The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump

The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump

A stirring and incisive manifesto on America's slide away from truth and reason. Over the last three decades, Michiko Kakutani has been thinking and writing about the demise of objective truth in popular culture, academia, and contemporary politics. In The Death of Truth, she connects the dots to reveal the slow march of untruth up to our present moment, when Red State an...

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Title:The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump
Author:Michiko Kakutani
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Edition Language:English

The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump Reviews

  • Kyle

    Simply put, this is essential reading if you want to understand, at least in part, the political chaos caused by technology, and perpetuated by those who harness its power for authoritarian purposes.

  • Gary Moreau

    The truth is this: If you like literature, this is the best book you’ve read this year. If you don’t like Trump, this will be the best book you’ve read since he descended the gilded escalator. And if you don’t like the tone of modern politics, it is the best book you’ve read in a couple of decades. It’s informative, extremely well written, and there is no personal mud slinging. It’s a book about literature and will tell you more about the politics of today (and literature) than any pundit could

    The truth is this: If you like literature, this is the best book you’ve read this year. If you don’t like Trump, this will be the best book you’ve read since he descended the gilded escalator. And if you don’t like the tone of modern politics, it is the best book you’ve read in a couple of decades. It’s informative, extremely well written, and there is no personal mud slinging. It’s a book about literature and will tell you more about the politics of today (and literature) than any pundit could begin to.

    The underlying point of the book is that the attack on truth began in the 1960s with the emergence of postmodernism. The author, however, does not just assert that truth, as most contemporary politicians would. She documents it; because, to her, the truth is still the truth, and it’s still important. And as Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” (I actually had lunch at a private table for four with him one time but he, sadly, did not use that quote. He did, however, talk about the outrageously high cost and lack of access to health insurance. Circa 1990!)

    I am now a retired/involuntary gig economy resident of Michigan, so I understand how Trump got elected. (His opponent was actually denied, but that’s another story. Not as in cheated, but denied nonetheless.) What has amazed me ever since, however, is how stable his support appears to be. Orwell, whose 1984 I reread recently for context, could not have imagined, in his most creative moment, the current disregard for truth and honesty.

    There is, nonetheless, a logical explanation, and this book provides it. It won’t make you feel any better, but it will make you feel a little less like you are wandering in the wilderness.

    And, as you would expect from such a renowned literary critic, the writing is superb. It definitely made me yearn for those Sunday mornings several decades ago when I would rush out to buy The New York Times, a couple of croissants, and my wife and I would spend the morning in bed reading. (I lived in New York at the time—sans children, obviously.)

    As one who truly enjoys the literary in literature and appreciates the value of words, and one who lived in China for a decade and resides in a necessarily bilingual household, my favorite line was, “Precise words, like facts, mean little to Trump, as interpreters, who struggle to translate his grammatical anarchy, can attest.”

    A truly spectacular book that should be number one. You will cringe at times, laugh at others, but end up with a much better understanding of why life in America feels so surreal at the moment.

    The book reminded me of the fact that during the entire time I was growing up my parents, both veterans of World War II, now deceased, refused to tell any of their children which candidate they voted for. I have no idea to this day if they were Democrats or Republicans. That, in their minds, was personal, a right to privacy they had both fought for.

    Later, in the 1960s, I was a teenage boy not looking forward to receiving my draft notice and being shipped off to fight in the jungles of Vietnam. I watched Walter Cronkite religiously to get the latest news. And while it was never good he signed off each night, “And that’s the way it is.” Nobody bothers with that kind of truth any more. And that is a loss we all pay for.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    Very deep reading of the current crisis which has roots that go back pretty far to elements of 20th-century movements like postmodernism and the totalitarian movements from the 1930s. Postmodernism and Nihilism were the tools to pry apart institutions and the idea of the truth and replace it with a nihilistic will to power that is at the center of the far right which holds the reigns of government in the US. The carefully written philosophical piece puts together the trends from the sixties of q

    Very deep reading of the current crisis which has roots that go back pretty far to elements of 20th-century movements like postmodernism and the totalitarian movements from the 1930s. Postmodernism and Nihilism were the tools to pry apart institutions and the idea of the truth and replace it with a nihilistic will to power that is at the center of the far right which holds the reigns of government in the US. The carefully written philosophical piece puts together the trends from the sixties of questioning the truth and objectivity and the raising of a subjective relativism as a tool for the far right that since the nineties has served it well in amassing power and capturing a large enough part of the public to follow it wherever it goes. When there is no truth or facts beyond dispute then the biggest megaphone wins. Perfect for oligarchical nihilists in Russia and the US to sacrifice truth in pursuit of power. It is a return of the climate of the thirties in Germany and Russia where radicals in pursuit of power and total destruction of their perceived enemies seized control and brought about tyrannies in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany that now are returning in new forms in the present moment in Russia, Europe, India, and America. The destruction this nihilism wrought in WWII nearly destroyed the future. This time we might not get off so easy.

