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Customer Review

676 of 731 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read, but the people who should won't, June 19, 2009
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This review is from: Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free (Hardcover)
Well, wouldja look at that. As I write this, six one-star reviews, all saying exactly the same thing and missing the point in the process -- whining about how the book focuses on conservative US politics and whining about bias, while completely failing to understand how they prove the book's point.

There are a few things that irk me about this book -- the near-exclusive focus on US conservatism is necessary to this book's theme, but the author would be well-served to look into things like the alternative medicine movement, which suffers from many of the same problems. (And would it have killed Pierce to include an index? I've said this in other reviews -- political books need indexes because without them it makes them look like they're trying to railroad the reader.) But to someone willing to take the time to read it, this book tells people what practically everyone should know about American politics -- that the American people are being sold a sob story about how experts are an elite that is keeping them from being The Best Damn Nation In The World. (In that regard, one should definitely read "The Paranoid Style In American Politics" by Richard Hofstadter -- it's over four decades old, but saw from the very beginning what has come into full bloom now with the barking lunacy of the American Right.)

Pierce covers much territory -- he starts with the Creation Museum in Kentucky, then moves on into the 19th century crank Ignatius Donnelly and his popularization of Atlantis, and from there it's off to the races. The most painfully harrowing sections are those dealing with the Kitzmiller trial in Dover, PA, where a town drew up sides over good science vs. bad religion, and the Terri Schiavo controversy, where a mourning family allowed themselves to be taken advantage of by a large movement of religious fanatics so thoroughly divorced from reality that they managed to get Congress to subpoena the testimony of a brain-dead woman. The appalling and almost nihilistic arrogance of global-warming deniers rates a chapter as well, and the book even shows a surprise hero -- James Madison, a mediocre president but a genius legislator whose quiet determination was one of the main driving forces behind the writing of the Constitution. Pierce brings the snark throughout, not holding back with frustration and often-brutal humor, showing at every turn how the people he writes about confuse research for indoctrination and dissent for political bias.

The main problem with this book is this: the people who are likely to read it already know most of the story, and are mostly getting background information, and the people who won't read it are like the six reviewers I mentioned in my intro -- determined to ignore its stories and insights as "bias" because their politics and faith won't let them look outside the cloister. The main value of this book, then, is to people on the fence, people in the center who are willing to learn where people get in over their heads and who are willing to admit that what they think they know may not be so.
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Showing 1-10 of 97 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 19, 2009 7:04:28 PM PDT
No Name says:
Indexes are great -- but it's not the writer's fault when we don't see them. It's the publishers, who are loath to pay for them -- labor to compile them, extra pages to print them -- unless more readers complain, we'll see even fewer of them.

Posted on Jul 8, 2009 8:00:37 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 8, 2009 8:01:13 AM PDT
Steve Thomas says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 8, 2009 4:12:25 PM PDT
If the Amazon review system was not in some sense a community, I'd agree with you. I see where you're coming from, though I felt it necessary to say something about how many of the one-star authors felt the need to parrot right-wing talking points rather than actually analyze the book. But what can I say -- when it comes to subjects involving knee-jerkism and manufactured controversy, I take Martin Gardner as my guide...

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 8, 2009 6:52:46 PM PDT
Steve Thomas says:
Agreed, I find it fascinating that most right-winger use similar language and employ the same idioms; proof that the Republican propaganda machine is working. If you're like me, you'll keep spitting into the wind, but breaking through thick skulls is thirsty work indeed.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 20, 2009 8:39:12 AM PDT
A. Wineland says:
Well, I got here in a roundabout way, looking for a couple of new books to read. I haven't read this book, but the review and subsequent comments caught my eye. I just want to point out to Mr. Thomas and Mr. Connors that each side--both left and right--are well-oiled propaganda machines. To imply that only right wingers or Republicans have such a thing going is either naive or narrow-minded. If you think that, it shows that you are well indoctrinated yourselves.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 21, 2009 3:00:56 PM PDT
Maybe true. But the right-wing machine takes its cues directly from corporate advertising in a way that left-wing activists (who aren't nearly as unified as the Right -- read "The Authoritarians" by Bob Altemeyer to understand the difference) don't, and when you get right down to it that's not really what this book is about to begin with -- for propaganda matters, look at Rampton and Laubner's books like "Trust Us, We're Experts" and others like them.

In fact, politics is almost beside the point for this book, which is why my major criticism of the it has to do with the fact that it focuses almost exclusively on politics. "Idiot America" (the mindset) is almost pervasive in American culture, and there's a lot of Idiot America in the alternative medicine and New Age movements as well as more politicized scientific fields like ecology and climatology. So if anything, this book isn't so much about politics as how Americans can be so lazy that they turn off their critical thinking circuits and become even more susceptible to propaganda. (I guarantee you that virtually all of the bad reviews of this book completely and utterly missed that point.)

