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The Age of American Unreason
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The Age of American Unreason

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  1,828 ratings  ·  352 reviews
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." Disda...more
Audio CD, 0 pages
Published May 15th 2008 by Tantor Media (first published 2008)
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Trevor
Once upon a time, and a very good time it was indeed, there was an America that proudly stood as the intellectual beacon of the world, the light on the hill which shone and illuminated even down into those darkest of places the light of reason and hope. Because reason and hope are sisters and hand-in-hand they can transform the world.

Then one day one of these sisters got lost in the woods, lost in the dark and impenetrable woods of ignorance and stupidity and aggressive ignorance. And hope calle...more
Skylar Burris
Because I am a product of the Age of American Unreason, I’m going to begin reviewing this book before I’ve finished reading it. Besides, I don’t have time to read the entire book. I have to watch all the re-runs I’ve DVRed of America’s Biggest Loser and Bachelor, and then I need to fantasize about the end times when everyone who disagrees with me gets theirs, and I’ve also got to spend a few minutes irrationally doubting whether macroevolutionary theory is a fully sufficient explanation for the...more
Kristen
I know I vowed in my previous reviews not to read any more of these particular sorts of books, more liberals explaining the mind of those crazy conservatives, and how unsatisfied I inevitably am with their explanations. Yet surely Susan Jacoby will be different, considering how much I loved her Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. Sadly, no. While the book starts out on the right track towards the end it veers wildly off course. Perhaps my two star rating is me taking my frustration w...more
Kristine
Apr 24, 2008 Kristine rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, but take it with a grain of salt
Recommended to Kristine by: Katie Schreiner
If you agree with everything Jacoby says, you're not paying enough attention. She's out to diagnose all the reasons why Americans are falling behind the rest of the world intellectually. I think she's right about a lot of what she says, but she blames quite a bit on conservatives and on religion that I don't agree can be laid on those particular doorsteps. At the same time, it's fascinating to read her take on the 60's--particularly given that my in-laws were definitely part of the counter-count...more
Scot
This book is thoroughly researched, logically organized, eloquently written, and incredibly significant for the real problem it points out: the severe dumbing down of America that has occurred in the past forty years. With wit and wisdom, the author puts this troubling phenomenon in the larger historical context of the history of this country, and traces the strong and virulent forces that coalesced to set us on the path toward the bleak future sardonically portrayed in the 2006 film Idiocracy (...more
Ivonne Rovira
Nov 26, 2013 Ivonne Rovira rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: thinkers
How did America get to this point, a point of hubristic anti-intellectualism, of a mocking dismissal of science, a point at which Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s main advisor, could say — in all seriousness — to author Ron Suskind, as he did in 2004,
that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” ...

“That's not the way the world really works anymore,” he
...more
Lunnon
This book has been hyped with a lot of articles in newspapers, esp. a big one in the New York Times and sounded interesting. I found that the sections of the book where she laid out the historical foundations of American anti-intellectualism were not as interesting as the sections towards the end where she starts cataloging all the junk science, junk thought, obsession with celebrities,technological distractions, and 'us folks' relativism that have taken over society today. Some of it approaches...more
Michael
There's some interesting material in this book, mostly historical, but overall it's deeply flawed. Jacoby likes to lump things together with no real justification. All TV, movies, internet content, and music which happens to be on an iPod become the scourge that is "infotainment", which is to be blamed for most, if not all, of society's problems. There's nothing here to support this idea other than the author's repeated pejorative use of the dubious term. To her, books are active entertainment,...more
Sally
Jun 11, 2008 Sally rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sally by: Andrew Baird
Ultimately, this book did its job, or a job, because I feel strongly enough about it to write a review. Jacoby's broad intention is, I think, heartfelt and needed. And many of her subarguments are coherent and compelling. It is her own emphasis on high intellectual standards that invites criticism of otherwise minor points. She demands rigor in American thought, so I shall apply rigor to my evaluation of her book.
Her willingness to express not just amusement but alarm at the inability of Presid...more
Terence
Feb 04, 2010 Terence rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Terence by: Jacoby interview on Bill Moyer's Journal
The Age of American Unreason is another road-trip audio CD adventure so I couldn't take notes, I got distracted on occasion, and I can't review the text as I write this. Consequently, this review will be brief (perhaps blessedly so) and lacking in much detail but, for what it's worth, here it is:

Jacoby traces three streams of American culture: A low-brow, ignorant-and-proud-of-it tradition that's wary of education and distrustful of the educated; a high-brow tradition of educated elites, who hav...more
Daniel Solera
This took a while to get through. Not only does each of Jacoby's sentences sound like it deserves its own dissertation, but a lot of ground is covered in its 300+ pages. As a seasoned journalist, Jacoby tackles the prevailing anti-intellectual sentiment that has infiltrated every aspect of daily life, from the media, to pop-culture to civic and political figures.

