The editors at Riverhead probably thought that this title was the ultimate in counterintuitive mischievousness. To turn common sense notions on their heads, especially those bearing traditional valuations, is a familiar routine. So much complacent opinion spills into the drift of received wisdom, one supposes, that a voice against the current is just what’s needed.

The last thing intellectuals should champion right now is popular culture.

Maybe so, in science and technology, but the last thing intellectuals should champion right now is popular culture. Steven Johnson casts himself as a defender of a world disdained as cheap, violent, and infantile, but it’s hard to play that role when economic power is all on the side of video games, ESPN, MTV, etc. Still, the tone is earnest and the thesis simple. In the last thirty years, popular...

 

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