Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Was Stupid to Read This Book

Rick Shenkman's Just How Stupid Are We, or perhaps Stupid R Us, has a better title than it does content. I wouldn't call the book an elitist screed because it's not monotonous. The provocative title alone gets your attention, but it is full of vague attacks on regular Americans who fail to measure up to a political scientist's lofty goals, especially if they dare elect someone the polysci guy doesn't like.

It's well written in places, but there's nothing new. I thought the book would include some interesting analyses of political knowledge and why it matters, but other than the ability to read an occasional Pew survey question I can't see much here that breaks any ground, much less new ground. The title was good enough to get him a visit on The Daily Show. Oh well.

I tried to find if Shenkman has published any interesting work on what people know, on political knowledge, anything that includes theoretical or methodological approaches to the question. Maybe it's out there and I missed it. That's damn likely. But the folks who work in this area are pretty well known to me and I thought I'd come across something he'd done in the area, published either in a serious academic journal or one of the major conferences. He deserves better and I should have looked harder.

Then again, it shouldn't be that hard.

For those interested in the political knowledge of the American electorate and what it means to society and government, there are much better choices out there. The titles may not be as cool, but the work is far superior.


Rick Shenkman said...

The author--me--is a historian not a political scientist.

So I wasn't trying to break new theoretical ground. I was trying to use history to explain how we got to where we are today.

You may know this material. Most educated readers haven't encountered this literature.

Rick Shenkman

Hollander said...

Ack! My mistake on the mislabel. Not sure why I said political scientist since I'd seen some of the History News Network stuff (plus the appearance on The Daily Show).