Author: Susan Jacoby
ISBN: 10:1400096383: 13: 9781400096381
Publisher: Vintage (Reprint Edition)

Click Here To Purchase The Age of American Unreason (Vintage)

One does not have to be particularly attentive to current events or even life for that matter to notice that The United States and the American people have undergone some rather fundamental changes in recent years. Many, who have documented these changes, trace their origins to one fateful brisk morning which would spur an economic downturn and cost the lives of thousands of innocent people. I’m speaking, of course, of the tragic events of November 7th , 2000 when George W. Bush was elected President. When a nation elects a president who doesn’t read the newspaper and not only utters horribly ridiculous sentences but, stumbles through them like some drunken, backwoods, sodomite, it seems like a reasonable time to question the fitness of the society’s intellectual prowess, at large. In her new book, The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby does this and describes what the Bush election epitomizes to her, a decline in intellectualism in American.

In the book, Jacoby traces the origins of what she see as a historic decline of intellectualism in America which began during the cold war and really gained impetus  after the Kennedy era. While Jacoby seems to be romanticizing the Camelot myth, as many intellectuals of her generation tend to, her use of that period as a historical marker provides a decent starting place for us to gauge the role and perception of intellectuals in the country. According the Jacoby, over the past several decades the public has become increasingly skeptical of and hostile toward intellectuals. This is largely a result, she argues, of a widespread lowering of intellectual expectations caused by the constant access to media entertainment and a deliberate, right-wing campaign to paint intellectuals as elitist, out-of-touch and/or dangerously radical.

As the title implies, Jacoby is also concerned with the decline of reason in American society. She points to an ubiquitous ignorance of the scientific method and susceptibility to what she refers to as ‘junk thought’ or illogic reasoning as cancers decaying the organs of our civilization.

Indeed, the portrait Jacoby has painted of American society and its prospects for the future are quite dim. Although some of her conclusions in this regard are far from resolved, she does articulate some rather convincing points which should, at the very least, widen the debate about the role of intellectuals in society and the direction of education in this country. However, the colorful string of snide remarks and wry witticisms with which she has bejeweled the book, although feverishly witty and remarkably enjoyable, don’t seem, at all, designed to elicit a proper debate.

Furthermore, in this book, Jacoby seems to be falling into one of the traps she chastises others for falling into. She harbors an axiomatic assumption that anyone who employs a line of reason will undoubtedly draw the same conclusions are her. This is the tragedy of what is, otherwise, a well crafted piece of pop sociology.

Nevertheless, Jacoby does purpose an interesting and consequential thesis that deserves to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the slightly acrimonious tenor of some of her comments and pedantic composition seem to create the ironic little conundrum that those most in need of hearing her appeal for higher intellectual standards are unlikely to ever actually read the book. That does not, however, prohibit those who are dedicated to reinvigorating the tepid intellectual climate of contemporary America from benefiting by reading The Age of American Unreason. The book will prove especially useful to those who are interested in current events and who, as the next Presidential election creeps closer, would like to convince some around them of the illogicality of continuing to follow a proven set of failed policies.

Click Here To Purchase The Age of American Unreason (Vintage)