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4.6 out of 5 stars18
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In describing the use of illusion as a distraction from the reality of our lives, it is not surprising that Hedges quotes one of the first recorded metaphors which explained this distinction, Plato's cave dwellers, who thought the shadows on the wall were the actual reality. Illusion vs. Reality; Illusion as a deliberate distraction from Reality - issues that have been with us for a long time. Hedges has written an angry polemic against the Illusions that dominate American life; those that succumb to them, and those that promote them. Have the use of illusions in our society become more prevalent today than 100 years ago? Hedges does not really say. But what he does focus on is the here and now and how it could be so much different.

Hedges account is richly anecdotal; certainly the one I will always remember, and Hedges provides the references, is that 42% of college graduates never read another book in their lives (p 44). What he does not mention, and the reader can do their own informal survey, is the quality of books that are read by the other 58%. A casual perusal of an airport bookstore, or even the top 100 books, in terms of sales, at Amazon, can be disheartening. "The Illusion of Literacy" is a fitting title for the first chapter.

And in that first chapter the author managed to "draw me in" by discussing the illusion that is the "drama" of the World Wrestling Federation. I used to watch it with my son, when he was 9-10 years old, and even then he realized it was hokey. But Hedges brings out how many adults are still enthralled with its carefully stage-managed antics, and how they have evolved over time, to correspond with society's larger concerns, from the absolute bad-guys that represented the Soviet Union to the more nuanced changing roles of the groups who battle each other today. Then Hedges goes to Las Vegas, the city that personifies illusions, to attend the AVN (Adult Video News) expo. The chapter is a thoroughly depressing review of the porn industry. I felt it was a deft touch to cover this industry just prior to an even more depressing read, the following chapter on so-called higher education, "The Illusion of Wisdom." I felt this was the strongest chapter in the book, with observations such as: "You can see this retreat into specialized, impenetrable verbal enclaves in every academic department and discipline across the country. The more the universities churn out these stunted men and women, the more we are flooded with a peculiar breed of specialist who use obscure code words as a way to avoid communication." Latter, Hedges makes the following point: "but grabbing what you can, as John Ruskin said, isn't any less wicked when you grab it with the power of your brains than with the power of your fists."

The last two chapters cover the "feel-good industry," that is, the power of positive psychology, and it is hard to feel good after reading that chapter - how the promoters tell you that all you have to do is change what is in your mind, and everything else will be OK. In the final chapter, Hedges looks at America as a whole, and conjures up the spectra of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and mentions an author I've only recently become aware of, Joseph Roth, who said in The Emperor's Tomb (Works of Joseph Roth) that " the very end of the empire, even the streetlights long for morning so that they could be extinguished."

Hedges did a good job of convincing me that I needed to revisit some authors I have not read in a long time, specifically, C. Wright Mills, and Aldous Huxley. On page 39 there is a good comparison between Huxley and Orwell, and it clearly appears that Huxley predicted the future better: "What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one...Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance."

