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Showing 1-10 of 98 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 213 reviews
on August 16, 2016
I had to read this book for an American history course in the University but unfortunately it was not as compelling as I had wished for it to be. Many of the passages could be condensed down to a few paragraphs instead of being drawn out for chapters and chapters on end. The author draws on her explanations and sometimes loses your train of thought in the unnecessarily heavy language. Still a good read if you are looking to understand American history and American ideologies.
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on June 10, 2008
Susan Jacoby's book is suffused with nostalgia for a time in America when the life of the mind was more valued than it seems to her to be today. Her evidence, however, is largely anecdotal. She refers, for example, to her experience, as a young woman in the 1960s, of writing long "snail mail" letters to a lover in South Africa, chronicling the zeitgeist of her place and time, and how he did the same. She praises this languid and sensuous form of communication, then contrasts it with the emotional flatness that she feels sending off electronic e-mails today, which she notes are rarely responded to with any degree of passion or detail.

Her thesis, in short, is that contemporary electronic communication, from TV and the Internet, to mass advertising, has drawn America away from nature, books, and the life of the mind. She perceives, correctly, that Steven Johnson's book of just a few years back, "Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter," threatens her thesis, and she attempts, in her first chapter, to dispatch it quickly. But rather than address the substantive claims and supports that book offers, she maligns it with little more than innuendo, contempt, and derision. But Johnson's book is, whatever else you may think of it, suffused with a good deal of empirical data, and Jacoby chooses to simply ignore it and move on.

I share Jacoby's sadness that the life of the mind is not broadly valued, but I don't share her belief that it was ever valued all that much more than it is today. The nostalgic aspect of her book is thus the weakest part of it because she is doing something inherently unreasonable, accumulating anecdotes that do not add up (at least for me) to a compelling support for her claim. It was, afterall, William F. Buckley who said, long before the Internet and TV preachers presumably made us all stupid, that he preferred that the country be trusted to the first fifty names in the Boston phone book to the faculty of Harvard. Contempt and distrust of intellectuals and the elite, like the poor, have been with us always. Jacoby, who has written a book on Greek tragedy, surely knows Aristophanes' "The Clouds," a funny and disturbing send up of the atheist intellectuals of ancient Greece.

For all my complaints, however, the book is worth having and reading, if, for no other reason, to draw fresh intellectual air from someone who loves the life of the mind. But let's not kid ourselves. The average person in 1950 probably could no more locate Iran on a world map than a person can today.
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on November 27, 2014
Unreasonable behavior is about control. It's effect subjects people to mediocrity. It is no coincidence that some people only attend some sort of religious sermon out of peer pressure. They have to, then, justify that reasoning to themselves, because to say 'peer pressure' denotes a shallow weakness. Only one person has so far admitted their truth; "I need to keep my job and it's expected that I turn up for church." Terrific. In effect, many parts of 21st century America have reverted back to the hurdle that brought the founders here in the first place.
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on August 11, 2016
I think this book rings true and the issues we see today. I recommend this book.
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on February 27, 2016
Susan Jacoby gets a lot right in this book, but I think she makes things sound worse than they really are by omitting some information that would contradict one of her two themes.
One theme is that there is a strong element of unreason or anti-intellectualism in America. I concur and I think she makes the point very well

Her other theme is that this is getting worse. I am not so sure. There have been ignoramusses at all times.
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VINE VOICEon June 3, 2010
When I look around today, I find people that for the most part do not read, spend most of their time in front of the television or the computer (Internet, specifically), have their ears plugged with an iPod, or have their faces buried in an iPhone, Blackberry, or some similar device. Who is a reader and has not experienced the disdain from at least some surrounding people that they must be a Luddite for resorting to such low- tech means of entertainment or information-gathering? They may question who has time to enjoy a novel or a piece of great literature from the past or present, fiction or nonfiction?

This book touches on that phenomenon, as well as many other subjects that relate to the dumbing down of our culture, including the rise of pseudoscience, the evolution vs creationism debates for science classes, the inequity of education because we have no national education standards as other modern countries do, and so many more subjects of historical interest.

Jacoby does hit the conservatives, even intellectuals, rather hard, but the careful reader will pick up the criticisms against the failures of the intellectual liberals, as well. She seems to have hope that with the realization of economic and foreign policy failures, perhaps a uniting of conservative and liberal intellectual effort can have a positive effect on the future of the nation as a whole.

Our anti-intellectual and anti-rational culture is even more surprising considering our country's roots with the Enlightenment, founded by strongly intellectual men. Even in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people had a tendency to desire education and even listen to speakers they knew they would disagree with, because they were much more curious about different trains of thought, and were committed to inquiry much more than today.

Susan Jacoby does a great job with this volume, and I recommend it to all the frustrated so-called Luddites that are truly today's great thinkers.
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on September 13, 2014
Excellent. Made me think of why we have so much of a political problem-solving issues in this country. The people (voters) have a lot to answer for; i.e., they don't want to do the hard work of thinking. On the other hand, the media doesn't do anywhere near the job it should and far too many politicians are willing to trade on magical thinking rather than dealing with things as they are.
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on July 11, 2016
Astute, thorough and well written. Jacoby discusses the disturbing societal trends which all of us have noticed , perhaps worried about and felt powerless to change. Although she tries to be fairly objective, her political leanings are obvious. She is quick to criticize Luddites, however she does seem to have some of those tendencies of her own. All in all, a very worthwhile read.
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on September 18, 2015
Definitely an intellectual review of the anti-intellectual movement in America from a historical perspective within the backdrop of today's resurgence in anti-rational thought, pseudo-science, and junk-thought pushed mainly by the right wing fundamentalists of the Christian faith.
Very enlightening! I didn't realize that this has been a force in America since the colonies were born.
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on February 14, 2014
This is an eye-opening critique of our culture. The inclusion of historical context, often woefully overlooked in modern news and social commentary, provides the reader with the background for the arguments offered by Jacoby. An important look at how our country has missed the goals set by our founders.
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