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The Assault on Reason [Hardcover]

Al Gore
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (383 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 22, 2007
A visionary analysis of how the politics of fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith has combined with the degration of the public sphere to create an environment dangerously hostile to reason

At the time George W. Bush ordered American forces to invade Iraq, 70 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11. Voters in Ohio, when asked by pollsters to list what stuck in their minds about the campaign, most frequently named two Bush television ads that played to fears of terrorism.

We live in an age when the thirty-second television spot is the most powerful force shaping the electorate's thinking, and America is in the hands of an administration less interested than any previous administration in sharing the truth with the citizenry. Related to this and of even greater concern is this administration's disinterest in the process by which the truth is ascertained, the tenets of fact-based reasoning-first among them an embrace of open inquiry in which unexpected and even inconvenient facts can lead to unexpected conclusions.

How did we get here? How much damage has been done to the functioning of our democracy and its role as steward of our security? Never has there been a worse time for us to lose the capacity to face the reality of our long-term challenges, from national security to the economy, from issues of health and social welfare to the environment. As The Assault on Reason shows us, we have precious little time to waste.

Gore's larger goal in this book is to explain how the public sphere itself has evolved into a place hospitable to reason's enemies, to make us more aware of the forces at work on our own minds, and to lead us to an understanding of what we can do, individually and collectively, to restore the rule of reason and safeguard our future. Drawing on a life's work in politics as well as on the work of experts across a broad range of disciplines, Al Gore has written a farsighted and powerful manifesto for clear thinking.

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Editorial Reviews Review

The first question many people ask when hearing of a new book from Al Gore is, "Is it about the environment?" The answer is yes, but it's not (or, rather, not only) the kind of environment he wrote about in Earth in the Balance and of course painted such a vivid picture of in his Oscar-winning documentary (and companion book), An Inconvenient Truth. It's the political environment he's concerned about in The Assault on Reason: the way we debate and decide on the critical issues of the day. In an account that balances theoretical discussion of the foundations of democracy with a lacerating critique of the Bush administration, Gore argues that the marketplace of reasoned debate our country was founded on is being endangered by a variety of allied forces: the use of fear and the misuse of faith, the distractions of our entertainment culture, and the concentrations of power in the national media and the executive branch. In his essay and answers to our questions below, he introduces the crisis he sees, as well as the opportunity for its solution he envisions in the open forums of the Internet.

A Message from Al Gore to Readers

I've dedicated my book, The Assault on Reason, to my father, Senator Albert Gore Sr., the bravest politician I've ever known. In the 1970 mid-term elections, President Richard Nixon relied on a campaign of fear to consolidate his power. I was in the military at the time, on my way to Vietnam as an army journalist, and I watched as my father was accused of being unpatriotic because he was steadfast in his opposition to the War--and as he was labeled an atheist because he dared to oppose a constitutional amendment to foster government-sponsored prayer in the public schools. The 1970 campaign is now regarded by political historians as a watershed, marking a sharp decline in the tone of our national discourse--a decline that has only worsened in recent years as fear has become a more powerful political tool than trust, public consumption of entertainment has dramatically surpassed that of serious news, and blind faith has proven more potent than truth.

We are at a pivotal moment in American democracy. The persistent and sustained reliance on falsehoods as the basis of policy, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, has reached levels that were previously unimaginable. It's too easy and too partisan to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush. We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes.

Reasoned, focused discourse is vital to our democracy to ensure a well-informed citizenry. But this is difficult in an environment in which we are experiencing a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time--from the O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson trials to Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith.

Never has it been more vital for us to face the reality of our long-term challenges, from the climate crisis to the war in Iraq to the deficits and health and social welfare. Today, reason is under assault by forces using sophisticated techniques such as propaganda, psychology, and electronic mass media. Yet, democracy's advocates are beginning to use their own sophisticated techniques: the Internet, online organizing, blogs, and wikis. Although the challenges we face are great, I am more confident than ever before that democracy will prevail and that the American people are rising to the challenge of reinvigorating self-government. It is my great hope that those who read my book will choose to become part of a new movement to rekindle the true spirit of America.

Questions for Al Gore all I've read and seen on climate change, I don't think anything has had quite the impact on me that those vivid maps of shrinking coastlines did in An Inconvenient Truth. You've spent years trying to communicate the threat of climate change and you've learned how to use compelling images to tell that story, but in this book you're very wary of the power of visual images to overwhelm reason with fear. How do you spur people to action in a crisis like this without using fear?

