Charlie Pierces encapsulates his book with this line: “America’s always been a great place to be crazy. It just used to be harder to make a living that way.”
As suggested by its subtitle — “How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free” — The premise of this book is that once upon a time our country was in a certain way enriched by dreamers, eccentrics, and philosophical outliers of various stripes. Author Charlie Pierce describes, for example, the case of one of Minnesota’s own — Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901). His legitimate contributions include serving in the state legislature and U.S. Congress as well as being elected Lt. Governor. Unfortunately, Donnelly’s contributions are overshadowed by (a) his brick-shy-of-a-load attempt to found a Utopian community near Hastings, Minnesota and (b) his pseudo-scholarly books explaining such things as the origins of the continent Atlantis.
Pierce argues that we have gone from having in our midst lovable but harmless cranks such as Donnelly to the present day wherein knuckleheads and know-nothings are treated as credible commentators and intellects of the first order. He rails against right-wing talk radio and TV gasbags like Michael Savage and Sean Hannity. He uses as an object lesson in stupidity the perfectly serious fundamentalist founders of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.
Some of Pierce’s stories are laugh-out-loud tales where the fish in the barrel deserve to be shot. Sadly, others bring a tear as they reflect the loss of civility, common sense, and reasoned disagreement that burdens us these days. [⇒ Excerpt]