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by Todd Gitlin

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 2006
ISBN: 0-231-12492-9
Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Gitlin (Journalism and Sociology/Columbia Univ.) discusses modern politics, the media and activist intellectuals in seven disjointed essays.

Besides two brief introductory chapters, there are few clues about how these pieces, all previously published in some form, fit together. Gitlin (Letters to a Young Activist, 2003, etc.) pines for a lost American era in which books guided the national dialogue and the media strived to report serious, objective news. That environment supported three of his intellectual heroes—David Riesman, C. Wright Mills and Irving Howe—and Gitlin argues that their insights improved American discourse in real time. He marvels at the popularity of The Lonely Crowd, Riesman's book about how America's obsession with consumption spawned a more selfish national character. Mills is portrayed as a pioneering and thoughtful leader of American radicalism, and Gitlin thinks the sociologist would be disappointed with the emotionalized and choreographed discourse in contemporary America. Gitlin sometimes offers opaque, grand declarations with little support. While arguing that stable politics can be boring, he declares that when politics respects limits, “it slides towards the tedious—which is why, by way of compensation, we require art.” Later he announces, “The media have been in the habit of smuggling the habit of living with the media.” The author concludes with the title essay, about patriotism and sacrifice after 9/11. Gitlin shares his feelings as a New Yorker and a liberal intellectual who dutifully hung his American flag, but who also recalled the anger he felt towards the same symbol during Vietnam. He criticizes “cowed” Democrats, the “fundamentalist left” and President Bush's “smug” ineptitude, and he calls for a new liberal approach to patriotism, marked by national sacrifice. But he gives far less attention to addressing this than he does to offering criticisms of existing methods.

Spotty and derivative.