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Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
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Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  2,678 ratings  ·  431 reviews
We now live in two Americas. One—now the minority—functions in a print-based, literate world that can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth. The other—the majority—is retreating from a reality-based world into one of false certainty and magic. To this majority—which crosses social class lines, though the poor are overwhelmingly affected—presidential deb...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published July 14th 2009 by Nation Books (first published July 13th 2009)
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Jun 30, 2010 Ellen rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Masochists

President Obama - "a product of this elitist system" - by Chris I'm-So-Bitter-I-Could-Die Hedges

Just finished Chris Hedges' book, and am irked on so many levels, I'd be hard put to count the ways… Hedges' slim book, rather ponderously entitled, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle places it firmly in the ample literature of visual culture and spectacle. Yet, despite the fact that a) Hedges cites numerous theorists throughout the book, that b) he is well educated -...more
Hedges is an over the top and mirthless moral scold, drawing sweeping, damning conclusions not necessarily warranted by the louche behaviors and exhibitions he has assembled as denunciatory evidence herein—and yet he is an effective writer whose energetic choler and keen insight within generalization induced me to read on through each of the five illusions he espies operating their baleful influence upon modern American civilization and reducing the latter to a brittle shell. Notwithstanding tha...more
Empire of Illusion is a good book that’s badly marketed. The type of people who see the title Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle and think, “Oh, hells yes, I am so reading that!” are the type of people who already know just about everything discussed in it. With a title like The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Chris Hedges is guaranteed to be preaching to no one but the choir. What’s sad about that is, the book is written simplistically and enterta...more
Bob Redmond

Chris Hedges, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for his war reporting for the New York Times, has written an eloquent screed against the negative effects of our entertainment-driven culture. As a complaint, it's spot-on. As a critique, it falls short: Hedges blames easy targets and fails to offer any sympathetic understanding of his victims (or perpetrators), or a constructive response to the crisis.

After a general opening essay, Hedges examines various ideals which have all b...more
This book is not as flawless or as originally brilliant as American Fascists; also, there are passages that are more rant than analysis, and places where is lack of familiarity with the full spectrum of issues shows through -- as in some of his discussions of the economic crisis, and of Universities. But these are quibbles. The book is a powerful indictment of the rise (and triumph) of corporatism in the United States. It is grim, the picture he paints.

His main focus, though, is not on the polit...more
One word sum up Hedge's Empire of Illusion: autology. If you've ever wondered what the word is that describes something which describes itself (think: "multisyllabic" or "trochee" or "portmanteau" or "sesquipedalian, etc.), it is autological. In a book which so fervently rails against "spectacle" it so often falls into the realm of spectacle itself: an area which it never attempts to escape from. The book abounds in broad generalizations, half-truths, cherry-picked narratives which seem to illus...more
Marissa Morrison
Chris Hedges argues that we now live in two societies: One, the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world, that can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth. The other listens to and watches a lot of crap.

Hedges starts with an overview of WWE plotlines and analysis of the increasingly misogynistic porn market (torn anuses and worse). Those chapters were eye-openers for me.

