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The Twilight of American Culture (Decline of the American Empire #1)

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  494 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
A prophetic examination of Western decline, The Twilight of American Culture provides one of the most caustic and surprising portraits of American society to date. Whether examining the corruption at the heart of modern politics, the "Rambification" of popular entertainment, or the collapse of our school systems, Morris Berman suspects that there is little we can do as a s ...more
ebook, 224 pages
Published June 17th 2001 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2000)
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May 09, 2015 Ancient rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Eh, not as great a book as I was hoping it might be. In summary, the author tells us what a lot of us already know - America is getting dumber, inequality between rich and poor continues to grow, we all exist only to serve as consumers of what the corporations sell us, etc. The problem is I don't think that most people who are going to read Twilight would dispute any of these ideas before having read the book. Is America in relative cultural, intellectual, and societal decline? Absolutely. That ...more
Sep 27, 2011 Stewart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Morris Berman’s alarming book of 183 pages was written in 2001, and I read it a year or two later. I was curious to reread the book and see its relevance 10 years later. Closing the book, I think that its analysis of the decline of American culture is as true now as a decade ago. In fact, the situation is much worse.
Berman looked at the cult of money and consumerism that permeates U.S. life, the dominance of hype and propaganda, the squeezing of the middle class, and the redistribution of weal
May 09, 2015 Poiema rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history/culture buffs
Shelves: culture
Book Review: The Twilight of American Culture by Morris Berman

"History repeats itself" is a well-known aphorism, one which Morris Berman would agree with only in part. When history comes full circle, the rebound would more closely resemble a helix, a bit more complex than a simple replay of the past. Each time a culture rises to power, a decline is inevitable but seeds of rebirth lie within that cultural decay. Like the mythical phoenix bird, new life may emerge from the ashes.

The book The Twili
Jun 29, 2012 Al rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A real doom-and-gloomer. Berman's thesis is that American culture has entered a period of irrevocable decline, akin to that of the Roman Empire which presaged the Middle Ages. "Irrevocable" is the key word here; Berman repeatedly stresses his belief that this decline cannot be reversed. The obvious question then, is what does one do in the face of this coming decline? Berman terms his answer the "monastic option," patterned as it is on the activities of cloistered medieval monks who, via transcr ...more
Jen Padgett Bohle
Essentially, America is one big hustla and corporatocracy has us in its death grip. Democracy, according to Berman, has come to mean the right to choose between Burger King and McDonald's or Target and Wal-Mart or other equally banal places where one can part from one's money. Furthermore, the sun is setting on the formerly flourishing American empire because our literacy levels and basic cultural and historical knowledge are declining; our youth all want to be celebrities and can barely write c ...more
Feb 05, 2008 Zach rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Zach by: Professor Freyfogle
A book about the decline of civilization. The author says we are headed into a dark ages and need modern-day monks to be preserving for the future what knowledge we have.

At the very least, this book makes you think about stuff.

