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Anti-intellectualism in American life

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  1,235 ratings  ·  101 reviews
Anti-intellectualism in American Life is a 1963 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Richard Hofstadter. In this book, Hofstadter set out to trace the social movements that altered the role of intellect in American society from a virtue to a vice. In so doing, he explored questions regarding the purpose of education and whether the democratization of education altered that purpo ...more
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Published by Knopf, 1883 (first published February 12th 1963)
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Bill  Kerwin

This Hofstadter Pulitzer Prize winner had been on my 1000 plus list of books to read someday, but when Sarah Palin became the vice presidential candidate of a major political party, I figured I needed to move it up to the short list. I'm glad I did.

What this book shows us is that anti-intellectualism in America has been around a long time. A generation before the Revolution, American revivalist preachers were already denigrating the university-educated ministers of the New England mainstream as
...more
Ed
The book was largely a historical overview on the systematic repression/suppression of intellectual thought in America. And I'm using overview in a very poor way — it was excruciatingly detailed. However, it is strikingly relevant for application in our current society. Covering topics ranging from religion (which by its nature, must strangle intellectual thought to ensure the masses follow blindly), to education (where the humanities are losing funding to the strict business-applicable sciences ...more
Jonathan
This book is not nearly as snotty as the title makes it sound. It's full of amazing unknown social history of early America and draws a startling line showing many of the ways that the unique American character was formed from the early 1600's on. And it does so largely without judgement, even though the overall thrust of the book is an argument that the disapproval of education and knowledge for their own sake tend to undermine our social structures and retard our advancement as a nation. It's ...more
Tom
Written in the early 1960's this book has shaped my thinking like few others. Goes a long way to explain the history of intellectual life in America, examining religion, formal education, business, and politics. If we wonder why Americans seem "dumber" than ever, this book offers an argument that stands up well today. One of my all-time favorites.
Judy
I first read this book in my Intellectual History of the United States class when I was in college a hundred years ago and I've felt the need to revisit it about every decade. In light of the level of what constitutes political, social, and cultural discourse in the United States today and out of total frustration with my college students who have emerged from schools that want them to "feel good about themselves" and have both lowered expectations and inflated grades, it was time to pull it off ...more
Aaron
What are the roots of stupidity in America, and how did they grow so strong?

It’s a question historian Richard Hofstadter raises and answers brilliantly and unforgettably in his 1964 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.”

Though the book was written more than three decades ago, it has lost none of its relevance to current life in America. What a prescient book. To read it is to attain a fuller understanding of the rise of modern political figures such as Sarah Palin,
...more
Donald Luther
This was my second go-round on this book and in 2014, Hofstadter's treatment of American disdain for intellectuals, in particular, and for ideas, more generally, reads like a warning, a jeremiad, even, regarding the downward slide of our political and aesthetic culture. When it was first published, in the early 1960s, it called on America to close the door on McCarthyism and for the Republican Party to open its collective mind to an awareness of where it was dragging American society and America ...more
J. Dunn
I couldn't finish this the first time I tried. Just wasn’t in the mood at the time. I thought it would be kind of interesting reading on whacked out stuff like the Know-Nothings, the KKK, nativism, the Birchers, and so on, but it turns out it’s mostly about the influence of Evangelicals on our politics and culture throughout American history. And I thought I wanted to know more about that too, but it turned out to be pretty boring in practice, so I dropped it, for now. I’ll finish eventually, be ...more
Poppy
Jan 26, 2012 Poppy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: intellectuals
Shelves: non-fiction
Lots of information, lots of examples. Gives me a lot to think about, and I'm still processing what I have learned.

This will give me a good foundation in understanding similar books, written for a lay audience, and the underpinnings of some of the primary conflicts in our culture.

American politics is a struggle between people who believe that an 8th grade education should be sufficient to understand the issues facing us, and people who understand that it is not so.

American religion is a dichotom
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Robert Owen
I picked up this book by Richard Hofstadter because I was sick of reading about him in other books without ever having read him myself. After reading “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” I see why this dual-Pulitzer Prize winner is so often cited. In a clear, concise, thoroughly thoughtful way, Hofstadter recounts the origins and trajectory of America’s love / hate (mostly hate) relationship with the intellectual in American society.

