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Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline by [Posner, Richard A.]
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Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline Revised Edition, Kindle Edition

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In "Public Intellectuals Posner turns his poison pen on scores of public intellectuals, including the likes of Noam Chomsky, Edward Luttwak, and Paul Ehrlich, those "talking heads" who disseminate their thoughts to the wider public on issues of political and ideologically import. Of particular interest are environmental decay, the darker side of realpolitik, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, former President Bill Clinton's impeachment, and the deadlocked 2000 presidential election. Through the application of market economics and statistical analysis, Posner first identifies the seemingly endless supply of and demand for public intellectuals to pontificate on these matters and their various genres...He also highlights the fact that market discipline is sorely lacking...[Posner's] marshaling of arguments, combined with his copious footnotes and extensive source material, makes for an engaging and thought-provoking read.

In "Public Intellectuals..".Posner trashes fellow smarties who expound on public issues outside their expertise. He says they abandon rigor when they write general interest books and op-ed pieces, publish open letters, and speak on television. They are in decline, he says, because more of them than ever have safe jobs as professors, protecting them from the consequences of bad predictions and stupid proclamations...Posner fires both left and right, nearly always hitting the mark. -- Peter Coy "Business Week" (02/11/2002)

ÝPosner¨ writes faster than you can read. And he's a public intellectual in the specialized sense he describes and decries in his book: a "critical commentator addressing a nonspecialist audience on matters of broad public concern..."Judge Posner's main argument is that "public intellectuals are often careless with facts and rash in prediction." They lack, moreover, "insight and distinction, the filling of some gap in intellectual space..."Posner's writing is indeed limpid and muscular, but it's grounded (the celebrity-intellectuals tables notwithstanding) in substantial evidence carefully marshaled into showy and sometimes pedantic footnotes. His conclusions follow from his fully disclosed, if controversial, analytical methodology. -- Adam Liptak "New York Observer" (01/07/2002)

for an engaging and thought-provoking read.

disclosed, if controversial, analytical methodology.

proclamations...Posner fires both left and right, nearly always hitting the mark.

occasionally insightful, often maddening effort to kill off all rival claimants to the throne.

proper zeal...Posner's mind is so acute and often so surgically ironic that his prose can be delightful.

deserves attention no matter how infuriating he can be. Moreover, he charges gaily into the fray, voraciously aware of his own superiority.

and downs of American intellectuals, especially the New York variety, fascinates the more bookish part of the population in the same way that college football rankings or Baseball Hall of Fame elections mesmerize sports fans.


In this comprehensive study of the modern American public intellectual - that individual who speaks to the public on issues of political or ideological moment - Richard Posner charts the decline of a venerable institution that included worthies from Socrates to John Dewey. With the rapid growth of the media in recent years, highly visible forums for discussion have multiplied, while greater academic specialization has yielded a growing number of narrowly trained scholars. Posner tracks these two trends to their inevitable intersection: a proliferation of modern academics commenting on topics outside their ken. The resulting scene - one of off-the-cuff pronouncements, erroneous predictions, and ignorant policy proposals - compares poorly with the performance of earlier public intellectuals, largely nonacademics whose erudition and breadth of knowledge were well suited to public discourse. Leveling a balanced attack on liberal and conservative pundits alike, Posner describes the styles and genres, constraints and incentives, of the activity of public intellectuals.

He identifies a market for this activity - one with recognizable patterns and conventions but an absence of quality controls. He also offers modest proposals for improving the performance of this market - and the quality of public discussion in America today.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3934 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Revised edition (30 Jun. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005I4EFM2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,325,065 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars 15 reviews
Michael Wendt
4.0 out of 5 starsInteresting, and fun, but somewhat muddled in approach
29 March 2002 - Published on Amazon.com
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Jon L Albee
3.0 out of 5 starsGood thesis. Tedious exposition.
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Kevin S. Currie
3.0 out of 5 starsStarts with a bang; Ends with a flicker.
17 March 2002 - Published on Amazon.com
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