I must admit that I was just as ignorant of some aspects from the final chapter--which looks at...more
Everybody should read at least the last chapter of this book ("The Illusion of America") which opens "I used to live in a country called America. . . .but only the shell remains." Hedges' pessimistic rant about the coming collapse of our society is unrelentingly dire, but his summation of our current situation seems accurate and (two years after it was written) prescient. Whether or not we are on the verge of complete and utter national collapse, as Hedges claims, our collective appetite for esc...more
Will Byrnes
It will take me a while to put up a real review here, but overall, I agree with most of what Hedges has to say about the darkness all around us. I was a bit alarmed at his tone in the book, which made him sound like one of those guys parading up and down the street crying "the end is near" or "Soylent Green is people." I agree that we may be entering dark times, but will have to think more on the content before completing this. Hedges is a thoughtful, perceptive and intelligent guy, so whether o...more
If you look at the title of this book and read the jacket synopsis and think, "Yeah, this sounds like something I will agree with," then put the book down and don't waste your time. For a book so clearly aimed at the literate, it offers nothing new.
The recounting of professional wrestling seems less like an exposé and more like classist gossip.
His opinions of pornography are fatalistic; ALL porn is exploitative and abusive; ALL consumers of porn are bound to eventually seek vile and violent mat...more
Michael Herrman
Hedges doesn’t present many new ideas in this book, but the synopsis doesn’t promise any. Rather, he gathers otherwise disparate data points, anecdotal observations, and events into an argument that most of what passes for American culture has devolved into an oblivious form of aggressive stupidity. I gave it 2 stars for being accurate, at least according to my own understanding; 1 star for a passionate delivery --that Hedges believes what he says isn’t in doubt-- and a fourth star for accomplis...more
This book is not for the faint of heart, but it really nails so much about wrong with the wonderful global economy we live in that I found it to be an essential read. Coming from a background of both divinity school and covering war zones for two decades for the New York Times, Hedges has the journalistic and intellectual chops that too many leftie screeds described as books lack. That said, he may come off as hammering readers over the head a bit hard in his critique of the society of the spect...more
A very perceptive, if depressing read. A bit too much detail about the spectacles of professional wrestling and the porn industry, but the 3rd chapter, The Illusion of Wisdom, about the dumbing down and corporatization of our elite colleges, is definitely worth reading.
Carl Sagan once said that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Chris Hedges would have done well to heed that advice when writing Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of the Spectacle.

Hedges draws our attention to five pervasive illusions within American culture in the aftermath of the recession: the illusions of literacy, love, wisdom, happiness and America.

The first chapter is terribly organized and would have benefited from careful editing. And a preface.

Dec 29, 2009 A.J. added it
Let us cut to the chase: corporation = bad, military = bad, pornography = bad, television = bad, pictures = dumb, reading = smart, America = a mess, love = good; this is Empire of Illusion distilled.

This is a book I'd like to love, but I can't, and the reason is that the book really isn't much more complex or nuanced or more elegantly argued than the summary above.

The ideas are broadly attractive. Literacy is declining. Television does function as a theatre of cruelty. Pornography has carried...more
Bob Prophet
Recently finished the latest book by Chris Hedges and I agree with the man's words through and through. Some may feel he left off on a weak note, when really wishing us greater love for one another and the ability to make the necessary sacrifices to pull through is the most realistic (and heart-felt) solution anyone can offer, especially at this point. It may sound like a cop-out to those who don't grasp love's significance. Love is the common denominator, and I don't care how corny that may rea...more
This book reads as the roadmap to the demise of American culture. It is an increasingly illiterate culture obsessed with celebrity, distracted by propaganda and pseudo events, disconnected from reality and dominated by corporations and the elite. The book is incredibly depressing at times because it is all too true. Reading it at a time when "birthers" get airtime to spew their nonsense and corporate lobbyists organize mock outrage in order to torpedo any hopes for significant health care reform...more
One of my favorite quotes comes from one of my favorite writers, Edward Abbey, who said, "Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion." Over the years as I have witnessed and learned about the decline of our civilization and our society I have noticed that most people prefer the comfortable delusions. The delusions come in the form of mindless entertainment, increasingly opinionated and sensationalistic "news", eagerness to blame complex problems on simplistic bogeymen, and an unwillingness...more
Lauren Albert
The world has been ending since it began--over and over and over again. Hedges needs to read more history if he thinks that this is the first time that people have claimed that the "no nothings" have taken over and civilized thought and life is coming to an end.

Where to begin--first of all, the book is a mishmosh of topics put together simply because the writer thinks they are "bad"--he mostly makes no attempt to show that they are connected in any other way.

I guess I'll give my criticisms whe...more
Chris Hedges has gone native. In his previous books (e.g. "War is a Force That Gives of Meaning" and "American Fascists") he wrote about topics close to his own experience as a war correspondent and student of divinity; for "Empire of Illusion" he appears to have steeped himself in apocalyptic leftist political literature, and the result is disappointing.