The origins of American hostility to intellectualism has pe
...more
Eugene
How can the most powerful country on Earth reject science, encourage religous superstition and create the tea party? Read on!
Todd Martin
Written in the early 1960’s this intelligent and well written book is eerily relevant today. The book is divided into 4 sections. The historical beginnings are examined in detail within each category as well as the implications for the present (the ‘present’ as defined by the 1960’s). Little imagination is required to see how these damaging trends have continued up until the present and show little or no sign of abatement.

Religion:
There is a strong anti-intellectual strain running through many r
...more
Jay
Written in 1964, this book outlines the history of anti-intellectualism in our nation. Because the book was written almost 50 years ago, it delves deeper into the subject matter then most contemporary work. This book has become a cornerstone work on the subject, and is a must read for anyone interested in the subject matter. Sadly, the same problems that existed at the time of this work still have not been addressed today. The author could not have imagined the propaganda machines that political ...more
Brian
Great, great book that holds up surprisingly well almost 50 years since it was written. Full of greatness like this:

"At times the schools of the country seem to be dominated by athletics, commercialism, and the standards of the mass media, and these extend upwards to a system of higher education whose worst failings were underlined by the bold president of the University of Oklahoma who hoped to develop a university of which the football team could be proud. Certainly some ultimate educational v
...more
Andrew
Hofstadter's main problem, as far as I can tell, is that he doesn't have a working definition for intellectual. At some points, he's more than happy to include artists and writers in the camp of "the intellectual," but at other times, he only refers to those intellectuals working within a specifically positivist tradition. This makes a great deal of sense given the time in which the book was written, but comes off as a bit preposterous today. This, to me, makes me question the work as a text in ...more
Bobby Thym
Wanted to read this text because anti- intellectualism seems part of the American DNA. My gut tells me that it began when that effete British critic asked if an American book had been published, and it was probably a logical part of the narrative that appeared in the Gilded Age. where the American ingenue visits Europe and gets seduced by the sophisticated European bon vivant who had spent all of his money. It appears in the fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald where he re- shapes his past at Princeto ...more
Alan
I carried this around for a long time. No, Americans don't want to be "intellectuals," in the sense maybe the French do. But I'm not sure we should do. I don't like world wrestling (or golf, for that matter) or the McDonald's/Starbucks world. But I like online learning, Amazon, better wine stores, NPR, movies on demand, and other access to intellectual life that just weren't there in the 60s. RH is famous for "the paranoid style" comments and I grew tired of his psychologizing.
Sam
I got this book at a school library sale a few years ago. I was surprised at how much of the information in the book sort of ingratiated itself into my mind and became natural, like a re-interpretation of common knowledge. It's almost like when you know something abstract and then someone puts it into tangible words and everything becomes clearer, except I hadn't really thought about/realized it before in this case. It is hard to explain.
Alexis
After 50 years, Richard Hofstadter’s analysis of anti-intellectualism in America is not just a historical curiosity; it’s a vital work that continues to inform modern thought and policy. When we see attacks on the liberal arts, on the purpose of the university, on science, on history courses in high school that do not function as mere patriotic indoctrination, when we idealize Bill Gates the college dropout, we see that tendency in full flower today. Though Hofstadter’s history stops in the earl ...more
Sean Bradford
Enjoyed the author's broad overview & perspective. Before reading this, I had previously thought that American's distrust for anything intellectual was a modern phenomenon. Hofstadter's premise that this behavior is at the center of America's national character is fleshed out by his grasp of history and cultural/ religious movements.

