viewed by various cultures of the world. While America is a great country, the reader will discover, the reason is quite different than the average person might conclude. The title of Mr. D'Souza's book, naturally reveals the idea that by the usual measurement of opportunity and standard of living, the majority of immigrants will readily admit America is a great country in which to live. The author takes the reader on a quick trip back in time in order to decipher the belief system of three cultures who show dislike for America. After expanding the thought process, Mr. D"Souza gives the reader a primary and simple explanation for such an opinion that correlates with the expressions of Rousseau.
The author, while enlightening the reader on the reasons of America's opinion in the world, slowly and carefully guides him to the present. Anyone who reads the book will find it brilliantly composed and readily appreciates Mr. D'Souza's vast knowledge, research, and unique writing style. He makes reading a very enjoyable experience. Once the reader turns the first page of this book and commences through the six sequential chapters he is hooked on the power of its content and will find it most difficult to put down until the final page is reached. It will be a welcome and vauable addition of enhalncement to the informative reader's personal library. It is a masterpiece manifested by a masterful author.
on September 3, 2006
Alaister Cooke became famous in Britain via his regular broadcasts termed 'Letter from America", whereby he attempted to explain current events within America to a British audience.
He lived in America - came to identify himself deeply with his adopted country and yet I do not think I ever heard him tackle what makes America great in quite the same manner as Dinesh D'Sousa who also is a first generation immigrant (and one who became a citizen).
I am myself a first generation immigrant from Africa. And I was fascinated by the observations that D'Sousa made, having made some of them myself (though without the deep analysis and connecting the dots that D'Sousa did).
I wonder - to those in America who hate this book; what is it that you hate so much? There are many who have moved here who have a deep respect for this country and its ideals. We understand that mistakes are made - but we come from countries where the political elites will not admit to those mistakes and worse, will never attempt to correct them.
Like the flag burning debate - I sense that to many Americans who are born here, then the right to burn the flag and hate this country - are issues that are 'protected' under the Constitution.
But to many who immigrate here - we can (and do) love this country deeply, acknowledge that errors have and will continue to be made but can also seperate the actions of some of its citizens instead of identifying them with the spirit that is America.
D'Sousa's book should be read - it is not 'hate-filled' polemic, instead it reasonably asks some questions, provides some answers and established a framework for discussion and debate. All of which is done in the best sense of a liberal tradition.
Dont be close minded - you dont have to agree - but to reject these ideas first you have to be familiar with them?
on January 11, 2003
I usually don't write reviews of books that already have scores of them already written. After all, what could I possibly have to contribute that somebody else hasn't already said?
But I finished this book literally minutes ago and I consider it one of the best books I've ever read. An Indian immigrant, Mr. D'Souza brings a unique perspective to the topic of American culture and politics. He lays out a realistic and intellectually impressive argument that "there is something great and noble about America." He revisits the history of Western civilization and offers an interpretation that is foreign to any contemporary student of American and European history: that--above all else--the West, with America embodying its ideals, has had an undeniably positive impact on people's lives throughout the world.
D'Souza takes on tough issues, like the impacts of slavery, racism, colonialism, and the cultural permissiveness that the non-Western world hates, with skill as a writer and erudition as a philosopher, historian, and political analyst. "What's So Great About America" is my first D'Souza book, but it certainly will not be my last. Mr. D'Souza's writing is personal and smooth; he seamlessly weaves anecdotes with facts, history with philosophy, and humor with logic. I couldn't get enough of this book.
One last note that is important to make is that Mr. D'Souza is as far from partisan (or even ideological) as one possibly can be. He takes on everyone from Noam Chomsky to Robert Bork. Don't dismiss the book upon seeing its title. It is not the "feel-good" book that the cover makes it out to be; it is profoundly intellectual, even eye-opening. It will, if nothing else, broaden your worldview.
on February 24, 2005
Give the man credit: he has an opinion, and he has guts. Anyone who's attended a top university in the US knows the courage it takes to challenge political orthodoxy in the rarefied palaces of academe. Yet during the campus backlash years of the Reagan administration, when students and professors busied themselves with anti-apartheid sit-ins and protests over human rights abuses in Nicaragua, Dinesh D'Souza made a splash, and more than a few enemies, when he founded the dissident conservative college paper "Dartmouth Review". The very name, with its less than subtle evocations of another well-known conservative maverick, caused a collective shudder of fear and loathing through the armies of radical activists standing guard over the fading glories of the 60s.
Since that time D'Souza has carved a niche of respect for himself in American intellectual life with his writings on American politics and sociology. His controversial recent works, "Iliberal Education" and "The End of Racism", were an out and out declaration of war on the system of leftist elites which preside over the development of thought at the nation's universities, and a systematic and devasting dissection of the cult of political correctness and its pernicious effect on the psyche of American society.
In "What's So Great About America", a lengthy post 9/11 analysis of what's gone right in the US and wrong most everywhere else in the world, D'Souza is at his most convincing and least doctinaire. He's matured as a writer, and approaches this work with the confidence of a battle scarred survivor with no axe to grind, just hard-won wisdom to share in a dangerous, unsettled world.
It's refreshing how unafraid he is to put controversial topics on the table, challenging the reader to interpret only the facts that history gives us, the truth as we know it, unalloyed by ideological contamination. He fuses heart-felt patriotism of the old fashioned kind with reasoned, thoughtful analysis. An intellectual who actually pens chapters with bold faced titles "The Reparations Fallacy: What African Americans Owe America", and "Two Cheers For Colonialism: How the West Prevailed", and then lays out his ideas with good natured, and convincing, pragmatism, offers an unequalled voice of reason in the dark forest of relativsm where American thought languishes.
Given the timing of "What's So Great..", it's important that a work like this comes to us courtesy of a recent immigrant. There's a perspective here impossible to duplicate among our nation's coddled natural born citizenry, many of whom condemn their native land as they would a resented parent who's spoiled them into impossible expectations. D'Souza brings none of this baggage to his work. He's grateful and proud to be a US citizen without feeling any need to disrespect his culture of birth. He's just seen the superiority of life here, the energy, the possibilties.
In his chapter "Becoming American", he lays out the central and simple idea that life in America is rich and bountiful not because the streets are paved with gold, but because people are allowed to create their own individuality here as they can nowhere else in the world. Accountant, Bohemian, novelist, politician, internet entrepreneur, painter...the choice here is infinite, and it is yours. The individual is the starting point of everything in American society.
This message has a ringing authenticity from someone who hails from a world where fate is prescribed, religion and God dominate, and individual initiative is spurned and in many cases squashed. There's no smugness in D'Souza's message. He articulates the hopes of immigrants to this nation for four centuries. And as uplifting as his analysis is, it's equally unsettling in its assessment of world hatred and resentment.
He draws the conclusion that history will ensure that right will prevail, and that America is nothing less than the beacon on the hill for a benighted world. His voice is consonant with the neo-conservatives and their doctrine of spreading peace and prosperity through democracy. But his tone is more modulated than theirs, reminding us of the intensity of the enemy's determination, and warning that, however worthwhile and necessary, the struggle towards a liberal world society will require all the force of unified will the nation can muster.