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In 1979 two events occurred that would shape the next twenty-five years. In America and Britain, an era of weary consensus was displaced by the arrival of a political marriage of fiery idealists: Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher transformed politics with a combination of breezy charm and assertive "Victorian values." In Iran, the fundamentalist cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini set out to restore a regime that had last existed almost 1,300 years ago. Between them they succeeded in bringing the twentieth century to a premature close. By 1989, Francis Fukuyama was declaring that we had now reached the End of History.
What colonized the space recently vacated by notions of history, progress and reason? Cults, quackery, gurus, irrational panics, moral confusion and an epidemic of idiocy, the proof of which was to be found in every state, every work-place, and every library. In Idiot Proof , columnist Francis Wheen brilliantly evokes the key personalities of the post-political era—including Princess Diana and Deepak Chopra, Osama bin Laden and Nancy Reagan's astrologer—while lamenting the extraordinary rise in superstition, relativism and emotional hysteria over the past quarter of a century.
In turn comic, indignant, outraged and just plain baffled by the idiocy of it all, Idiot Proof is a masterful depiction of the daftness of our times and a plea that we might just think a little more and believe a little less.
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Francis Wheen is deputy editor of Private Eye , the editor of Lord Gnome's Literary Companion , the author of Karl Marx: A Life and a columnist in the London Guardian . He has been a contributor to Vanity Fair, The Nation, The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times , and the Washington Post . He has appeared on Booknotes on C-SPAN and on National Public Radio.From Publishers Weekly:
British columnist and satirist Wheen presents an exhaustive but ultimately exhausting full-frontal assault on the past 25 years of "Counter-Enlightenment idiocy." His fencing dummies include Margaret Thatcher, Reaganomics, the Iranian Revolution, the Christian Coalition, Deepak Chopra, post-modernism, Francis Fukuyama, creationism, conspiracy theorists, people who believe in UFOs, astrology, the military-industrial complex, Cherie Blair and Hillary Clinton's fondness for New Age philosophy, Noam Chomsky, Enron, suicide bombers and much, much more. Wheen skewers his targets with the kind of rapier-like wit the world has come to expect and enjoy from British masters of the vituperative arts. But there's an awful lot of bloodletting here, and much of it is directed at bestselling authors, whose sales numbers Wheen bitterly notes as a way to quantitatively measure the reading public's stupidity. Worse, he burdens his book, which is best read as a series of essays, with a to-hell-in-a-handbasket hypothesis that the level of attack on Enlightenment rationality has increased dramatically in recent years, going so far as to assign a date to the inflection point: 1979, when Thatcher and the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. Some readers may bristle at Wheen's idea that right-wing economic policy is inextricably tied to anti-rational, religious fundamentalism, and the author's increasingly stretched attempts to prove this relationship begin to slip into the same realm of conspiracy theorizing he mocks in others. As an exercise in knocking down sacred cows left, right and center, this book proves that at the end of the satirical road lies nihilism.
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