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Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future Paperback – October 10, 2000
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Chief among the values Postman cites is the development of the intellect; it plays a part in many of his recommendations, from the cultivation of a healthy skepticism towards overhyped technology to sweeping educational reforms that include replacing grammar instruction with logic and rhetoric and introducing courses on comparative religion and the history of science. He also lashes out at postmodernists who start with the premise that language "is a major factor in producing our perceptions, judgments, knowledge, and institutions" and conclude that language is therefore tenuously connected to reality at best. Enlightenment thinkers knew that language molded perception, he notes, but they also believed that "it is possible to use language to say things about the world that are true" and "to communicate ideas to oneself and to others." Postman is excessively curmudgeonly at times, as in his reference to philosopher Jean Baudrillard as "a Frenchman, of all things," or his remarks on the ancient Athenians: "I know they are the classic example of Dead White Males, but we should probably listen to them anyway." But for anybody with a stake in the culture wars, or who wants to apply the lessons of philosophy to the modern world, Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century will make for provocative reading. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
How could that possibly be interesting or relevant? When you read the book, you will find out.
It is difficult to do second-hand justice to the book, in part because the writing is so superb. Some examples of his curmudgeonly style:
"to insist that one's children learn the discipline of delayed gratification, or modesty in their sexuality, or self-restraint in manners, language, and style is to place onself in opposition to almost every social trend."
"question-asking is the most significant intellectual tool human beings have. Is it not curious, then, that the most significant intellectual skill available to human beings is not taught in school?"
[after suggesting that students be presented with both evolution and creation science] "'If we carried your logic through,' a science professor once said to me, 'we would be teaching post-Copernican astronomy alongside Ptolemaic astronomy.' Exactly." [Postman's point being that scientists have to learn to evaluate competing theories, not to accept the conventional scientific wisdom on faith]
Postman disdains the Internet. He seems to view it as not being much different from television in its effects. Here I disagree with him. This disagreement is explained more fully in "Building a Bridge to Neil Postman," an essay that is available from me via email.
To reduce Postman to a traditionalist is far too limiting. While he does champion the past and favor reason over emotion, he is also an idealist who believes that society has the power to cure what ails it, if it's only willing to take the necessary steps. "Building A Bridge To the 18th Century" is a collection of suggested steps based on 18th century utilitarian values and practices.
Above all, I like Postman's style. He is a direct, eloquent writer, a person whose ideas and insights are clearly spelled out. And despite others' charge that he is a curmudgeon, I find him humorous and open-minded.
Indeed, he even posits that childhood is not a biological condition, but was an invention of the eighteenth century, for it was the civilization that actually thought that a youthful period of preparation was necessary. Regrettably, he argues, our generation has regressed by eliminating childhood. Does childhood exist if television, the Internet and the media expose the young to the same information that adults receive? In this respect, we are more like a fourteenth century civilization that bypassed the written word and granted full exposure of adult knowledge, sexuality, and activity to anyone who could speak.
Postman cautions that we tend to evaluate technology by the claims of technologists alone, forgetting to ask the ethicist, the poet, the novelist, and the artist for an evaluation. It doesn't occur to most people to question the benefit of a new technology, and who benefits, and who pays.Read more ›
Even though it is possible to read his book in a cursory manner, don't fault the easily accessible work as trite. Postman's criticism is erudite, precise and well-articulated.
I hope he doesn't stop writing. His voice needs to continue.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This Book Has it All! I can hear Postman repeating himself on these pages, and within pages of his other books, though at the same time, no two books are alike, and no two books... Read morePublished 1 month ago by XDel
Every American should learn about the insights Neil Postman had about our culture and what is happening and why. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Lifelong Learner
Published in 1999, his bias is outdated and he is speaking as a man from an all-American, white, male, non-disabled, ivory towered point of view. Or as we call it now, privilege. Read morePublished 16 months ago by LA Jones
Not as good as I had hoped. Postman is far enough out of the mainstream now that his prescriptions and/or suggestions for dealing with the nation's current problems are less than... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Christine L. Goble
The author has delved into the notion of not embracing every technology as a panacea for the world's ills. Read morePublished on October 25, 2013 by eastman356
Neil Postman predicted many of the social issues we experience today, before he was even alive to experience the proliferation of the modern internet, mobile and social media... Read morePublished on June 6, 2013 by M. Bailey
Although I don't agree with all of this book's arguments, I found the overview of the 18th century and its role in modern thought quite useful for undergraduate classes.Published on May 28, 2012 by Bubba Souffle