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Anti-Intellectualism in American Life [Paperback]

Richard Hofstadter
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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"The most comprehensive, succinct, and well-written one-volume treatment of the subject now available."--Walter Laqueur

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"The most comprehensive, succinct, and well-written one-volume treatment of the subject now available."--Walter Laqueur

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THE AMERICAN mind was shaped in the mold of early modern Protestantism. Read the first page
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Book Smarts vs. Hard Knocks April 27 2003
This is Hofstadter's study of trends in academic and social thought up to the 1950's, and it still deserves praise at a general level even though many of the particulars are no longer relevant. It's unfair to say that a book published way back in 1963 is outdated in the present day, so this can best be seen as a period piece, with a social history up to the point of writing. So it does function as a useful look at what was happening intellectually in the 1950's and early 60's.
Hofstadter's subject matter is the unique American disdain for intellectuals and eggheads - a term he actually uses several times, quite surprisingly for such an academic work. American folklore glamorizes the self-made man who conquers the challenges of nature, educating himself with experience - the school of hard knocks - as opposed to the isolated and condescending intellectual who has book smarts but no experience. At the time of writing, the end of the McCarthyist era, anti-intellectualism was especially strong and Hofstadter examines the history of this always shifting issue. He also makes the important distinction between intellectualism and intelligence. Folks usually distrust the former but still respect the latter. Some of Hofstadter's examinations seem highly irrelevant today, like the role of intellectualism in farming or organized labor, but his coverage of issues in public education (including the perennial evolution debate) is depressingly familiar. It seems some things never change.
The writing style is very academic, and dare I say intellectual, so it can be a struggle getting through Hofstadter's obscure issues and references that were more relevant back in 1963. However his political stance is very strong and levelheaded, and his examination of McCarthyism is surprisingly lucid.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enduring study. July 15 2004
Richard Hofstadter's remarkable ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM IN AMERICAN LIFE reflects the Cold War/post-McCarthy era, yet still echoes powerfully today. Why this book has endured for four decades is not only because it still rings true, but also for Hofstadter's iron-clad reasoning. (This is not easy reading--at least for me it wasn't). Hofstadter examines the multi-fronted attacks on intellectuals throughout the centuries: attacks from religions who suspected intellectuals of atheism or worse; attacks from the left; attacks from the right; attacks from the lower class who perceived intellectuals as privileged; and attacks from the upper class who worried about the knowledge/power balance. Yes, Hofstadter does linger long about the anti-intellectual movement of the early 60s, and some of those references are lost to us, but that cannot be helped nor blamed on him. I also enjoyed the distinction between intelligence and intellectualism--very acute.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A penetrating analysis of the American character Jan. 1 2004
One reviewer below insists that this book, while excellent, is "dated." I find this an astonishing evaluation. What stunned me about this book was how familiar the anti-intellectualism from each period in American history felt. True, we are not today facing McCarthyism--our own particular moment in history feels Orwellian more than anything--but Hofstadter's overall point about anti-intellectualism being a constituent part of the national character has not been invalidated by the past forty years. Indeed, his points have been confirmed at nearly every point. And while the anti-intellectuals in the fifties may have railed against "eggheads," today the GOP directs much of their fury against the "liberal elite." Since most of "the elite" is dirt poor financially, clearly they are aiming their guns at the intellectual elite. Figures Hofstadter quotes from the 18th century sound like they could be one of today's right wing pundits.
Few books that I have ever read have helped me understand the American character as well as this one. Many of the chapters in American history that he chronicles are somewhat forgotten, but just as essential as the more familiar figures and events.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dated, But Still a Classic May 23 2001
Why do I say "dated"? Because the America of which Richard Hofstadter writes no longer exists. Published in the early 1960s (and probably written during the waning of the 1950s), Hofstadter's book stands in the shadow of McCarthyism, the anticommunist consensus of the Cold War, the bland gray-flannel-suit conformity of the Eisenhower years--all of which would begin to dissolve into irreconcilable fragments only a short time after the book hit the stores in 1964.
I would submit that anti-intellectualism is indeed still a dominant force in American life--politicians make appeals to the "folks", right-wing radio talk-shows belabor the follies of academia, films and popular publishing pander to the desire for the basest kind of sensationalism--but that it is an entirely different sort of anti-intellectualism than the kind that held sway over American politics and culture in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s.
Hofstadter's book is certainly worth reading, though, especially if you are interested in the culture of the 1950s. Like Mills' _The Power Elite_ and Reisman's _The Lonely Crowd_, it remains one of the great sociological/historical works from that era; one that offers a vivid portrait of a unique period in American history.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
The Bible for critical thinkers or just thinkers, period.
Published 1 month ago by Giovinna
5.0 out of 5 stars A truely neo-classic against the Neo-Con
Last year, in 2003, the translation of this work was published. I got interested with it and bought one. What I was really surprised is the publication year of 1962(1963). Read more
Published on Feb. 29 2004 by Masaki Tanaka
2.0 out of 5 stars Why Hofstadter Should Be King
This book discusses the revulsion of technocracy felt by the average American, which continues today. Read more
Published on Dec 23 2003 by Fascinet
5.0 out of 5 stars Actually, not dated so much at all
I agree with the other reviewers as to the depth of Hofstadter's scholarship in this seminal work. However, in light of George W. Read more
Published on Sept. 2 2003 by S. J. Snyder
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional writing
Not only does this classic remain timely in 2003, but Hostadter's prose is brilliant. His thought-laced language simply flows.
Published on July 24 2003 by James V. Sylvester
5.0 out of 5 stars A Forecast of Things to Come
In sharply elucidating America's long and unfortunate flirtation with anti-intellectualism, brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Hofstadter sheds meaningful light on... Read more
Published on Nov. 23 2001 by William Hare
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking
Hofstadter's book seems even more vital today than it was when it first came out, back in 1964. As the title suggests, he explores the anti-intellectual roots of American society,... Read more
Published on Jan. 25 2001 by daibhidh
5.0 out of 5 stars Still timely after 37 years
Richard Hofstadter's scholarly treatise on Anti-Intellectualism remains as a powerful reminder to the forces behind the modern Conservative agenda. Read more
Published on Nov. 18 2000
3.0 out of 5 stars Misunderstanding
While well written and argued, "Anti-intellectualism" clearly displays Professor Hofstadter's admittedly leftist perspective. Read more
Published on Sept. 6 2000
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