Jacoby devotes a lot of time to the history of this sentiment, dating back to the pre-Civil War ideological split in the nation. She no...more
Dan
Dismayed by the rapid decrease of reading, writing and intelligent discourse in America, Susan Jacoby has crafted an engaging, at times humorous, often depressing and always thought provoking book on the present, past and future of intellectualism in America.

I came into this book thinking that the author would be "preaching to the choir" and was surprised to come away looking hard at my own life for ways to change. Although I am an avid reader and consider myself, probably quite pompously, to be...more
Rod Hilton
For a book that laments the decline of reason in American culture, this book sure does manage to avoid it's use when making arguments.

Essentially the book's real premise is this: Americans are increasingly anti-rational, largely due to the fact that they are reading fewer books. Considering this is coming from a book author, it's hard not to face this argument with some skepticism. Indeed, Jacoby never really provides much in the way of evidence, assuming her claims to be self-evident to the rea...more
Mouldy Squid
Jul 03, 2012 Mouldy Squid rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in politics, culture, education, religion and higher-learning.
A lot of people really dislike this book. They accuse Jacoby of being a Luddite, attacking only straw men, using unreasoned arguments, being a snob and other less kind things. These comments more or less prove her point.

Jacoby details not just the anti-intellectualism of the past forty years, but the strain of anti-intellectualism present throughout the entire history of the United States. Of particular focus is the conservative political movements and fundamentalist religion. Modern popular cul...more
James Perkins
Lots of us like to poke fun at stupid Americans; this book provides the reasons behind why we (non-Americans) think America is so dumb. American academic, journalist, and social critic Susan Jacoby tracks the intellectual history of the United States from the time of the Constitution to the present day, explaining how the dreams of the well-educated "founding fathers" have been dashed on the rocks of pop culture, infotainment and religious fundamentalism. The chief culprits in spreading these in...more
Jesse
Irritating, and not even that good a screed. Jacoby's history of why people believe dumb things, or don't believe in reason, is pretty solid, but after the 60s chapter, which has a nice balance, it starts to feel more and more like a scattershot attempt to rewrite The Closing of the American Mind, except this time by someone who has actually stepped outside the classroom in the last 30 years.

It's not entirely successful. Parts of it feel like journalistic pieces plopped in where they fit (Baby...more
Heather
Aug 16, 2008 Heather rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Liberals who like to look down on others in snobby fashion
Recommended to Heather by: The internet... bad, bad internet
If goodreads had any intention of fixing their broken code so I could rate this book, I would give it the "I HATED IT" rating.

Jacoby presents her book in a chronological order. So, I thought I really liked the book up until she started talking about present day stuff. Then her bias became so unbelievably clear to me that I no longer trust any of the things she said about the past and I realize I only accepted her view because I didn't really know much about the things she was discussing.

Before y...more
Sarah
Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason is a book that might be substantially improved by a serious printing accident. While the first five chapters provide an excellent overview of American engagements with anti-rationalism through the mid-twentieth century, the latter half is characterized by a strange combination of shrillness (on the subject of culture) and placation (on the subject of religion), and offers few solutions to improve the intellectual situation of a country where, as Jacoby...more
David
Jacoby's book begins as a discussion of the historical context of American anti-intellectualism, and ends as a jeremiad. The transition from a detached analysis to a personal cry occurs around Chapter 6, "Blaming it on the Sixties," in which Jacoby begins weaving personal anecdotes into the main thread of the text. The subsequent chapters remain grounded in studies and in reporting, but with an increasingly exasperated tone as Jacoby writes of youth and celebrity culture, of the resurgence of fu...more
Brian
May 22, 2008 Brian rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers that like books written by people that resemble self satisfied ducks
Shelves: read-2008
I'm betting Jacoby self-identifies as an intellectual.

She bashes chick lit. She bashes Stephen King. She has no idea why college students wouldn't want to hang with the "real writer" forced to crash at their dormitory on her whirlwind book tour. Probably because the "real writer" looked desperate to dispense intellectualisms into young ears.

The way it works is if you've read a book by Stephen King, John Grisham, Danielle Steel, Sophie Kinsella, Patricia Cornwell, etc., and it sucked, you've eve...more
Paul
I came to this book on a recommendation, and was not disappointed.

Jacoby, a print journalist, has a clear bias for her medium, and it comes through but does not detract from the book until the very end, when she very nearly ruins her own arguments with a bit of intellectual snobbery that was not unexpected but still unacceptable.

