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The Age of American Unreason
Cover of The Age of American Unreason
The Age of American Unreason
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Combining historical analysis with contemporary observation, Susan Jacoby dissects a new American cultural phenomenon - one that is at odds with our heritage of Enlightenment reason and with modern, secular knowledge and science. With mordant wit, Jacoby surveys an antirationalist landscape extending from pop culture to a pseudo-intellectual universe of "junk thought." Disdain for logic and evidence defines a pervasive malaise fostered by the mass media, triumphalist religious fundamentalism, mediocre public education, a dearth of fair-minded public intellectuals on the right and the left, and, above all, a lazy and credulous public.

Jacoby offers an unsparing indictment of the American addiction to infotainment - from television to the Web - and cites this toxic dependency as the major element distinguishing our current age of unreason from earlier outbreaks of American anti-intellectualism and antirationalism. With reading on the decline and scientific and historical illiteracy on the rise, an increasingly ignorant public square is dominated by debased media-driven language and received opinion.

At this critical political juncture, nothing could be more important than recognizing the "overarching crisis of memory and knowledge" described in this impassioned, tough-minded book, which challenges Americans to face the painful truth about what the flights from reason has cost us as individuals and as a nation.

Combining historical analysis with contemporary observation, Susan Jacoby dissects a new American cultural phenomenon - one that is at odds with our heritage of Enlightenment reason and with modern, secular knowledge and science. With mordant wit, Jacoby surveys an antirationalist landscape extending from pop culture to a pseudo-intellectual universe of "junk thought." Disdain for logic and evidence defines a pervasive malaise fostered by the mass media, triumphalist religious fundamentalism, mediocre public education, a dearth of fair-minded public intellectuals on the right and the left, and, above all, a lazy and credulous public.

Jacoby offers an unsparing indictment of the American addiction to infotainment - from television to the Web - and cites this toxic dependency as the major element distinguishing our current age of unreason from earlier outbreaks of American anti-intellectualism and antirationalism. With reading on the decline and scientific and historical illiteracy on the rise, an increasingly ignorant public square is dominated by debased media-driven language and received opinion.

At this critical political juncture, nothing could be more important than recognizing the "overarching crisis of memory and knowledge" described in this impassioned, tough-minded book, which challenges Americans to face the painful truth about what the flights from reason has cost us as individuals and as a nation.

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About the Author-
  • Susan Jacoby is the author of more than ten books, including the New York Times bestseller The Age of American Unreason. She is a frequent contributor to national publications, including the Times and the Washington Post.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Anti-intellectualism is destroying America, says author Susan Jacoby, a "cultural conservationist." From the vast number of people who believe in creationism, angels, and the paranormal to the growing contempt for the intelligent and thoughtful, a lack of reason--and knowledge--in our culture is affecting our political choices. But Jacoby spends too much time giving a litany of negatives, rather than offering suggestions as to how to make things better--other than to turn off the TV and read a book. Cassandra Campbell's slow, monotonous reading of detail after detail makes this book sound even more like a screed. While Jacoby may be right about most of what she says, her book is too long, and Campbell's narration does not enhance it. K.M. (c) AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 17, 2007
    Inspired by Richard Hofstadter's trenchant 1963 cultural analysis Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
    , Jacoby (Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism
    ) has produced an engaging, updated and meticulously thought-out continuation of her academic idol's research. Dismayed by the average U.S. citizen's political and social apathy and the overall “crisis of memory and knowledge involving everything about the way we learn and think,” Jacoby passionately argues that the nation's current cult of unreason has deadly and destructive consequences (the war in Iraq, for one) and traces the seeds of current anti-intellectualism (and its partner in crime, antirationalism) back to post-WWII society. Unafraid of pointing fingers, she singles out mass media and the resurgence of fundamentalist religion as the primary “vectors” of anti-intellectualism, while also having harsh words for pseudoscientists. Through historical research, Jacoby breaks down popular beliefs that the 1950s were a cultural wasteland and the 1960s were solely a breeding ground for liberals. Though sometimes partial to inflated prose (“America's endemic anti-intellectual tendencies have been grievously exacerbated by a new species of semiconscious anti-rationalism”), Jacoby has assembled an erudite mix of personal anecdotes, cultural history and social commentary to decry America's retreat into “junk thought.”

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The Age of American Unreason
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