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Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,984 Ratings  ·  425 Reviews
The Culture Wars Are Over and the Idiots Have Won

A veteran journalist's acidically funny, righteously angry lament about the glorification of ignorance in the United States.

In the midst of a career-long quest to separate the smart from the pap, Charles Pierce had a defining moment at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, where he observed a dinosaur. Wearing a saddle.... But wo
Hardcover, 293 pages
Published June 2nd 2009 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2008)
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Bill  Kerwin
Apr 21, 2016 Bill Kerwin rated it really liked it

In this U.S.A. 2016, Ben Carson, a recent contender for the presidency , believes that Joseph (the dude from Genesis) built the pyramids as granaries and that The Adversary (better known as "Satan") personally encouraged Darwin to write The Origin of the Species. O my readers, how did we come to this?

Charlie Pierce knows. He wrote a book about it in 2009.

Charlie Pierce loves cranks, whom he views as distinctively American types who stay true to their convictions and, in the process, help keep us
Nandakishore Varma
The three great premises of Idiot America, according to Charles P. Pierce:

Premise 1: Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.

Premise 2: Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.

Premise 3: Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.


From the Indian Express, December 4, 2014:

Emphasising that India’s “knowledge and science do not lack anything”, former Uttarakh
I am an idiot.

Yeah, yeah... get it out of your system. You done? Good. Because you are, too.

Stop crying. It's OK... The first step towards recovery is always admitting that you have a problem.

I wish I could say that I wasn't an idiot, but I am. I see it in myself. I allow certain political issues to push my emotional buttons and set off knee-jerk reactions. Two of these, off the top of my head, are gun control and abortion. I let my gut rule on these issues, and that is what makes me an idiot
Adrian Crook
This turned out to be one of the most partisan books I've read in years, but was still helpful in putting words to the climate of Idiocracy that's risen to prominence in the US, and to some extent Canada. The book lays much of the blame at the feet of conservatives and religious extremists (i.e. evangelical christians, right-to-lifers, etc), but there's plenty of blame to go around.

Most worrying is the trend toward "gut feeling" (later called "truthiness" by Stephen Colbert) over facts and real
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
The title's a bit, um, idiotic, but provocative enough to get people reading and thinking, hopefully. The following is from PZ Myers somewhat (in)famous blog, Pharyngula:

Idiot America, new and expanded
Category: Books • Creationism • Kooks • Politics • Religion
Posted on: May 11, 2009 2:43 PM, by PZ Myers

Charles Pierce has expanded an essay into a full blown book on Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free, soon available in fine bookstores everywhere, and I recommend
Ivonne Rovira
Jul 08, 2015 Ivonne Rovira rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the alarmed
Shelves: favorites
Surprisingly enough, author Charles P. Pierce comes to praise cranks, not to bury them — at least, the good old-fashioned type of cranks. Per Pierce, cranks and crackpot ideas are eminently American; why their right to expound ideas — “no matter how howlingly mad” — are enshrined in the very First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution! Cranks — including founding father Thomas Paine — traditionally formed a conduit for new ideas in American life. (We forget now, but the American democratic, meritoc ...more
Nov 28, 2009 Lori rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Granted, I'm no intellectual giant. I'm just an average right brainer trying to hack it on these mean tech savvy streets. Who am I to call somebody else an idiot? To label our larger society as thus? But just look around you these days. Isn't it scary sometimes? Do you ever get the feeling you are playing a bit part in a George A. Romero feature?

I came up in the 1970s and 80s..."Good Times!", "Happy Days", "Keep Looking Out for Number One" and "Greed is Good" were the memes. As kids we split our
Sep 20, 2014 Mark rated it it was amazing
Beyond Knowledge and Mental Competence

Americans are exceptional. We're exceptionally jingoistic, bellicose, misogynistic, self-infatuated, ignorant, illiterate, sexually enamoured of instruments of death, and so phenomenally hubristic that we presume to consider ourselves "exceptional," whereas we enjoy a Gini Index of Wealth Inequality squarely athwart that of Rwanda! (factoid taken from that left-wing, conspiratorial document, The CIA Handbook) To be fair, it's not really our fault. The malevo
Jul 07, 2009 David rated it really liked it
If you've ever felt like picking up the entire country, shaking it, and yelling "What is wrong with you?!", this may be the book for you. Pierce gives a more reflective and erudite version of that, but leaves the vitriol intact.

Pierce's basic thesis is that cranks are all well and good, and America has always been relatively hospitable to cranks, but they need to occupy the fringe. They help drive new ideas, either to refute them or to support them, but the cranks themselves are always fringe. H
Apr 04, 2015 Dj rated it really liked it
A book that examines the fact that we have been allowing ourselves to be sold fiction in place of fact. It points out that America is a land of imagination and that this in and of itself isn't a bad thing. Having someone write about Atlantis, or someone else writing the works of Shakespeare is all well and good until it becomes so popular an idea that it is the truth and not just the work of imagination.