Gore: I often open the slideshow by talking about the "climate crisis." The English meaning of the word "crisis" conveys alarm, but the Chinese and Japanese expressions use two characters together: the first means danger, but the second means opportunity. The animations do help to convey some of that sense of danger--but the opportunities are enormous. We are beginning to see companies taking advantage of the new markets that are emerging as they innovate and put to market the technologies that we need to solve this crisis. Some have become ubiquitous, like the hybrid electric engine and compact fluorescent light bulb. There are thousands of opportunities like this all around us if governments will show the type of bold leadership that we need--and work with industry to exploit these opportunities. You describe two problems with television culture: it's a top-down system in which, as you say, "Individuals receive, but they cannot send," and its physiological vividness allows it to bypass our reason. The user-created communities that seem so promising on the Internet would seem to solve the first problem, but what about the second?

Gore: There are a number of barriers for individuals who want to communicate over TV. The major networks won't give average Americans a voice, and it is virtually impossible to start a channel. One solution, that I have worked on with my partner, Joel Hyatt, is the creation of Current TV, where viewers can submit content over the Internet to air on the channel.

With regards to the Internet, anyone with access to a computer and broadband can create a website or blog and post content. They can send information into the public forum. Of course, we need to continue to work to bridge the digital divide, to ensure that we expand the access of people to the Internet, but the threshold for entry is much lower than that of television. You're the chairman of Current TV, the interactive cable channel aimed at young people. Can you talk about the challenges of constructing a platform where the kind of substantive dialogue you are looking for can take place?

Gore: One of the things I talk about in the book is infotainment--the "well-amused" audience that is bombarded with the latest programming about O.J. Simpson, or JonBenet Ramsey, or Anna Nicole Smith. What we are trying to do, in part, is to provide a public forum for viewers to submit content about issues of concern to them. And they have, by the thousands, on issues from the war in Iraq to the environment to education and others. I am continually amazed by both the quality of the submissions and the breadth and depth of the subject matter. You have a chapter on the importance of checks and balances in government (in a sense, that's what the whole book is about), and we're seeing the effect that active oversight from Congress is having right now. For most of your eight years in office, you and Bill Clinton had to work with a Republican Congress. I'm sure that at times (say, 1998) that had its frustrations, but do you think it was valuable to have that balance, or did it prevent you from doing what you came into office to do?

Gore: Checks and balances are vital to the functioning of our system of government. Of course it can have its frustrations, but the Founders intended that we have a system whereby no one branch has too much control over the others. Ultimately, it is up to voters to decide the control of Congress and the White House and then for elected officials to work to serve the public interest and to try to implement policies that serve the country. These are core values that are at the heart of who we are as a nation. I wanted to ask about the Office of the Vice President. I think it's safe to say that the last two vice presidents, you and Dick Cheney, have been the most powerful and influential in our history. Why do you think that is?

Gore: I think the answer is very different in the two administrations, but in a world that is truly globalized, with a broader information ecology, with challenges ranging from a more complex system of international issues ranging from the climate crisis to asymmetric attacks, it is not a surprise that a President might choose to draw upon more advice from the office of the vice president than in the past. This is a trend that I would expect to continue under future presidents, as the range of the demands on the presidency will not diminish over time.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. As scathing as it is meticulous, Gore's treatise on reason juggernauts its way through the Bush administration, never even needing to include the controversial nature of Bush's presidential elections. He identifies the growing concentration of power in the executive branch virtually ignored by mainstream media. Drawing on the great political philosophers of history and his lengthy career in government, Gore contends that the loss of a genuine public forum in the age of radio and television has led to the decay of democracy. He delivers a serious critique of the United States tempered by hope and faith in the restoration of checks and balances. The articulated venom of Gore's words can be heard in Patton's voice as he narrates. He reads with an intensity that makes this already engaging prose compelling. Patton maintains a distinct smooth and edgy voice, but maintains a cadence that reminds listeners of Gore's own speaking mannerisms. In quoting historical figures, Patton's voice is distinct but not haughty or pompous. The combination of Patton's performance and Gore's words make this an impressive audiobook.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Printing edition (May 22, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0739484613
  • ISBN-13: 978-7030121189
  • ASIN: 1594201226
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (383 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #784,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews
876 of 994 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wishful thinking May 22, 2007
Here's a radical idea: Americans can govern themselves best by having clear-headed, reasoned public discussions on the important topics of the day. A thought from Thomas Paine? Your high school civics teacher? No, Al Gore. That's the theme of this clear-headed, reasoned, and yes, even passionate argument on what's wrong with our country and how we can fix it.

Yes, it bashes Bush, but how can it not? It's impossible to argue against the chatterbox shrillness of today's public debate without mentioning the subjects being debated. And if you're going to seriously examine Iraq, Katrina and the other issues of the last six years, how can our current President come out looking good?

