THIS BOOK HAS CROPPED UP SO OFTEN—AS BEING OF SOME SIGNIFICANCE IN RELATION TO UNDERSTANDING THE U.S.—THAT I FEEL OBLIGED TO FEATURE IT.
Do the populations of different countries think differently? We all know about cultural differences—but human nature is the same the world over, communications are now global, so one might consider that the differences in thinking between the various nationalities are not that great. That apart, generalizations are somewhat hazardous.
Let me proceed into harm’s way nonetheless—and risk a few observations.
- Anti-intellectualism is definitely a factor in American life—and not to the Nation’s advantage.
- Ideology, stemming largely from the Right, currently seems to be a dominating force, and seems to win out over rational thinking just about every time. It renders facts irrelevant and is demonstrably anti-science. It is destructive to a degree that cannot be over-emphasized.
- The U.S. is money oriented to a degree that is unhealthy—and which undermines rational thinking. In short, greed wins out over intellectualism. In fact, with more and more university heads earning seven figure salaries—not to mention the disgraceful treatment of adjunct academics, it is clear that greed is claiming the high ground.
- For a host of reasons, from the sheer size of the Nation, to the neglect of the rest of the world by the mass media, the U.S. is excessively inward looking. This is something of a paradox given the active involvement of the U.S. military—not to mention U.S. business—in the rest of the world.
- Despite its growth figures, vast military power, and other misleading indicators, the U.S. is currently in both relative and absolute decline—and this is well demonstrated by the current decline of the Middle Class and the rise of Poverty. A society which is only concerned with the economic progress of an economic elite is not a healthy society.
- The U.S. is certainly not short of intellectual talent despite the flaws in its educational systems. However, such intellectuals don’t have the necessary clout to have an adequate impact.
- Virtually all of the U.S.’s current problems could be resolved with relative ease if the ideas of its best intellectual thinkers were applied. The answers are out there—but few seem to be looking.
The following two reviews are from Amazon.
One reviewer below insists that this book, while excellent, is "dated." I find this an astonishing evaluation. What stunned me about this book was how familiar the anti-intellectualism from each period in American history felt. True, we are not today facing McCarthyism--our own particular moment in history feels Orwellian more than anything--but Hofstadter's overall point about anti-intellectualism being a constituent part of the national character has not been invalidated by the past forty years. Indeed, his points have been confirmed at nearly every point. And while the anti-intellectuals in the fifties may have railed against "eggheads," today the GOP directs much of their fury against the "liberal elite." Since most of "the elite" is comparatively poor compared to the Right-wing economic elite, clearly they are aiming their guns at the intellectual elite. Figures Hofstadter quotes from the 18th century sound like they could be one of today's right wing pundits.
Few books that I have ever read have helped me understand the American character as well as this one. Many of the chapters in American history that he chronicles are somewhat forgotten, but just as essential as the more familiar figures and events.Read more ›
160 of 167 people found the following review helpful
By Brooke276 on June 18, 1999
Before this book, I had never contemplated the differences between intelligence and intellectualism, but now, armed with Hofstadter's witty, sophisticated study, I can, with confidence, better survey our national landscape. Not only does the author reveal our anti-intellectual roots, he deconstructs the origins of our commitment to "practical knowledge." Whether it's religion or the business ethic, American culture has sanctioned and outwardly promoted a disdain for intellectual contemplation in favor of more "functional" learning that will (must), in the end, bring about conformity, commercialism, and commodification, NOT abstract thought. The book is a masterpiece and if there are any people left in this country who believe the mind is the last refuge of true freedom, it should serve as a revolutionary cry for all of us to follow.