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THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON

Editorial Review - Kirkus - Jane Doe

Anti-intellectualism is as American as—well, as anti-intellectualism, an ironic tradition that, writes Jacoby (Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, 2004, etc.), allows the president to declare himself pro-education while admitting to not reading newspapers.Of course, the author adds, Bush said that "he rarely read newspapers because that would expose him to ‘opinions,' " opinions ... Read full review

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Susan Jacoby gives us a good, clear-eyed view of American intellectual history; particularly in the latter half of the twentieth century. It's not an exhaustive or definitive history, but it neatly contextualizes the current tendency of media (and political partisans) to misunderstand the pedigree of modern political thought. However, in many respects, it's not unlike Al Gore's "The Assault on Reason" and many other self-righteous polemics. Jacoby is at her best when she's exposing the manner by which society's manipulators and profiteers exploit dangerous cultural trends to their own advantage; she's at her worst when she becomes a misanthropic scold willfully ignoring the psychological pathologies that make average citizens vulnerable to the machinations of the market. (Additionally, the stories of her personal literary life are maddeningly self-aggrandizing.)
Finally, the book falls apart in the final chapters. Here we are assaulted with the usual parade of statistics meant to convince us of the decline of American education. In addition, she takes wild, generalized swings at the Bush administration without taking the time to contextualize or justify them. While there is undoubtedly truth in her conclusions about the Bush administration, she undercuts her credibility by not taking the time to provide comprehensive explanations of how she arrived at them (and by confusing anecdotes with evidence). Consequently, the last few chapters abandon a scholarly tone and sound more like hyperventilated screaming.
It's a decent book, but be prepared to suffer a little.
 

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