Monday, August 30, 2010

Brief, belated book reviews

Between the difficulties of blogging off of an iPad, lacking a home wifi connection, and a career change, I've fallen far behind on a number of posts that I've been meaning to write (some for over a year now.) The two books I'm about to plug fall into that category of post ... hopefully, I'll start catching up. So here goes:

- The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby.

Two of the books that have most influenced my blogging, especially as it relates to media/cultural criticism, are Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neal Postman (I've listened to it three times on my iPod) and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter.These, to me, are superb works, exemplarary of public intellectualism, with Postman focusing on how the transformation of America from a print to a tv society has led to our transformation from an information culture to an entertainment culture and Hofstadter arguing America's long history of anti-intellectualism being a by-product of democracy.*

In The Age of American Unreason, Jacoby has continued in the tradition of both of these authors, coming down hard on the dumbth of American society, finding much blame in tv, fundamentalism, and in anti-intellectual demagogues (some of whom are themselves right-wing intellectuals) who equate intelligence with liberal elitism. Although Jacoby comes across as a curmudgeon with some of her criticism of technology (I use my iPod as an educational resource, listening to science/philosophy/skeptic podcasts and such) much else of the book provides acute analysis of the dumbing down of American culture and the absence of serious, thoughtful discourse.

To get a better feel for book's subject matter, see this discussion between Moyers and Jacoby.

- Logicomix: An Epic Search for the Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou

I would have never imagined that a biography of Bertrand Russell focusing on his search for a rigorous, formal grounding for mathematics would make for a good comic book story, but Logicomix is exactly that. I imagine that this is likely the most accessible and entertaining introduction to the early to mid 20th century philosophical efforts to establish a formal foundation of logical certainty for mathematics that one is going to encounter.

Although Russell failed in his quest (thank you, Kurt Godel) the graphic novel does an excellent job of showing how the process and search itself helped spawn the computer age.

For more on the comic, see this review in The Philosohphers' Magazine.

*The Assault on Reason by Al Gore is another book that follows in this tradition.


Alan said...

I am leaving semi annual comment to let you know I still read most if not all of your posts.

Keep up the good work. Thanks for the ongoing book recomendations.


Hume's Ghost said...

Thanks, Alan. Good to hear from you.