The point here seems to be that American culture is hopelessly mired in illiteracy, pornography, and irreversible moral decay. We're all doome...more
The central thesis of this book is that we have as a society become so detached from reality that we’ve lost any ability to influence our political or economic destiny. The author asserts that this detachment is no accident. It’s a product of corporate efforts to alter the culture in such a way as to enhance their short-term interests. Various tactics are employed including: mis-directing the anger of the economically alienated; distracting the public with celebrity obsession; manipulating the e...more
If there's one non-fiction book I've read this year that I would select as the best written and most important one, it would probably be this one (I say "probably" because the year isn't over and I'm still reading). Empire of Illusion is scary good. The news that Hedges has for us is not good news. Much of what was solid, meaningful, and substantial in our lives, according to Hedges, has become illusion, including love, happiness, and yes, even the United States. We are lving in a decaying civil...more
Jan 10, 2010 Donna rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Ben
Shelves: nonfiction
It's rare that I give one star to a book I actually finish, but in the end that is what this book deserves.

The author's thesis is that in the current culture we mistake illusions (of love, of happiness, of wisdom) for reality to the point at which we are now facing the end of the American democracy and Western Civilization as we know it. Page after page, chapter after chapter Hedges decries all of the ills in society; and because he believes the education system is broken, education itself canno...more
T. Edmund
No Empire of Illusion is not a (direct) discussion of the decline of reading across the US, rather Hedges draws our attention to the 'Triumph of Spectacle' tearing apart American celebrity culture, politics, and capitalism.

In chap 1. we examine the realm of professional wrestling (perhaps in slightly too much detail) 'reality' TV and celebrity ridiculousness.

Chapter 2 is where the real horror begins as Hedges explores the porn industry revealing the horrors (almost entirely of women) of working...more
If this book was only the last chapter, titled "The Illusion of America," I would have given it 3 and perhaps even 4 stars. In this chapter, Hedges writes with far more purpose and conviction and gives a scathing (and ominous) assessment of our present state of affairs. The first, third, and fourth chapters (The Illusion of literacy, the illusion of wisdom, and the illusion of happiness respectively) are terrible. In "The illusion of literacy," he uses "we" and "us" statements throughout, arguin...more
Marianne V
"Chris Hedges charts the dramatic and disturbing rise of a post-literate society that craves fantasy, ecstasy and illusion." If you don't want a blow-by-blow description of the spectacle of professional wrestling (ch. 1) and the porn industry (ch. 2), skip the first two chapters. I understand that they are there to demonstrate how this country is living on illusion rather than reality, but it is very graphic and disturbing. The rest of the book is worth reading and makes some good, although stil...more
I happened to be reading this at the same time as Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd, published in 1956, and though the focus of the two books are very different, the problems they address are at root the same. The intervening fifty years has only shown that America has spiraled farther away from reality and its consequences. In Hedges's critique, published in 2009, the situation seems much worse for having becoming normal, and unchallenged even by the so-called liberal educated class. The once fi...more
Sam Dye
Frustrating first two chapters with to me distasteful examples of illusion of literacy and illusion of love (pro wrestling and porn industry). The last three chapters were very powerful (Illusion of Wisdom, Happiness and America). From page 103 (Illusion of Wisdom) "The bankruptcy of our economic and political systems can be traced directly to the assault against the humanities. The neglect of the humanities has allowed elites to organize education and society around predetermined answers to pre...more
Claudia Douris
This is indeed a book that every American should read. In fact I am reading parts of it aloud to many of my students. I found it very difficult to get through the 2nd chapter as it delt with the pornographic film industry and was very graphic. Hedges exposes the mechanisims used to divert us from confronting the economic, political, and moral collapse of the U.S. He goes into great detail discussing the deterioation of our educational system and the decline of literacy in our country.
Hedges is brilliant. He succinctly summarizes all the disorganized thoughts I have had over the past 10 yrs or more. Analyzing the course of life in America, he clarifies what has been bouncing in my brain for some time. We are going downhill, fast, and there are a few factors that are directly responsible for that slide.

Entertainment has taken the place of most that was of value in our lives, and he posits that most people wish ONLY to be entertained, and even if given the opportunity to become...more
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Christopher Lynn Hedges is an American journalist, author, and war correspondent, specializing in American and Middle Eastern politics and societies.
Hedges is known as the best-selling author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.
Chris Hedges is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York Ci...more
More about Chris Hedges...
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“We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and “success”, defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers. A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” 161 likes
“A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, and fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” 67 likes
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