My favorite chapter is his conclusion, which concentrates on alienation in the intellectual community. Some of my favorite quotes:
pg 396-397:
"What was at issue w
...more
Seppo
Great analysis of what has has shaped the American culture.
Frontier mentality, religious revivalism, and business culture. Hofstadter gives us an aid to understand what our strengths and vulnerabilities are. Strengths include optimism and getting things done, vulnerabilities include (1) optimism which ignores analysis and (2) getting thinks done means also doing the wrong things.
Ron Davison
Great definition of an intellectual as someone who does not worry about the implications of thoughts pursued, a definition that essentially explains why business, religion, politics, and even educational institutions in America would have an anti-intellectual bent. Published in 1963 but still terrible germane.
Ben
Pulitzer for Non-fiction 1964 - Hofstadter's thesis is that there has constantly been an assault on Intellectualism and thinking in the US pretty much since it's inception. The Founding Fathers were all intellectuals - Franklin, Jefferson, Adams but within 20 years that same thinking was made fun of in political campaigns - that a "thinking man" is great for universities but should be avoided to be a leader.
Hofstadter looks at several main theme - Religion, Politics, Business and Education and
...more
Steven P.R.
This book is a rich overview of the historical trends of intellectual thought in the United States since its conception. Hofstadter explores the evolution of philosophical thinking in the United States, and how it has been curbed to meet the practical demands of life, drifting away from its roots in Europe where it was moreover focused on contemplation and the yearning for truth in it-self.

What's fascinating about this book is that it delves into the reasons why intellectualism has been replace
...more
Jason
How does the Pulitzer Prize winner for General Non-Fiction in 1964 hold up over half a century later? The major tenets of Hofstadter's book remain eerily resonant today. Below are some examples that Hofstadter argued were signs of an anti-intellectual movement that grew from the early 20th century. It is eye-openeing and a bit scary to see current events that mirror these descriptions.

1. "The small town lawyers and businessmen who are elected to Congress cannot hope to expropriate the experts fr
...more
Adam
This was a really interesting history book, dealing with just one aspect of America, anti-intellectualism. Hey, the Puritan clergy were apparently sort of smart guys (even if their theology was shitty)! Adlai Stevenson didn't lose his race against Eisenhower just because he was an egghead! (Eisenhower was a national hero, there was a huge turnout at the voting booths, and even though he lost Stevenson still got more votes than the previous election's winner). It gets a bit dense at times, I had ...more
Gary Schroeder
Hofstadter breaks his analysis of the history of matters of intellect in America by looking at three broad areas: religion, education in relation to labor movements and politics and changing philosophies on how children should be educated. While I found the discussion of historical labor movements to be uncompelling as it relates to the grand topic of the book, his review of religion and approaches to education in this country are as relevant today as they were when the book was written in 1963. ...more
Brandon
I definitely would recommend this to anyone interested in studying intellectualism in the United States. The author is right on his claim that intellectualism has been disappearing from the United States as we see more intellectuals swayed to fit into the social norm, which limits intellectual power in the end.

Although the book was written in 1963, its claims match the problems of modern-day society. The book explores the education system and how flawed it was and how Dewey's utopian concept of
...more
Jesse
Absolutely incredible. 5/5. I didn't even realize this book had won the Pulitzer until getting a third of the way into it. It was shocking to me how relevant the book was, and how pervasive anti-intellectual sentiment has been through American history. The rhetoric sounded like it could have come from last year, and the only thing that makes this book less relevant is its "modern" examples of anti-intellectualism stemming mostly from McCarthyism.

Part of my enjoyment of this book was very persona
...more
Morgan
This is one of those books that left an incredibly, and likely lasting impact on me as a person and more importantly, as an american. It has reshaped my views of American history and education in America. As a high school senior, I am already area of the issues in our public schools. I live them. Hofstadter provided an in depth report an analysis of the how and why American education is what it is. He examines the religious, political, and cultural events that have shaped American anti-intellect ...more
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Richard Hofstadter was an American public intellectual, historian and DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University. In the course of his career, Hofstadter became the “iconic historian of postwar liberal consensus” whom twenty-first century scholars continue consulting, because his intellectually engaging books and essays continue to illuminate contemporary history.

His most
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More about Richard Hofstadter...
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“Tocqueville saw that the life of constant action and decision which was entailed by the democratic and businesslike character of American life put a premium upon rough and ready habits of mind, quick decision, and the prompt seizure of opportunities - and that all this activity was not propitious for deliberation, elaboration, or precision in thought.” 5 likes
“To be confronted with a simple and unqualified evil is no doubt a kind of luxury....” 3 likes
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