The book explores this turn about of ideas in a number of ways. First it looks at Americans
Tippy Jackson
May 30, 2010 Tippy Jackson rated it did not like it
Shelves: politics, abandoned
If you're interested in this book because it sounded like it might be funny, don't bother. All of the humor is in the book jacket. Dinosaur with a saddle-ha! But that's it. Nor are his arguments, true or not, presented in full-that is he presents a conclusion but no discussion or argument. He just runs on and on, one example after another, but doesn't bother to explain why the example is relevant or give us even a teensy bit of analysis. I like his idea of "cranks" and how they are important but ...more
Oct 02, 2015 Sharon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
About halfway through this book, I thought "This is the kind of book that will never be read by the people most in need of its content."

Why? Because journalist Charles Pierce is skewering America's anti-intellectuals with flawless research, brilliant examples -- and their own words. For example, when Pastor Mummert (major proponent of the Dover School District intelligent design fiasco) says "We're under attack by the intelligent, educated part of society" and people respond as though it's a bad
Tom Roche
Feb 09, 2011 Tom Roche rated it really liked it
Wow - this book is enlightening, maddening, frustrating and heartbreaking all at the same time. Enlightening because Pierce gives a very sound theory of how science and intellectualism went from being praised and admirable to being scorned and looked upon with suspicion. Maddening because this country could be so much further advanced that it is now, if not for those who think their opinions deserve equal ground despite being no more sound than a street corner preacher's. Frustrating, as you rea ...more
Feb 16, 2011 Sheila rated it really liked it
Author Charles Pierce has a piercing sense of humor, a fine ear for the absurd, and an honest intellect engaged in research. His book, Idiot America, How Stupidity became a Virtue in the Land of the Free, is deservedly a national bestseller. It’s also a curious mix of slow well-argued positioning, historically well-researched references, and scathingly hilarious comments.
An English teacher once told me it was easy to make readers cry but much harder to make them laugh. Pierce’s book does both in
Jul 20, 2009 Paul rated it did not like it
Al Gore lost the 2000 presidential election "because of some jiggery-pokery" in Florida. This appears on page 28. I got through another 34 pages before completely bailing.

I remember Pierce's original Esquire essay as an entertaining and smart riff on absurdities such as creation museums and Sean Hannity. But this book is a cranky and unfunny rehash of sorta-current events that basically boil down to "Republicans! Amiright?" I think Pierce can write strongly and very well when focused, but this
I was hooked from the first line on the dust jacket notes - "It was the saddle on the dinosaur that did it." If you've seen Bill Maher's film 'Religulous', the image probably just flashed in your mind as it did in mine.
The author pulls no punches in this book, a hilarious, scathing, sometimes angry examination of the seemingly-ever-growing part of our national character that consists of willful, boneheaded, superstitious, stupid thinking or non-thinking.
There truly has been a culture war raging
Keith Swenson
Apr 22, 2012 Keith Swenson rated it really liked it
One of the big challenges of our time is to understand why people continue to believe things that are clearly false, when valid and correct information is readily available. Pierce gives voice to the feeling that something is terribly wrong. He has researched a number of good examples, and these details help quantify exactly how big the problem is.

Americans increasingly ignore experts on any topic, and give cranks a platform to stand on without question. There seems to be a backlash AGAINST expe
Daniel DeLappe
Dec 05, 2009 Daniel DeLappe rated it did not like it
I would have given this book a zero but could'nt. This guy use to write for the Boston Globe magazine. I now know why papers are going out of business. I can take political writing as long as it is well written and intersting. This is neither. DO NOT WASTE YOU TIME WITH THIS BOOK. When you are using Susan Jacoby as an example of an intellectual(or even an intresting person) and you state that Keith Olbermann is erudite. You have to be intellectality challenged. Get a clue-The left is just as stu ...more
Jan 03, 2015 Jim rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I agree with the premise, but was quickly turned off by specious arguments & cherry picked examples (some taken out of context) exactly the sort of behavior that he says he has an issue with. He blames TV & the Internet for spreading misinformation through popularity. He says this wasn't so bad before their appearance. Apparently we have some very different takes on the history of yellow journalism & the many myths that have permeated the public consciousness.

I don't see why he pick
Aug 23, 2011 Jean rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A very funny and very angry book about an idea that I have had for some time now, but have never heard articulated until this caustic book.

Idiot America is not about the "dumbing down of America". It doesn't rail against how modern society is slowly turning our collective brains to mush. America is better educated with more information than ever before.

