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More Money Than Brains: Why Schools Suck, College is Crap, and Idiots Think They're Right [Hardcover]

Laura Penny
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 20 2010
One of Canada's funniest and most incisive social critics reveals why in North America, where governments spend so much on schools and colleges, training is valued far more than education and loud-mouth ignoramuses are widely and publicly celebrated.

Public education in the United States is in such pitiful shape, the president wants to replace it. Test results from Canadian public schools indicate that Canadian students are at least better at taking tests than their American cousins. On both sides of the border, education is rapidly giving way to job training, and learning how to think for yourself and for the sake of dipping into the vast ocean of human knowledge is going distinctly out of fashion.

It gets worse, says Laura Penny, university lecturer and scathingly funny writer. Paradoxically, in the two nations that have among the best universities, libraries, and research institutions in the world, intellectuals are largely distrusted and yelping ignoramuses now clog the arenas of public discourse.

A brilliant defence of the humanities and social sciences, More Money Than Brains takes a deadly and extremely funny aim at those who would dumb us down.

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"More Money Than Brains is a ferocious defence of the arts and humanities against the philistine influence of Homo economicus (subspecies Goldman Sachsus). . . [Penny's] unflinching willingness to entertain puts her light years ahead of her Canadian competitors." 
— Globe and Mail

"An unflinching indictment of North American education, politics and media." 
— Toronto Star

About the Author

Author of the Canadian bestseller Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit (a Globe and Mail Best Book of the year), LAURA PENNY has a PhD in Comparative Literature, a MA in Theory and Criticism, and a BA in Contemporary Studies and English. She has worked as a bookstore clerk, a student activist, a union organizer, a university instructor, and her writing has appeared in the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Saturday Night, and Toronto Life. She lives in Halifax, where she teaches at Mount Saint Vincent University.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fun, interesting read Jan. 14 2011
Laura Penny dishes out her opinions and thoughts on why Canada and the US value money more than brains (in large part, it's about why we need Liberal Arts in university). As other reviewers note, she certainly isn't shy to put her biases as a left-leaning English lecturer up front and center. Her writing style is witty and sarcastic, although sometimes the jokes do seem to be trying a little too hard. While I'm broadly sympathetic to both her message and her writing style, this book suffers from a couple of flaws.

First, I found the book to be a little scattered. She wanders from point to point within her chapters as well as between them. Sometimes she's attacking the Right, sometimes she's discussing students, etc. It's not hard to link them together, but it does reduce the coherency and force of her argument. Which leads to my second point, the evidence for her argument. While I largely agree with her points, I suppose I'm more pragmatic in my desire for evidence. About 90% of her evidence is for the US, which is nice, but as a Canadian writer (and I'm a Canadian reader), more work on Canada would have been nice. I also would have liked to have seen her spend more time discussing the worth of a liberal arts degree instead of attacking the people who attack that kind of degree.

I agree with her that liberal arts can be beneficial to individuals and society as a whole. Unfortunately, I think her book will only serve as a mirror for people who already think that way. Her efforts to persuade people who value money more than brains might have been better served by providing them with reasons why they should change their beliefs rather than telling them that they stink for having them. Which is ironic, given that her complaint is about a society caring more about money than brains. Her book could have been a remedy toward that, but instead, it fails to offer enough (in my opinion) crucial evidence for why we should value brains more than we do.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I don't usually recommend books to people, but I have been telling everyone I know to buy this one. It may just be that she's playing to my prejudices (she's an English PhD and I'm an English graduate student, we're both from Nova Scotia, and we apparently have similar senses of humour) but I have never laughed so hard at a non-fiction book before. And in addition to being entertaining, she's spot on with her analysis. This book is a scathing indictment of anti-intellectualism in North America, but it never becomes too grim or pedantic because the joy she takes in language and her sense of humour blaze through.

The professional book critics quoted in the writeup here got it right. I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who cares about culture or education.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Penny protests against idiocy by . . . Sept. 20 2010
deliberately writing like an idiot. While her goal is most commendable, she falls short in important ways. First of all, her writing style makes her sound as if she fits right in with those she is pillorying. Also, her "jokes" are not as funny as one might hope - for instance the phrase "which is hilarious because . . ." Tip: if the joke requires explanation to show why its funny, the explanation will probably kill the funny - just saying.

Penny can't help but show her somewhat lefty orientation, but that's quite forgivable - nobody's neutral and if they were, they wouldn't be interesting. It does lead her into making fun of predictable things, such as Bushisms - yeah Dubya's gone, try mining for new material.

She does nail a few things, which probably makes this book worth reading if you're intrigued by the idea (as I was). So, feel free, if you're so inclined. Just don't expect to be blown away.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disapointing May 31 2011
Perhaps Ms. Penny was being intentionally ironic by writing in the same inflammatory and one-sided style as the "idiots" she critiques, but I found this book disapointing, lacking in both insight and humor. It seems that the author's core beliefs are that:

a) People who study liberal arts/ humanities are better and smarter than people who study other subjects.

b) We need a liberal government to solve our education problems, because we can trust "the brains" who are employed in the public sector but not the "bullies" in the private sector.

c) Liberal= Brains. Conservative = Idiot Bullies.

d) Public schools are the only viable option for k-12 education. All improvements, rulemaking, and funding needs to happen at the federal level.

e) People who provide tangible goods and services are are both objects of derision for their practical bent and must provide resources for those who pursue a pure education in the humanities.

I was hoping for a humorous but meaningful exploration about intellectual curiosity and social values and how they relate to problems and solutions in the educational system. This was not the book.
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