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Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America Hardcover – December 6, 2011
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About the Author
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left and Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas. A popular radio guest and frequent speaker on college campuses, he writes a weekly column for HumanEvents.com and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two children.
Top customer reviews
The author's definition of a BLUE COLLAR INTELLECTUAL is a thinker who hails from a working class background and whose intellectual work targets, in part or whole, a mass audience.
The author's writing is sharp, crisp, and to the point. He sets the tone for the rest of the book from page one with lines as "Stupid is the new smart." This is followed on page two with "Something important generates interest only when it's reduced to its most trivial aspect." Yet most people who would dare challenge the idea of reality TV in no way representing reality would immediately be castigated as not being modern or having tastes too different from society as a whole to be considered relevant.
To make his points, the author gives five examples of brilliant intellectuals who all achieved fame and all grew up in poverty and only achieved fame as adults and of their own making.
The five examples he uses are:
1. Will and Ariel Durant - [as a couple, since they wrote together for much of their adult life]. Their relationship was strange in that he grew up in a devout catholic home, while she born Chaya Kaufman, nee Ariel, in a Ukrainian Jewish Ghetto. He was much older than she; yet their marriage lasted 68 years with her predeceasing him by about two weeks. The author said of the couple "For Will, the Jesuits imparted knowledge and wisdom; for Ariel, Will did." Short and right to the point, as was all the writing in the book. "The Story of Philosophy" remained on the ten best seller list for 4 out of 5 years from 1926-1930, while it was the top selling hardback in 1927. They won the Pulitzer Prize for their book "The Story of Civilization. Simply reading about them as a couple makes one want to read their prized works.
2. Mortimer Adler - he devised the GREAT BOOKS movement still used by some colleges. It was about four times as long and a competitor to THE HARVARD CLASSICS.
3. Milton Friedman - my favorite economist and who like Will Durant credits his wife Ruth with helping him transform his words into language the average person could relate to. Friedman's most famous book FREE TO CHOOSE was later made into a TV series in 1980 and as with Durants' works are available on Amazon. For those not having seen the original series on PBS, it is well worth the price to see it today, as the examples are still relevant.
4. Eric Hoffer - The Longshoreman Philosopher, who got a PH.D. without ever officially graduating high school. He is one of the best examples of an autodidact that I can think of. At the time of his most important success in writing he was the favorite of both Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson, which pretty much indicates his universal appeal. His writing, like the author's was sharp and to the point as witnessed by lines like "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength," and "Mass movements act as the religion for people who resist religion...[while] Hatred unifies the mass movement in a way love cannot." That could pretty well describe the Occupy this or that movements of today.
5. Ray Bradbury - another genius and hard scrabble short story and TV script writer. Ray grew up so poor that he and his brother had to share a pull-out sofa bed in the living room until he left home. Ray worked diligently to get his stories across and resubmitted them to different magazines when turned down by the first, sometimes even after being accepted by the first. Ray was one of Alfred Hitchcock's favorite writers and feelings between the two men was mutual.
This is a short book of only 200pp of which the body is only 150pp, the rest being copious notes and an index. It's a great book with well thought out ideas for the serious minded.
I first encountered one of the five intellectuals included in Flynn's book during my teen years reading science fiction. One of my favorite authors was Ray Bradbury and his tales, especially those of Humans and Martians collected in The Martian Chronicles. Flynn tells of Bradbury's impoverished family background as he grew up in the 1920s and his early reading of Edgar Allan Poe (also a favorite of mine since my pre-teen years) and others like Edgar Rice Burroughs. Even after he became famous for his own fantastic stories Bradbury was considered an outsider in traditional publishing circles, but maintained popularity with everyday folk. Time magazine labelled Bradbury "poet of the pulps" that seemed to sum up the cognoscenti's opinion of him.
My next encounter with the intellectuals that Daniel Flynn depicts did not begin until I was on my way to college at the University of Wisconsin in the summer of 1967. Required reading for all incoming freshmen was a short book by Eric Hoffer, The True Believer. This was my introduction to one of Flynn's "Blue Collar Intellectuals" and to a book that is as relevant today as it was forty-five years ago. While distant from Hoffer in his political philosophy, Milton Friedman shared similar blue collar background and an ability to explain complex ideas of economics to the readership of Newsweek magazine and also to the viewers of PBS through his multi-part series "Free to Choose". In that same year of 1967 as a freshman student in "Honors Economics" I read Friedman's most famous book, Capitalism and Freedom, and in it found some of the principles that I hold dear to this day. These two experiences with blue-collar intellectuals belie somewhat Flynn's claim that these writers were all completely excluded from the realms of the cognoscenti, but they do not deflate his claim that they all had a special ability to communicate with the common man.
Also included in the book are sections on Will Durant, who went from anarchist speaker to become a popularizer of history both of philosophy and civilization, and while I have not read the eleven volumes of Will & Ariel Durants' History of Civilization from cover to cover, I have dipped in to sections of the books from time to time. Finally, he tells the story of Mortimer Adler who founded the "Great Books" movement and wrote many books explaining the ideas in those books. I, too, was inspired by the lure of great books and have spent more than twenty years of my adult life reading them in the Basic Program of Liberal Education at the University of Chicago. These form the foundation for my reading and my participation in the search (see The Moviegoer by Walker Percy).
In his book Daniel Flynn is able to clearly and succinctly elucidate the inspirational achievements of these blue collar intellectuals and how they shaped an era in which popular culture included a significant place for serious ideas. One of the most important lessons imparted by the lives of these intellectuals is how they inspired readers like myself to continue to read and learn and love the search for ideas in books.