Hedges book is definitely not "feel-good," and some other reviewers have knocked him for that. And it does not offer us a way out of our current situation, and perhaps there isn't one. The book is not a systematic portrait of American society, but rather randomly chosen anecdotal topics. Still, I found it quite thought-provoking, and am glad it was he and not I would delve deeper into the WWF and the "feel-good" movements. A solid, 5-star polemic.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on February 19, 2010)
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on 31 May 2012
Hedges reports that American culture has slid into a vast, narcotizing, fantasy realm that distracts us from confronting the economic, environmental, political and moral collapse that surrounds us. The argument goes beyond Neil Postman's in that media and journalism are smoking the same pipes, and have become vapid celebrities and courtiers instead of truth diggers. Financial movers and shakers are indifferent to the human suffering they are causing. It takes enormous effort for the citizenry to achieve clear sightedness since society has become a vast forum for illusion immersion. As the country hurtles toward the rocks ahead, there are demogogues lying in wait for their chance to peddle yet more illusions of healing and relief. As despair and disillusion become more acute and riots erupt, the incipient forces of authoritarian clampdown will have the excuse they've been waiting for to destroy civil liberties, restore order and make the Constitution a faded memory. As Hedges notes, "the tools are in place" and all that's needed is a national crisis to legitimize their use. The novel feature of Hedges's diagnosis is that hatred of the present elites that are leading us to destruction through greed or pipedreams is growing, and these familiar elites may be thrown overboard in favor of a new cadre we cannot imagine, but who will immerse America in a deep valley of tears with all exits blocked. The route will be blindness to our crisis, then despair, then social convulsions, then the clampdown that extinguishes our democracy for good for the sake of law and order. Hedges lists the illusions we"ve bought into that are greasing the slide.
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on 9 January 2012
This book makes for a powerful read to say the least. It points to the corruption at the heart of contemporary American society with it unchecked corporate greed and the ability of corporations to control the political system and the media and thereby to stifle any possibility of dissent. The chapter on corporate control of the university system was particularly shocking. The dominance of corporate control of the political system, academia, and the media, is coupled with a society that has lost the ability to question and think, and is more than content to be spoon-fed the lying propaganda of the main-stream media. The public's sense of what is truly important for their welfare and the welfare of their fellows is effectively transposed by the main-stream media into a preoccupation with the outcome of American Idol, and other such earth-shattering events. America society has become, in Hedges' apt words, an 'Empire of Illusion', and the long-term consequences of this for ordinary Americans can only be disastrous.
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on 30 May 2015
This was a good read but one where you may agree with absolutely everything and say 'yes isn't it awful' or agree with none of it and be tempted to throw the book out of the window.

Let down a little by the relentless style it is nevertheless a breathtakingly journey through the underbelly of a giant.

The problem I have with most diatribes against the current power systems is that I agree with the analysis of the issues but no the solution. Here we aren't really given a list of solutions but rather the basic challenge to educate ourselves and pierce through the illusory nature of this world. No easy task.
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on 29 March 2013
Chris Hedges had written a lucid commentary on the state of society as it is and perhaps more importantly, which way we are headed unless we all wake up and take part in society again.
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on 26 February 2014
The author puts forth valuable information at the very tips of readers, enlightens them to look beyond the illusions of media as a whole, the book is well-written with different chapters on the very illusions of present day society. In regards to his assessment of University, have to agree with lecturers feeling the need to appear intelligent and jargon used.
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on 14 May 2012
I've been a fan of Hedges for a few years now but this is the first book of his I've bought. The concepts and annecdotes in it are spot on and the picture he paints of an empire in decline and lying to itself is wholly convincing. If you're familiar with his writing and lectures there will be little to surprise you but when it all comes together, the force of it is multiplied greatly.
The writing itself isn't problematic but the structuring of chapters leaves something to be desired. It feels like it could be further subdivided so the individual examples become standalone essays. The way they run into each other at the moment asks a lot of the bridging paragraphs that they dont quite deliver. Nevertheless this is a strong thesis well put that i will be referring to many times in the future I'm sure.
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on 8 February 2012
Another engaging and eye opening account of life and politics in the United States of America. Sadly it appears nothing is going to change anytime soon. Empire of Illision is about the distractions placed on society by governments and the media, examples include the crualty and belittlement of WWF wrestling, the hatred and fingerpointing of the Jerry Springer Show and the false glamour of the porn industry. All this goes to show how cheap thrills and bland entertainment have blinded us to our reality. Everyone should read this book, unfortuntly most people won't, which is crying shame.
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on 19 July 2011
I share many of the author's concerns but I feel they are unconvincingly argued in this book. This book quickly becomes repetitive. They are times when he doesn't seem to know what his argument actually is. The chapters at times feel choppy, inconsistent and in places somewhat contradictory.There's much grandstanding but little by way of persuasive evidence despite the many references and interviews that informed this book. Hedges panders to "the man is out to get us " sentiments but doesn't seem to acknowledge the agency and participation of the "victims" he writes about, he seems to believe they are as unknowingly stupid as the corporations and manipulators he writes about. This book is a letdown to say the least.
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on 21 January 2013
Arrived in great condition - made good points, didn't waffle on, liked the writing style - made for interesting debates with friends and family.
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