  • JP

    This book scares the hell out of me.

    The current state of the world and Nationalist leaders scares the hell out me.

    This book does nothing to help put those fears to rest.

    This book fuels these fears further.

    This is the point of this book.

    I hope it works for you how it has worked for me.

    There was a one star detraction in the review from a perfect score as there is no breathing room. This book is unrelenting with facts and continues to hammer at the reader from the first page to the last.

    Ther

    This book scares the hell out of me.

    The current state of the world and Nationalist leaders scares the hell out me.

    This book does nothing to help put those fears to rest.

    This book fuels these fears further.

    This is the point of this book.

    I hope it works for you how it has worked for me.

    There was a one star detraction in the review from a perfect score as there is no breathing room. This book is unrelenting with facts and continues to hammer at the reader from the first page to the last.

    There is a bright epilogue to close this book out. Thankfully.

  • Krista

    As the former chief book critic of

    , Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michiko Kakutani has apparently spent the past three decades noting and commenting on the decline of “objective truth” in American literature and public life – and while she approves of this postmodern paradigm as it relates to art, she has been horrified to watch as disestablishmentarianism has migrated from a necessary Leftist pushback against the military-industrial complex to an alt-right, “drain the swa

    As the former chief book critic of

    , Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michiko Kakutani has apparently spent the past three decades noting and commenting on the decline of “objective truth” in American literature and public life – and while she approves of this postmodern paradigm as it relates to art, she has been horrified to watch as disestablishmentarianism has migrated from a necessary Leftist pushback against the military-industrial complex to an alt-right, “drain the swamp” anti-intellectualism which has found its apex in the current alternate facts, fake news, lies tweeting president. Quoting from sources as diverse as Hannah Arendt's

    , David Foster Wallace's

    , and Donald Trump's own

    , Kakutani's

    is scholarly, logical, and angry. Here's the thing: For a book that decries polarisation and bipartisanship and the algorithms that ensure we only read news stories online that align with what we already believe, there's nothing neutral about Kakutani's treatise; she is preaching to her choir and dismissing everyone else as “alt-right trolls” and “dittoheads”; nothing here would be persuasive to anyone who believes that mainstream media has a liberal bias, and

    since she spent her career at

    (which isn't to say that I fundamentally disagree with what she writes here). This is a quick read, divided into nine essays, and I've decided to let Kakutani do most of the talking here in excerpts I selected as demonstrative of either her points or her tone. (Two notes: I am a Canadian and have read this book only as an interested bystander. And since I read an ARC, it is probably particularly egregious that I have quoted such big chunks; these passages may not be in their final forms, but they do reflect the book I read.)

    Despite making comparisons between Trump's misinformation techniques and those of Hitler and Lenin, Kakutani ends on a hopeful note; pointing out those citizens who are pushing back against threats of despotism and urging her readers to join in: “It's essential that citizens defy the cynicism and resignation that autocrats and power-hungry politicians depend upon to subvert resistance.” American citizens must also protect the institutions that their founding fathers put in place to uphold democracy: the checks and balances of a tripartite political system, education, and a free and independent press. This

    an angry book, and while Kakutani laments the modern echo chamber of thought, I can't see this making much of an impact with those outside her own silo. Four stars is a rounding up.

  • Marks54

    “The Death of Truth” is a short book that reads like a long essay. The author, Michiko Kakutani, is a well known literary critic and former chief book review editor of the New York Times. She is (or should be) a legend to anyone interested in reading good books and being highly and critically discerning about the books that one reads. It is not necessary to agree with all that she writes, although that may well happen. It is difficult to be a discerning reader and not pay attention to what she t

    “The Death of Truth” is a short book that reads like a long essay. The author, Michiko Kakutani, is a well known literary critic and former chief book review editor of the New York Times. She is (or should be) a legend to anyone interested in reading good books and being highly and critically discerning about the books that one reads. It is not necessary to agree with all that she writes, although that may well happen. It is difficult to be a discerning reader and not pay attention to what she thinks about a book.

    The book is concerned with the assaults that have come to characterize the Trump Administration, ranging from the theatre surrounding the Press Secretaries that have worked for the President, to the Twitter Feed of the President, to the various public falsehoods that regularly issue in Washington DC and are catalogued by the press, to the emotional and more often than not baseless and hyperbolic attacks that issue from the President towards those with whom he disagrees. We all know about this and Kakutani is highly critical of the evolving norms that seem to focus on making claims and other statements that do not seem intended to be subjected to standards of truth or falsity - what Harry Frankfurt analyzes in his book, “On Bullshit”.

