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Being America: Liberty, Commerce, and Violence in an American Worldby Jedediah Purdy
Synopses & Reviews
With the publication of his first book, For Common Things, Jedediah Purdy “stormed the capital . . . with an unfashionably passionate attack on the dangers of modern passionlessness” and established himself as a social critic “eloquent beyond his years” (Time). In his new book, Being America, Purdy applies his “fresh and vibrant voice” (Kirkus Reviews) to exploring how America is perceived, emulated, and judged in a rapidly changing world.
His journeys in Asia, Africa, and around the States illuminate the impact that America’s foreign policy and consumer culture leave on ordinary people. Purdy meets Westernized Egyptian party girls who consider Osama bin Laden a hero; an environmental activist in Indonesia whose models are McKinsey consultants and Afghan Jihadis; a Hindu nationalist in India who calls America a corrupt cultural wasteland, and then tells him, wistfully, “The world is waiting to become you.” Purdy examines how America can simultaneously inspire love and hate, and he explains why our promotion of democracy and free-market capitalism is at times welcome, while at others read as an expression of violent imperialism.
Much more than travel reportage, Being America is a meditation on the meaning of politics. With the wisdom and sensitivity that earned him earlier acclaim, Purdy explores how communities and individuals the world over interpret international phenomena. He argues that whenever the United States acts in a fashion that is ignorant, hypocritical, opportunistic, or arrogant, it weakens the case for our version of the future and undercuts people in every country who are working for it. His travels, both around the globe and in the literature that forms the ideological base of our country, lead Purdy to propose that the United States pursue a politics that is humane and attuned to the differing ambitions of other cultures. Being America is a remarkable declaration by a writer who dares to be sober and idealistic.
"Purdy is already among the most inspiring political thinkers writing today, and his ideas resonate like the clear ring of a bell through the cacophony of better-known pundits." Publishers Weekly
"A thoughtful and compelling commentary on America?s difficult relationship with a changing world. Drawing on his refined skills as both a thinker and a story-teller, Purdy takes us on a unique intellectual journey that helps unravel why America is at once loved and loathed abroad." Charles Kupchan, author of The End of the American Era
"As for American irony, Purdy reveals that he is not against irony in principle. He is just against its practice during boom times. Now that everything in America is going to hell, even Jed Purdy allows himself a dark chuckle or two."David Bowman, Salon.com
"[T]here are moments of real insight in Being America, and almost all of them occur when Purdy writes not as a junior philosopher but as a journalist." Anne Applebaum, The Washington Post
"What Purdy does for nationalism in one section of the book, he does for global commerce in another section. If the politics of nationalism leads too often to violence rather than liberty, can multinational corporations become a unifying force? Can commerce spread prosperity to the lower classes, or will it merely create more sweatshops than it already has?" Steve Weinberg, The Denver Post
"Being America is less about Americans than about the zigzagging, volatile impact of the U.S. on the rest of the world?the self-serving effects of the IMF, the surprising consequences of a global Internet, the seething resentment triggered by our cavalier actions on the world stage.... Just as For Common Things was a lament over the lax state of the nation, Being America returns to the need for self-awareness and political engagement." Joy Press, Village Voice
Book News Annotation:
Purdy asks how modern lives—he sees America (the US) as the paragon—produce both liberty and violence, what the proportion of freedom to exploitation is in the economy, which political realms encourage people to feel control over their choices and which incite popular passions to flirt with chaos or dictatorship, and which inflections of a culture help its members live with dignity and which erode it.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The author of For Common Things explores how America simultaneously inspires love and hate; how it can be both an emblem of liberty and a symbol of runaway power; and how its export of free market and democratic ideals is sometimes welcome, sometimes read as an expression of violent imperialism.
In his first book, For Common Things, Jedediah Purdy established himself as a social critic who approached morally ambiguous issues without ideology. Now this talented writer focuses on America's place in a rapidly changing world.
Purdy explores how America simultaneously inspires love and hate; how it can be both an emblem of liberty and a symbol of runaway power; how its export of free market and democratic ideals is sometimes welcome, sometimes read as an expression of violent imperialism. He examines the rise of new forms of political community, from international Islamic fundamentalism to sweatshop activism. After extensive journeys through Asia, Africa, and around America, he reports on attitudes of activists and ordinary people: what young lawyers in Cairo say about the September 11th attacks; what teenagers in Delhi and environmentalists in Jakarta think about American consumerism.
Purdy revives the lucid, intelligent voice of Montaigne to help untangle difficult ethical questions. He draws on the writings of James Madison, Adam Smith, and Edmund Burke, among others, to help explain our legacy of liberal freedoms and prejudices. Purdy believes that "politics has changed its form but remains the only answer to the question of human nakedness."
Being America is a remarkable declaration by a thinker who dares to be at once pragmatic and idealistic.
About the Author
Jedediah Purdy was educated at home in West Virginia, and he attended Harvard College and Yale Law School. Purdy has served as a fellow at the New America Foundation and is currently a clerk for a federal judge in New York City.
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