Anti-intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstatder

book coverAnti-intellectualism in American Life (1964)

Maybe it is intrinsic to American core perception of egalitarianism that leads to this hatred of the smart people. On a Bell curve, anyone not in the middle is treated with contempt by those in the middle. People hare and fear “dummies” but their true venom is reserved for anyone smarter than themselves. So they actively work to bully, ridicule, and shame people who are smart and driven to get good grades, pursue extraordinary dreams.

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The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby

book jacket with title and authorThe Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby, (2008 Large Type has a different cover image). Cover also says it was a New York Times Bestseller.

Well written and argued. Many people I know are mystified at the seriously problem of willful ignorance that has developed in this country. I thought W. had personified ignorance with his sanctimonious smirk and refusal to read newspapers because he didn’t want to be influenced by thinkers other than his staff who absolutely would not tell him anything he did not want to hear. And I had forgotten the case of decorum by the real president, Dick Cheney, who shouted at Senator Patrick Leahy to  “Go fuck yourself!” on the Senate floor.  (p. 40, 44) This provides the great contrast between the Founding Fathers, and especially the insults penned by Shakespeare. She cites an example of a better insult from the 1890s,

. . . Speaker of the House Thomas Reed took care of one opponent by observing that with ‘with a few more brains he could be  a halfwit.’ Of another politician Reed remarked, ‘He never opens his mouth without subtracting from the sum of human intelligence.’ Americans once heard (or rather read) such genuinely witty remarks and tried to emulate that wit. Today we parrot the witless and halfwitted [sic] language used by politicians and radio shock jocks alike.” (p. 41)

Alas we have slumped even further into the abyss with Trump, Cruz, Walker, et al on the Republican side. And the anointed corporate puppet pick, Hillary, of the Bankruptcy Act treason of the people, and the Iraq war of the military industrial complex. She who cannot claim any bill or legislation passed that helped women or people of color.

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Why Beauty is Truth by Ian Stewart

butterfly in blueWhy Beauty is Truth: A History of Symmetry (2007 )

This is a pretty readable book on mathematics because it takes a creative nonfiction point of view to illustrate some of the points. He approaches the development of mathematical equations and discoveries by telling the stories of the people who developed or discovered them. As an artist who once took advanced placement math, and really liked algebra, but was doomed by geometry to end that pursuit, I still appreciate the mathematics of beauty and how beautiful mathematics, or elegant equations would stir the sample visual pleasure and the belief that if something is awkward and tough to fit into an equation, it must not be the right equation.

The Golden Ratio, the rule of thirds in photography, even the symmetry in asymmetry works; it is fascinating to identify the math underlying images perceived as beautiful.

Since I have not done algebra for decades and have only read about physics, some of my understanding of both is very amateur, but this book helped me understand why various things mattered and how they interconnect, and how mathematics is a crucial tool for the world.

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