She lays out, starting with Ralph Waldo Emerson, the rise and fall of American intellectualism. She lays large portions of the decline at the feet of, in order:
Republica...more
Toby
I'm trying to figure out how anyone who didn't already agree with Jacoby's central premise - that the level of discourse in this country has degenerated to anti-elitism, ad hominem attacks and name calling - would have any inclination to pick up this book whatsoever. She lays out a good argument, but it's presented with such a coating of smug self-righteousness, that you realize that this anti-elitism might be completely justified.
Brad
Susan Jacoby's book is at its best when she's weaving together her philosophical take on intellectualism and elitism with failings in modern education, American citizens, and public debate. Unfortunately, she sometimes falls into a sense of "days gone by," reminiscing about individual moments in history, e.g. Robert Kennedy announcing the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, without convincingly connecting that moment to her thesis.

That Robert Kennedy uses a few lines of poetry in an extemp...more
Maria
This is a sobering book. The statistics in the book made me wince many times; it is truly embarrassing how dumb we can be. The historical background was fascinating and engrossing. The prescription seems to be to learn from the past and to make an effort, both to keep yourself educated and to encourage critical thinking in those around you, especially children.

I am slightly more optimistic about the potential usefulness of the internet to help address some of the issues the author points out. I...more
Scott Rhee
Society is going to Hell in a handbasket. We all know it. In Susan Jacoby's immensely fascinating book "The Age of American Unreason", Jacoby explains the history of how and why we arrived at this sad state of affairs. It is a fascinating history that starts with a group of extraordinary gentlemen who, in 1776, were able to put aside their differences and collaborate on the creation of an extraordinary document, one that still continues to amaze, confuse, anger, and console us in equal measures....more
Colin
An occasionally brilliant account of growing American anti-intellectualism. Some parts are a bit dry (I found chapter 4 "Reds, Pinkos, Fellow Travelers" and 5 "Middlebrow Culture From Noon to Twilight" excessively so), but the more brilliant bits more than make up for them. Chapter 11, "Public Life: Defining Dumbness Downward" is a must-read, especially as we proceed towards this year's (2008) elections that will shape public policy for years to come. I think this one will become mny next "Staff...more
Ken Elser
Nov 23, 2008 Ken Elser rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ken by: Mike
It wasn't that this was a bad book--it was the expected rant on the dilapidation of intellectualism in the US, particularly as illustrated in the political arena and enabled by our 24/7, ADD culture--it's just that it seemed a bit pointless to me. One of my biggest concerns (and I share many with the author) is that the more polarized our society becomes, the more that having a different view somehow automatically puts that view equal footing with all others, and the more that "because that's wh...more
Miri
I was SO close to giving this five stars. I learned a lot and laughed out loud at many points while reading it. However, Jacoby's knee-jerk and entirely unskeptical condemnation of everything from rock music to young-adult novels to short(er) magazine articles to cell phones to blogs to TV shows eventually started to bug me. She provided no evidence for why valuing things like classical music and fancy words over modern music and less-fancy words automatically makes you a more "reasonable" perso...more
Justin Evans
Ah, a left-wing version of Alan Bloom's 'Closing of the American Mind.' Just what we need.
There are good things about this book, specifically, the history of the early and mid-twentieth century. The opening chapters and the closing chapters, however, are mind-boggling. If one takes it upon oneself to defend 'reason', it is best to be rational in the task. Jacoby can't do it. I'm glad she pointed out that the worst instance of irrationality is our general inability to distinguish between causati...more
Erik
Maybe I am too much the glass-half-full kind of person – which reflects the perennial hope-springs-eternal tendency of many public educators -- or even the fact that many a historical personage has decried the lamentable illiteracy of the hoi polloi since ancient times (some Greek whose name eludes me at the moment said as much once upon a time). Whatever the case, my first thought is that Jacoby’s treatise raising the red warning flags of ever-widening cultural and scientific illiteracy may jus...more
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Susan Jacoby (born 1945) is an American author, most recently of the New York Times best seller The Age of American Unreason about American anti-intellectualism. She is director of the New York branch of the Center for Inquiry.

More about Susan Jacoby...
Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age Alger Hiss and the Battle for History The Last Men on Top

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“This mindless tolerance, which places observable scientific facts, subject to proof, on the same level as unprovable supernatural fantasy, has played a major role in the resurgence of both anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism.” 15 likes
“The specific use of folks as an exclusionary and inclusionary signal, designed to make the speaker sound like one of the boys or girls, is symptomatic of a debasement of public speech inseparable from a more general erosion of American cultural standards. Casual, colloquial language also conveys an implicit denial of the seriousness of whatever issue is being debated: talking about folks going off to war is the equivalent of describing rape victims as girls (unless the victims are, in fact, little girls and not grown women). Look up any important presidential speech in the history of the United States before 1980, and you will find not one patronizing appeal to folks. Imagine: 'We here highly resolve that these folks shall not have died in vain; and that government of the folks, by the folks, for the folks, shall not perish from the earth.” 4 likes
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