Charlie Pierce has a finer point to make. Idiot America is about the intellectual bankruptcy that is currently vaunted as morally superior to re
Steven Peterson
Jun 20, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it liked it
This is a book of juxtapositions--cranks who produce goofy ideas, but are--in essence--harmless versus idiots who are ignorant and try to impose their ignorance on others. Example: a crank, Ignatius Donnelly who argued that he had discovered Atlantis, versus advocates of the Creation Museum in Kentucky (an example of Idiot America), whose fellow travelers try to get evolution out of the classroom or intelligent design in. A second juxtaposition--faith in reason and human development, associated ...more
Jul 26, 2009 Andrea rated it really liked it
Pierce is concerned with the growing contempt for knowledge in our culture, which he feels has wide relevance for our political, economic and social future. The material he covers will seem fairly self-evident to many i.e., the equating of religious belief with scientific theory, the growth in influence of talk radio hucksters as opposed to the informed experts, the mainstreaming of "crank" conspiracy theories. What makes this book refreshing is Pierce's wit and bravery. He makes the obvious, bu ...more
Dan Sussman
Mar 16, 2010 Dan Sussman rated it really liked it
I love Charlie Pierce. I mean, when I wake up at 5:30 on a Saturday morning (yeah, I'm one of those nuts), I immediately flip on "Only a Game" on our NPR station to hear Charlie's hilarious take on sports. And the speed of his wit on "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" is dazzling. So, it was with great gusto that I seized "Idiot America" off the library shelves.

Disappointing? Well, maybe just a little. Charlie is a funny/angry man who can laugh/rail/bemoan the sorry state of America at the moment. The
Mar 16, 2012 Tom rated it it was ok
This book was recommended by a friend, to whom it was in
turn recommended by another friend. Knowing where this chain
of recommendations started, I was expecting that I would
disagree with much of this book, and I was right! The author
develops three premises (read the book to find out what
these are) that explain how dumb ideas gain currency and
circulation through society. And some of the ideas and
events he talks about are truly dumb ones (intelligent
design, the Terry Schiavo case, etc.) These are c
Jan 17, 2011 Michel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, pol
Three things happened to me on this day, the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.
I read this book, on the subway and on the ferry, I went to visit Ms Liberty and Ellis Island ("Give me your poor, your downtrodden, your disenfranchised" - very moving on election day - who are those people, immigration descendants, who are against immigration???) and I had my second worst election night (topdog is of course W2K, remember Flori-duh?).
Which brings me back to this book I expected to be f
Charles Dee Mitchell
May 24, 2010 Charles Dee Mitchell rated it really liked it
I had wondered if I could make it through this. Would it be too infuriating, or too much a case of preaching to the converted? Well, parts are infuriating, as they should be, and it is unlikely that its readership will include many of those whom Pierce would make citizens of Idiot America. But his portraits of James Madison, the smartest guy at the Continental Congress, and that classic nut-job Ignatius Donnelly, the man whose book on Atlantis set the pattern for psuedo-science bestsellers that ...more
Al Rowell
Dec 28, 2009 Al Rowell rated it really liked it
Charles Pierce sets out in pursuit of cranks and fools in Idiot America after establishing his three great premises:
1) Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings or otherwise moves units.
(2) Any thing can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
(3) Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.
I was sold in the bookstore when I read his description of the dinosaur with the saddle in the Creation Museum, but this is no light expose o
Dec 05, 2011 Bart rated it liked it
This is a well-written rebuttal to what the author sees as the stupidity of the Bush presidency and a time when "Idiot America" took over the reigns of power in the United States.

This is not a joyous book. Its humor, when humor is allowed, is sneering and immodest. The author is smarter than the subjects he pans, knows he's smarter and often cannot help himself; it is essential that his readers know how much smarter he is. In many ways, this book is a return to the years of the Bush presidency,
Aug 03, 2009 Ed rated it it was ok
Is the wholesale dumbing-down of our "culture" a myth, like the clubbing of the dodos, or a reality, like Jon & Kate + 8 and their apparent train-wreck of familial verisimilitude. I watched the show a total of once, for a total of maybe 20 minutes, and discovered two things. One, it was like a train wreck that you can't stop looking at although your scruples urge you otherwise. Two, Kate is decidedly strident; a phrasing I've chosen because this is a family site. Anywho, if this books delive ...more
Esteban del Mal
Facts are a matter of opinion and opinion is shaped by the most adept, if cracked, demagogues. Still, hasn't it always been thus?

"Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about." -- Mark Twain
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So true I want to cry 3 66 Nov 19, 2013 02:01PM  
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Charles P. ("Charlie") Pierce is a nationally known American sportswriter, author, and game show panelist.

Excerpted from Wikipedia.
More about Charles P. Pierce...

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“America's always been a great place to be crazy. It just used to be harder to make a living that way.” 15 likes
“Things are in the wrong place. Religion is in the box where science used to be. Politics is on the shelf where you thought you left science the previous afternoon. Entertainment seems to have knocked over and spilled on everything.” 7 likes
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