But the evidence he sites is hardly empirical in nature and suffers from anchoring bias.
Mar 19, 2012 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Morris Berman wrote this book in 2000...or at least, that's when it was copyrighted. Since then, we've experienced 9/11 and the resulting fear-based war on terrorism. After 9/11, I think many more Americans would side with Berman that the American culture is and has been on a downhill slide to something similar to the Dark Ages. The book is a good read but that's if you can stand the alarming nature of Berman's thesis that we should be gathering our 'culture' and storing it in secret places so t ...more
Oct 20, 2013 Clive rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I write from a British perspective & as someone who had a traditional british liberal education. I agree it is on the wane & often feel like "an expatriate in my own country" - this is a phrase I coined before picking up the book and it appears on p.26 so the book struck a chord with me. Since about 1979 popular culture became dumbed down in the UK. British TV has become a kind of 'sewage of the mind' compared with what people used to watch in the 70s. Similarly BBC output has gone from ...more
Mar 20, 2007 Carlos rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bueno el análisis comparativo de la decadencia estadounidense con la del Imperio Romano. Buena la teoría de las oscilaciones entre culturas idealistas y culturas pragmáticas
Estimulante la propuesta de aspirar a un rol monástico para los tiempos de decadencia.
Cuestionables sus ejemplos de personajes monásticos (sobre todo, por supuesto, el ejemplo de Michael Moore)
Siempre que uno lee libros o mira películas que pretenden dar un diagnóstico sobre la cultura estadounidense, se tiene la sensación de
May 08, 2008 J rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shorter Berman: "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers." Sorry that was Socrates 469–399 B.C. Morris basically says we live in a shallow societ ...more
Aug 28, 2009 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Berman is a doomsayer w/ yet a little hope. His enemy is gigantic Corporate America, which spreads its consumer values across the globe without regard for any of the people that it stomps & steamrollers. Berman is a classy writer; his prose is a model of clarity & persuasiveness. As a solution, he advocates people living lives of a sort of new monasticism, making their lives models of good living: honorable, respectful, et cetera. The hope is that this way of life will spread into the ge ...more
Nov 16, 2007 Glen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gives an accurate account of current social, educational, economic, and political structures in America. In addition, Berman suggests a variety of future possibilities for America, along with ways of preserving our culture in the future. Overall, the book was very thought-provoking and influenced me to add about a dozen books to my 'to-read' shelf. I'll have to give Berman 5 stars if his predictions come true in 50 years or so. I'm betting that his predictions pertaining to higher educ ...more
Abner Rosenweig
May 18, 2015 Abner Rosenweig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Twilight" inspires even in its dour forecast for America. In a compelling bricolage of literary and social criticism, Berman lucidly articulates how the nation is systemically and dangerously off track; how we got where we are; where we might be going as a result; and, most significantly, what those of us who are interested might do in the midst of these dark times. This is an intelligent, well-informed work of cultural history and criticism.

However, the book is not without flaws. Berman's tho
Bro_Pair أعرف
Sep 29, 2012 Bro_Pair أعرف rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Remarkably prescient about the decay of America and actually inspiring - Berman's call for a monastic way of life is deeply moving.
Mystie Winckler
Jan 31, 2009 Mystie Winckler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education, 2008
MCL. Would like to own. It's the monastic option for us! Liberal, but good analysis and solution-theory.
It would be pretty trivial to pass off Professor Berman as a crank taking his argument at face value. In Twilight of American Culture, Berman claims that America is in clear decline which will lead to inevitable collapse sometime in the 21st century. The decline observed is primarily cultural and social but that these symptoms have serious impact on economic and political stability of the nation. Berman claims that the decline is irreversible and that the only option for those that see this decl ...more
I had previously read Berman's book Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire. Both books have a similar theme, although Twilight was written before 9/11 and Dark Ages was published more recently.

I found myself largely in agreement with Berman's analysis of the current state of American culture. The lack of critical thinking, the emptiness of mass consumerism, the "infotainment" nature of cable news, the “corporatization" and globalization leading us in a "McWorld" direction were among many t
An insightful and provocative book on a subject that has become my new obsession; it used to be scathing, critical books on Georgie Boy, now it is scathing and critical books on the trainwreck and clusterfuck of America and what we have become as a country. In a nutshell, America is the laughing stock of the world. This book, written before 9.11 offers a cornucopia of how far we have fallen as we have become more and more enamored with corporate capitalist consumer behavior - we have embraced Mc ...more
Richard Kearney
Feb 23, 2012 Richard Kearney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Scholar and critic Morris Berman has written about a great many topics during his distinguished career, but for the last decade his central focus has been on what he perceives as the assured collapse of American culture and civilization, a process that is well under way and impossible to reverse. Berman does not expect readers to find this proposition convincing without some evidence and argument, and so he provides it, along with some practical suggestions about how at least some of us might un ...more
Jul 26, 2011 Ronald rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Published in 2000, this is what one might describe as a good and honest Liberal's report on the status of American culture (horrible), it's future (worse), and the options of "monastic" persons for the preservation of the best of Western Civilization (limited). Victor Davis Hanson described the book as charting the "abyss between the multicultural Left and the utilitarian, corporate Right" where an increasingly "besieged and bewildered American middle class" is falling. I most appreciated the vo ...more
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Harry Allagree
Sep 05, 2013 Harry Allagree rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This probably one of the most significant books I've read in my lifetime. One of the two quotes which introduce the book, the quote from Neal Postman from "Amusing Ourselves to Death", essentially hints what Morris Berman is about in this book: "When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a ...more
Silvia Cachia
May 08, 2011 Silvia Cachia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished the first round of this book. I will surely read it again, but I enjoyed simply reading it. It has many references to other books, movies, events... the last chapter is a fantastic culmination of the whole analysis of the book. Berman proposes different historic scenarios after this transitional time of now.