Posted on Jul 25, 2009 2:04:07 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 25, 2009 2:07:56 PM PDT
Jeremy says:
I note that rightwing authors of popular books at Amazon also suffer from the "one-star review" syndrome, so it would appear that rightwingers are not alone in their willingness to thumbs-down things they do not like without bothering to read them. So, spare us the self-righteous outrage and stick to just reviewing the dadgummed book, m'kay?

Have any of you "critical thinkers" read anything by a conservative like Mark Levin? If I can wade through Zinn and Hobshawn, you can manage a few chapters of "Liberty and Tyranny."

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 25, 2009 9:07:50 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 25, 2009 9:10:15 PM PDT
Please tell me how a book about intellectual incuriosity (in the vein of numerous books by people such as Carl Sagan and Martin Gardner) that happens to use politics rather than pseudoscience as example fodder is in anyway parallel to yet another me-too book by a third-string conservative talking head. I don't see conservatives writing this sort of analysis.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 29, 2009 7:31:40 AM PDT
D. M. Evans says:
Ah yes, the false equivalency argument. "each side--both left and right--are well-oiled propaganda machines."

OK, where is this "Left"? As proof to the power of right wing propaganda and its near dominance of the media, look no farther than the mostly sincere middle-of-the-road types who indulge in this false equivalency argument. There is a very far right very active in this country and if they can't hook you into being a full blown brainwashee (listen to Rush Limbaugh for 3 hours every day and Fox News the rest of the time and you'll know what I mean- the constant repetition of the same memes sinks in, look at the one star reviewers and their unity of talking points for an example) they'll get you to believe absurdities like the Media is "Liberal" - oh yeah, you bet, giant trans-national corporations are well known bastions of liberalism! Or as this fellow says; "each side--both left and right--are well-oiled propaganda machines."

So where is this American Left? There used to be one until the "red scares" run by the same far right types we see today dominating media made it downright unhealthy to be a leftist. The Democratic party ceased paying attention to its moderately liberal base after 1972 and has gone full Republican Lite with policies that have a little concern for the average citizen but mostly don't diverge much from the Reublicans and their absolute support of the greatest minority of all- the .01% of this country that what wealth they don't outright own, they control. I'd be willing to bet this is what the commenter refers to as the American "Left". But this is the meme the corporate media pitches in an effort to hide their real bias. Remember the media went absolutely bananas over Clinton non-scandals (after 80 million bucks, all the Republicans could hang on Bill "I'm most like an Eisenhower Republican" Clinton was lying about a sex act) but was and remains completely silent about everything this last Republican administration pulled from manufacturing an entirety of lies to support the criminal attack on a nation that never did us any harm resulting in the death and displacement of over 5 million of its citizens, the fact they ordered torture of captive "terrorists" not to find the truth but to get them to lie about connections between Al Qaeda and Iraq to their use of a civil war era law to prevent states from reeling in the out of control mortgage business in 2004- that's some liberal media we have there!

I could go on and on with example after example absolutely dashing this argument to pieces but why bother? The meme is deeply implanted and Americans mostly believe in a false reality peddled from what has become a massive propaganda machine with a rightist POV. Even people who would never dream of watching the obvious propaganda of a Fox News are taken in by the simplistic fantasy that is painted by big media, inc., or just as likely not painted as what is omitted from the narrative told by big media is as revealing as what is- as in the examples I gave above.

I'm afraid the Stupid is not just the provenance of the minions of the far right but cuts across all classes and educational levels in this America. That's proven every day and very often by people using false equivalency arguments between a very real far right and a non-existent "left".

Posted on Jul 30, 2009 11:35:39 AM PDT
H. Ludwig says:
I'm going to buy this book right now. Making up my mind myself is important to me.
I wished my fellow americans would finally wake up from their isolationalistic never ending sleep.
But, of course, that is exactly the thing those "stupidly" power-hungry micro-brainers we have
sitting in positions paid for by us, the Taxpayers, (or by other micro-brainers listening to the
hand holding of the visitors of 'House on C-Street etc., or beeing brainwashed by the Becks,
O'Reily's and Rush Limbaughs), not want to happen. Their dripping poisening of the american
public goes on unstopped until, maybe, the few still unaffected can be put into a special
Guantanamo, created in Alaska. The Russians may hear our cries for help; we now know they can be seen
across from there. Helmdeep
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