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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, she surveys an anti-rationalist landscape extending from pop culture to a pseudo-intellectual universe of "junk thought." Disdain for logic and evidence defines a pervasive malaise fostered by the mass media, triumphalist religious fundamentalism, mediocre public education, a dearth of fair-minded public intellectuals on the right and the left, and, above all, a lazy and credulous public. Jacoby offers an unsparing indictment of the American addiction to infotainment--from television to the Web--and cites this toxic dependency as the major element distinguishing our current age of unreason from earlier outbreaks of American anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism. With reading on the decline and scientific and historical illiteracy on the rise, an increasingly ignorant public square is dominated by debased media-driven language and received opinion. At this critical political juncture, nothing could be more important than recognizing the "overarching crisis of memory and knowledge" described in this impassioned, tough-minded book, which challenges Americans to face the painful truth about what the flights from reason has cost us as individuals and as a nation.
How secularists view the world and how they are viewed by others.
A biography that restores America's foremost 19th-century champion of reason and secularism to the still contested 21st-century public square.
Since childhood, Susan Jacoby, the New York Times bestselling author of The Age of American Unreason, was sure that her father was keeping a secret. At age twenty, just before beginning her writing career as a reporter for the Washington Post, she learned the truth: Robert Jacoby, a Catholic convert with a Catholic wife, was also a Jew. In Half-Jew, Jacoby grapples with the hidden identity cloaked by the persona of a successful accountant and member of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in East Lansing, Michigan--and with the secrets and lies that had marked her family's history for three generations on two continents. Beginning in 1849 when her great-grandfather arrived in America as a political refugee, Jacoby traces her lineage through the lives of her great-uncle Harold, the distinguished astronomer whose map of the constellations is etched on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal; her uncle, the bridge champion Oswald Jacoby, her aunt Edith, also a Catholic convert and eventually a reformer within the church; and, of course her father himself. At the core of story is the psychic damage that accrues across generations when people conceal their true ethnic and religious origins. Featuring a new afterword, Half-Jew is a meticulously researched, emotionally poignant examination of the dark legacy of European and American anti-Semitism as well as a tender-hearted account of a daughter coming to understand her father, herself, and her family's true legacy.
A feminist--and the bestselling author of The Age of American Unreason--looks back at the last pre-feminist generation of men who supposedly had it all and asks: what exactly did they have?How fabulous was life for men in the 1950s and early 1960s? How real is the world depicted by a television show like Mad Men: a world where visibly successful males, so long as they supported their families and contributed to their firms' profitability, could have midday liaisons, impregnate secretaries, and pimp for clients with impunity? In this engaging, witty, and insightful reappraisal, Susan Jacoby challenges both versions of the story--narratives that either romanticize or demonize men's lives back in the good or bad (you choose) old days. She suggests that there were hidden economic and psychological costs that made this "Rat Pack" reality a fantasy, and she also shows why this illusion still holds sway in the worldview of many (including Republicans and social conservatives such as Mitt Romney) who continue to cherish, long for, and advocate for the days when a family lived on the man's paycheck, and the woman stayed at home where she belonged.Our most unsparing chronicler of unreason and an impassioned social provocateur, who is always eager to skewer intellectual laziness and cultural myths, comes to the unexpected rescue of the last generation of prefeminist men. An electronic dart of wit and insight.
Susan Jacoby, an unsparing chronicler of unreason in American culture, now offers an impassioned, tough-minded critique of the myth that a radically new old age--unmarred by physical or mental deterioration, financial problems, or intimate loneliness--awaits the huge baby boom generation. Combining historical, social, and economic analysis with personal experiences of love and loss, Jacoby turns a caustic eye not only on the modern fiction that old age can be "defied" but also on the sentimental image of a past in which Americans supposedly revered their elders. Never Say Die unmasks the fallacies promoted by twenty-first-century hucksters of longevity--including health gurus claiming that boomers can stay "forever young" if they only live right, self-promoting biomedical businessmen predicting that ninety may soon become the new fifty and that a "cure" for the "disease" of aging is just around the corner, and wishful thinkers asserting that older means wiser. The author offers powerful evidence that America has always been a "youth culture" and that the plight of the neglected old dates from the early years of the republic. Today, as the oldest boomers turn sixty-five, it is imperative for them to distinguish between marketing hype and realistic hope about what lies ahead for the more than 70 million Americans who will be beyond the traditional retirement age by 2030. This wide-ranging reappraisal examines the explosion of Alzheimer's cases, the uncertain economic future of aging boomers, the predicament of women who make up an overwhelming majority of the oldest--and poorest--old, and the illusion that we can control the way we age and die. Jacoby raises the fundamental question of whether living longer is a good thing unless it means living better. Her book speaks to Americans, whatever their age, who draw courage and hope from facing reality instead of embracing that oldest of delusions, the fountain of youth.From the Hardcover edition.
In a groundbreaking historical work that addresses religious conversion in the West from an uncompromisingly secular perspective, Susan Jacoby challenges the conventional narrative of conversion as a purely spiritual journey. From the transformation on the road to Damascus of the Jew Saul into the Christian evangelist Paul to a twenty-first-century "religious marketplace" in which half of Americans have changed faiths at least once, nothing has been more important in the struggle for reason than the right to believe in the God of one's choice or to reject belief in God altogether. Focusing on the long, tense convergence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--each claiming possession of absolute truth--Jacoby examines conversions within a social and economic framework that includes theocratic coercion (unto torture and death) and the more friendly persuasion of political advantage, economic opportunism, and interreligious marriage. Moving through time, continents, and cultures--the triumph of Christianity over paganism in late antiquity, the Spanish Inquisition, John Calvin's dour theocracy, Southern plantations where African slaves had to accept their masters' religion--the narrative is punctuated by portraits of individual converts embodying the sacred and profane. The cast includes Augustine of Hippo; John Donne; the German Jew Edith Stein, whose conversion to Catholicism did not save her from Auschwitz; boxing champion Muhammad Ali; and former President George W. Bush. The story also encompasses conversions to rigid secular ideologies, notably Stalinist Communism, with their own truth claims. Finally, Jacoby offers a powerful case for religious choice as a product of the secular Enlightenment. In a forthright and unsettling conclusion linking the present with the most violent parts of the West's religious past, she reminds us that in the absence of Enlightenment values, radical Islamists are persecuting Christians, many other Muslims, and atheists in ways that recall the worst of the Middle Ages.(With 8 pages of black-and-white illustrations.)From the Hardcover edition.