Book Review: Empire of Illusion

Review of Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. 2009

One hundred and ninety-odd pages of invective, vitriol, and hyperbole. Three pages of hope and print-based nostalgia.  Hedges’ argument has quite a bit of potential and no small amount of forceful evidence, but mostly disappoints in its delivery. The finger-pointing gets old after a while, and no group is safe from it (except, of course, for the author, whose working-class background saves him from the sins of the ivy league).

Without spoiling too much, here’s short catalogue of those responsible for the end of America (according to Hedges):

  • -The Democratic Party
  • -The Republican Party
  • -the Christian Right
  • -Pornographers
  • -Men
  • -Internet Providers
  • -Cable Companies
  • -Wrestlers, American Idol, Jerry Springer et al.
  • -The Ivy League
  • -College Football Coaches
  • -MBAs
  • -Positive Psychologists
  • -All Other Psychologists
  • -Government
  • -Bill Clinton
  • -George W. Bush
  • -Tim Russert
  • -Journalists
  • -Mass Media Conglomerates
  • -The Defense Industry
  • -Capitalists
  • -Warmongers
  • -Anyone Who Hasn’t Read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World And Immediately Had Their Lives Summarily Enlightened, Shocked Out Of Illusion And Into Utter Despondency At The State Of American Affairs.
  • -Most Other People.

Though his analysis is sound, his rhetoric is extreme, so the book’s a pretty bothersome read. I was also more than a little put out that his solution or ray of hope stems from looking back rather than looking forward: toward the end of the book, he drops in references to “literate, print-based culture,” even though it’s about as economically defunct as the rest of our capitalist institutions. He might’ve found a bit more light at the end of his tunnel if he’d looked to the network for hope, rather than limiting himself to the page.

A good read, but not for those easily thrown into fits of despair.  Hedges, who also writes a weekly column for Truthdig, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 (along with a team of others from the NYT) for global terrorism coverage.


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