I have a few discrepancies, but all in all, his view is very well grounded and deeply thought. The book introduced me to this concept of NMI, new monastic individual. And it helped
I'm glad I didn't notice that this book had a glowing blurb from neo-con stooge Victor Davis Hanson (VDH henceforth) until after I'd already finished it. Let's just say he's not one of my favorite public figures, and I'd have thought anything he'd endorse is typically not the sort of thing I'd want to waste my time on. In fact, to what passes for my mind, he's the sort of bloviating jerk-off Berman was WARNING all and sundry about in this jeremiad -- whatever my personal opinion of the man. So e ...more
Sep 09, 2013 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-ficton
This reads like a number of other radical critiques of our declining society, and I had no trouble agreeing with his analysis of our woes: growing corporatocracy, rapidly widening gap between rich and poor, rapid decline of education and literacy, etc. What makes this book different is that, where critics like, say, Neil Postman, would round up their critiques with a call to save our culture, Morris Berman thinks that the decline and disintegration of modern America is already inevitable. It's a ...more
David Calhoun
Feb 12, 2012 David Calhoun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is really just a guidebook for those who've already made up their minds about whether America (and its culture) are in decline. Plenty of arguments for this position are given, but not enough attention is given to the opposite opinion. What if America is simply undergoing radical change and isn't really in a decline? This isn't really a position taken seriously here. In short, if you're looking for something that provides a true voice to either side of this issue, this isn't the book.

Mike Awtry
I enjoyed this book, and most of his thoughts resonated with me quite well. I think his push towards a group of people taking on the role of "new monastics" to buck against the corporate trend and mass frenzy while preserving culture is needed. He doesn't present it as a new ideas as much as an observation of what's been happening and a push for others to be deliberate about continuing to do so. But I did leave with a few questions. How will we draw the bounds of art/culture, and is there room f ...more
Jun 04, 2012 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by:
Morris Berman offers a summary of the decline of American culture and paths forward - a reassertion of Enlightenment values tempered with the good parts of postmodernity.

His summary of what is wrong with America is by now well known - the dismal state of public education, the corporatization of the university, the globalized wealthy elite that can make money without really even trying while the middle class disintegrates and the poor get poorer, the insolvency of America's fiscal policy.

Very g
James Wheeler
Great book. Helpful critique of the decline of learning and critical thought in america. Great new word: infotainment. Berman comes off pretty pessimistic at times though he does encourage the great existentialist ideal of one person who can stands against the herd. Indeed he calls this stand the "monastic option." Inspiring language for evangelical, catholic, lutheran folks who feel the church slipping into irrelevancy and want to find pathways to help invigorate and reform it. I like his way o ...more
Robert Gourley
An interesting book but marred by the author’s leftist anti-religious (anti-Christian? anti-Catholic?) bias. This bias causes him to mis-interpret the forces which led to the collapse of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Middle Ages. It also casts doubt on his prognostications. And I remain unconvinced a secular monasticism is possible.
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Distinguished cultural historian and social critic Morris Berman has spent many years exploring the corrosion of American society and the decline of the American empire. He is the author of the critically acclaimed works The Twilight of American Culture, a New York Times Book Review "Notable Book," and Dark Ages America."
More about Morris Berman...

Other Books in the Series

Decline of the American Empire (3 books)
  • Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire
  • Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline

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