Gore doesn't mince his words. He calls Bush a liar and an irresponsible leader. But he backs up these assertions with a 90-minute Powerpoint presentation worth of clear-headed, reasoned and well-documented argument -- complete with hundreds of footnotes.

Divided into three parts, the book's simple structure makes it easy to follow. The opening identifies what Gore contends are the five enemies of reason -- fear, superstition, ideology, deception and intolerance. Middle chapters examine the damage those things have caused, and the last 30 pages offer a few solutions.

And just what is that damage? Gore breaks it down into five areas:

* The squandering of international goodwill over Iraq has caused a threat to our national security, as the world now fears us instead of respects us.

* Ignoring the rational arguments of scientists has weakened our environmental security, as shown by the failure to be ready for the known problems Katrina and global warming would cause.

* Our excessive dependence on imported oil continues to weaken our energy security.
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54 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident November 1, 2007
On the eve of war with Iraq, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia addresses a virtual empty house on the floor of the Senate and asks why his colleagues are so silent. Why is no one questioning the administration's actions? "Assault on Reason" is an account of how the American public has become apathetic to the world around them, and powerless in feeling that they can shape or influence the decisions our leaders make.

Al Gore postulates that the apathy is derived from a communication process that is passive and one-way, mainly television, where there is no exchange of ideas between the receivers and senders as was common before its advent. A compliant and kowed media reports without question the ideas and beliefs of special interests repeatedly until the average American, takes the message as fact.

In the hands of leadership that is unchecked or untethered by a vigilant press or legislature, they have been able to use the politics of fear to keep America supportive and unquestioning of their questionable decisions and actions.

The press no longer operates as was envisioned by founder Thomas Jefferson who considered an informed public as the most vital to the survival of the democratic process. According to Al Gore, there was nary a peep from press or public when the 9/11 Commission reported that there was no connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

With the control of the media in the hands of conglomerates the message is highly regulated. This plays to the politics of wealth and stymies the exchange of information for the common good. When [...] attempted to buy air time on CBS, they were told that "issue advocacy" was not permissible, but at the same time began running ads by the White House in favor of a controversial proposal.
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236 of 291 people found the following review helpful
The American political scene has shifted greatly since 2000 in ways that most Republicans like and most Democrats do not. Although Al Gore's title suggests a broader topic, The Assault on Reason focuses on the Bush methods of running the government and the Republican Party. As you might imagine, Al Gore doesn't like anything about what has happened.

If you were to boil this book down into one single idea, it would be this: Absolute power corrupts absolutely and is a danger to us all. Gore takes the point of view that the Bush administration has been and is mostly about gaining and holding power in order to reward Republicans and those who pay for Republicans to be elected.

As examples, Gore cites the following evidence:

1. The administration always knew that there never was any connection between terrorist attacks and Iraq (nor any threat of weapons of mass destruction being produced in Iraq), but made invading Iraq a high priority for pursuing its oil-focused strategy of controlling the Middle East where major oil companies and contributing contractors have been rewarded.

2. The Bush administration seeks to maximize fear of terrorism to gain ever more power for itself, usually by ignoring the limits on government power in the Constitution.

3. Fund-raising for Congressional Republicans is now controlled by the White House so the administration hasn't had any oversight from either party in Congress, a sharp departure from past practices.

4. When the president signs a new piece of legislation, he almost always indicates that he won't follow the law that was enacted (this has occurred over 1000 times).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Is this a 'How To' book?
Published 1 month ago by TxRushFan
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite accurate for today even though written in 2007
Even though this book was written in 2007, it is still very spot on in many areas. It almost reads like the nightmare that is currently going on politically. Read more
Published 5 months ago by R.L.D.
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very entertaining and informative
Published 7 months ago by stevem
5.0 out of 5 stars How modern technology has corrupted the idea of an informed public...
This should be required reading for every student of politics. How modern technology has corrupted the idea of an informed public making good political decisions. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Hank
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent work. Prime shipping is great.
Published 12 months ago by jweiss
1.0 out of 5 stars It is a book.
Why did I buy this?

I dunno. I was bored I guess.
Published 14 months ago by Ibuycrappystuff
1.0 out of 5 stars Keep it in the loo, just in case you run out of charmin:-)
Al Gore. Part of the problem, not part of any solution.
Published 14 months ago by keymanwst
5.0 out of 5 stars Our Government in Action
Review: The Assault on Reason by Al Gore

This is one of the most outstanding non-fiction books I have read in many years. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Abe F. March
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read at the
Al Gore's political commentary. A good read at the time
Published 17 months ago by John E. Palmer
5.0 out of 5 stars very good quality, price & delivery, well done!
very good quality, price & delivery, well done!
Published 21 months ago by Norman Allan
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