    Kakutani’s book is interesting not for new points that she raises. Indeed, if one follows the mainstream press and is concerned about these issues, he or she will feel right at home. The perspective she adopts is also clear - Kakutani is deeply critical of the attack on truth and sees it as a threat to American democracy. She provides a rich context for these developments, showing that they have been around in American literary life for quite some time. She goes into some detail on deconstruction as practiced by Derrida, Foucault, and others, and how the parlor games of left intellectuals have been adopted, intensified, and put to practical use (weaponized) conservative extremists. I had noticed this too before reading this book, but am reassured by her analysis.

    An interesting focus on part of the book is on the rebirth in interest in dystopian fiction, especially of a political variant, since the 2016 election. For example, Orwell has seldom sold more copies, especially 1984 and Animal Farm. She also brings up the renewed interest and relevance of Huxley’s Brave New World, which is a very different view of how civilization ends in tyranny than that of Orwell. By juxtaposing Orwell and Huxley, Kakutani hints at ways in which the current assault on truth and reason may differ from prior attacks. I hope she develops these ideas further.

  • Mark

    I broke my rule about not reading books with Trump in the title for the ARC of this very solid extended essay by Michiko Kakutani. I particularly liked the way she incorporated her extensive reading in fiction and non-fiction to provide examples and commentary on today's politics and how we got here. Also, good footnotes provide a guide to further reading. My big reservation is that the only people who are likely to read this book are very unlikely to learn anything new. This can be read in one

    I broke my rule about not reading books with Trump in the title for the ARC of this very solid extended essay by Michiko Kakutani. I particularly liked the way she incorporated her extensive reading in fiction and non-fiction to provide examples and commentary on today's politics and how we got here. Also, good footnotes provide a guide to further reading. My big reservation is that the only people who are likely to read this book are very unlikely to learn anything new. This can be read in one sitting unless it depresses you too much.

  • Jennifer Malinowski

    The Death of Truth by Kakutani is a fairly short read, coming in ~200 pages. But it is densely written and full of quotes and insights from a large number of sources. To get the most from it, I recommend reading only a chapter at a time and really mulling over the premise of each before moving on. (Do as I say, not as I did.) That said, Kakutani is merely one of the newest authors in a long line in the past several decades to call out the attack on intellectualism, truth, and government.

    My firs

    The Death of Truth by Kakutani is a fairly short read, coming in ~200 pages. But it is densely written and full of quotes and insights from a large number of sources. To get the most from it, I recommend reading only a chapter at a time and really mulling over the premise of each before moving on. (Do as I say, not as I did.) That said, Kakutani is merely one of the newest authors in a long line in the past several decades to call out the attack on intellectualism, truth, and government.

    My first exposures to these concepts (other than my own insights) came from Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason and Al Gore's The Assault on Reason--both of which are referenced in The Death of Truth. I think that these (and others) set the bar too high, because while I wanted to like the Death of Truth, I was not overly impressed. Kakutani updates the premise with myriad examples focused on the Trump campaign and administration. Though the examples used certainly bring the points across, I found little analysis of the underlying reasons for the current situation beyond what has already been hashed out by Jacoby, Gore, and the countless others mentioned in the book.

    tl;dr: if you've not previously read any substantive book on the topic, this is a great intro (and I *highly* suggest using the book to curate a reading list). But if you've been paying attention for the last 20+ years and this is not your first rodeo, as it were, skip this in favor of a weightier tome with more analysis and insight.

    Disclaimer: I received an ARC through a Goodreads giveaway.

  • Kent Winward

    There is a certain amount of hubris in Kakutani's take that the world and politics revolves around literary trends and theories. As much as I want to buy in whole hog, the hubris is the downfall of the book. Maybe I'm getting old and cynical, but it seems much more likely (and realistic) to me that literary trends are usually in response to changes in the political and social world, not the instigators of the change. Trump seems more a product of reality television than post-modern, relativistic

    There is a certain amount of hubris in Kakutani's take that the world and politics revolves around literary trends and theories. As much as I want to buy in whole hog, the hubris is the downfall of the book. Maybe I'm getting old and cynical, but it seems much more likely (and realistic) to me that literary trends are usually in response to changes in the political and social world, not the instigators of the change. Trump seems more a product of reality television than post-modern, relativistic thought as evidenced by our literature.

    So much more is going on that Kakutani can see through the literary-lens glasses.

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