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175 of 198 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taking the temperature of contemporary American culture, February 18, 2008
This review is from: The Age of American Unreason (Hardcover)
Susan Jacoby's beautifully written and convincingly argued book should be sine qua non reading for ALL parents, as well anyone who has anything to do with education. She clears away any doubts one might entertain about the benefits of even the most "educational" videos for young children, backing up her points with evidence from reliable sources. According to a recent study carried out by the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital, overexposure to videos like "Brainy Baby" may actually be impeding language development in babies.
The book's acute analysis of political "communication" and media punditry should also be required reading for anyone who aspires to make an informed and wise choice in the crucial political battle currently being fought for the future of our nation. Her observations are all the more interesting in light of the current attack on "eloquence" in political speech--with its specious implication that one cannot be eloquent and effective simultaneously.
There are purely intellectual pleasures as well to be had from Jacoby's wonderfully ambitious reach into American history. I particularly enjoyed her investigation of the idea that, from the very beginning, our democratic culture rested on a contradiction: [Jacoby, 37] "The health of democracy, as so many of the founders had proclaimed, depended on an educated citizenry, but many Americans also believed that too much learning might set one citizen above another and violate the very democratic ideals that education was supposed to foster."
I particularly recommend the downloadable vodcast of Jacoby's interview with Bill Moyers [Feb. 15th] [...] . Given the very substantial interest the book has already sparked, there may be some hope for us yet.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 21, 2008 7:47:22 PM PST
Jeff Jones says:
Thanks for that podcast link.

Posted on Feb 28, 2008 5:07:46 AM PST
Leo says:
Yes. Thanks very much for podcast link.

Posted on Mar 30, 2008 9:35:17 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 19, 2008 12:56:52 PM PDT
Although some Jacoby critics have surfaced, those who doubt the validy of her central thesis ought to look more closely at the data-driven arguments that support her analysis and conclusions. There is abundant evidence, historical and current, to support the unhappy fact that American society has, in great measure, taken leave from science and rationalism. She is not the first, nor will she be the last, to document that assault on reason, from so many quarters, has led to "Closing of the American Mind", revisitng Allan Bloom's classic by that title. How is it, for instance, that a recent study of 34 nations revealed that, with one exception (bless Turkey), Americans are the least likely (26%) to believe in evolution.

Perhaps the most comparable faith-threating scientific achievement, next to evolution, is that of Copernicus. Copernicus had the good sense to wait until the year of his death (1543) before publishing. Less fortunate was Bruno extended the idea that neither the earth nor humanity are at the center of the universe. He was burned at the stake for his efforts.

The assault on science and rationality comes from many diverse and influential individuals and groups including literal creationists, multiculturists, feminists who decry male domination, intelligent design proponents, romanticist individualists in literature, many in academia who resent the growing domiance of science in the university structure, animal rights extremists.

These groups are not always in concert on other matters, but they set aside their differences to share a unifying demotic perspective that science/empiricism is a nihilistic construction that ecounces power in a self-pertetuating elitist establishment that, in denying moral truth seeks to devalue and stifle other discourse or knowledge not grownded in the language and precepts of modern science.

Of course science is not our only avenue to knowing. There are many other ways of understanding. Science works; but so do many other cognitive styles. The central point made by Jacoby and others is that much of American society has fled from reason and rationality.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 23, 2011 11:37:04 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 23, 2011 11:38:49 AM PDT
I would agree with her about say, people who don't believe in evolution, and attempt, in their ignorance to even argue with scientists. But she takes aim at such a broad spectrum of people for such a variety of often trivial reasons, that almost everyone who isn't a liberal, rationalistic, intellectual who doesn't read popular literature, doesn't listen to hit parade music, doesn't play solitaire, watch much television or make much use of the computer is dragging down society.

I think that too many of her arguments are not "data-driven", but rely on cherry-picking, personal anecdotes and prejudices.
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