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From the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic comes an impassioned critique of America’s retreat from reason
We live in a time when the very idea of objective truth is mocked and discounted by the occupants of the White House. Discredited conspiracy theories and ideologies have resurfaced, proven science is once more up for debate, and Russian propaganda floods our screens. The wisdom of the crowd has usurped research and expertise, and we are each left clinging to the beliefs that best confirm our biases.
How did truth become an endangered species in contemporary America? This decline began decades ago, and in The Death of Truth, former New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani takes a penetrating look at the cultural forces that contributed to this gathering storm. In social media and literature, television, academia, and politics, Kakutani identifies the trends—originating on both the right and the left—that have combined to elevate subjectivity over factuality, science, and common values. And she returns us to the words of the great critics of authoritarianism, writers like George Orwell and Hannah Arendt, whose work is newly and eerily relevant.
With remarkable erudition and insight, Kakutani offers a provocative diagnosis of our current condition and points toward a new path for our truth-challenged times.
Honest, factual debate is expiring at the hands of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, according to this overwrought jeremiad. Kakutani, the Pulitzer-winning former New York Times book critic, presents a dire view of discourse in a world of fakery and fanaticism: scientific expertise on topics like climate change gets attacked as self-interested baloney; Russian disinformation operations churn out fake news that induces public confusion and sways elections; President Trump lies continually 5.9 times per day, Kakutani specifies with impunity; America and the world are divided into warring tribes in ideological bubbles impermeable to objective data or civilized discussion. Kakutani blames not just the populist right but the postmodern, literary theory of the academic left formerly subversive critical stances that, she argues, have bequeathed a nihilistic rejection of reason and Enlightenment values. Citing writers including Hannah Arendt, George Orwell, and David Foster Wallace, Kakutani offers a sophisticated, wide-ranging exploration of theories of propaganda and debased speech and their insidious effects. Unfortunately, she takes her critique to extremes, likening Trump to Hitler, Lenin, and Mussolini, conjuring omnipotent conspiracies of Kremlin-backed tweeters, and spying totalitarian portents everywhere. Like much anti-Trump ire, Kakutani's polemic trades in the same histrionics that it deplores.