"Empire Of Illusion"

Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

Wow. I don't know where to begin. I was so fascinated by what this author was saying I could hardly breathe, let alone put the book down. I started underlining the parts that really hit me and soon traded in my bookmark for a ruler so the book wouldn't be completely ruined by hundreds of crooked ink lines. The whole book hit me.

What Hedges does in this book is step back and look at the big picture of our culture. It's written about the U.S., but Canadian culture is going the same way. What he says applies to all of North America.

The language of the book makes it obvious that this is not a casual look at the state of our society; the author is deeply concerned. He believes our culture to be in swift decline and probably with good reason. It isn't hard to see how out of balance things have gotten.
  • Tons of bailout money have been handed to the very people who created the financial crisis in the first place while ordinary people lose jobs, homes and retirement funds. 
  • We pay our entertainers and sports stars vastly more than our teachers and healers. And that doesn't even sound unreasonable anymore. 
  • More and more tv shows and movies have us cheering for what used to be the bad guys. We're feeling sympathy for misunderstood blood-sucking vampires for pete's sake. One of my favorite tv shows, NCIS, has shown two different episodes in the past year or so in which a murder was covered up because it was committed by a friend or family member of a main character. These are characters who hold everyone else to the high standard of the law and yet the writers (and viewers by accepting it) are saying it's ok to have a different standard for those in positions of power. I can't be the only one who finds that frightening.
Things have indeed gotten twisted and we just don't seem all that concerned.

Hedges looks closely at five areas where we are living under the illusion that things are fine when in fact, they are far from it. He tackles the illusions of literacy, love, wisdom, happiness and finally the illusion of (North) America. Within those topics he looks at education, pornography, positive psychology and corporate control of government and media. What he says will not only confirm those nagging little doubts you've had about things being as ok as State-of-the-Union speeches and endless media talking heads would have you believe, but it will also give you a clear look at just how alarming our situation is.

I think this is an important book. I don't say that very often because most of the books I really love haven't had much of an effect on how history unfolds. But I think this one qualifies, not because I agree with everything he says (I don't) but because I do agree that we, North Americans, need to be shaken out of our complacency before it's too late.

I've been talking about the content of the book and haven't said anything at all about the writing. So, let me say that it is beautifully written. Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winner (as part of the team that won the 2002 Prize for Explanatory Reporting for The New York Times coverage of global terrorism),
writes intelligently, and honestly I think. He quotes freely from other books, interviews and media reports and he provides a  7 page biliography at the end of the book. He has done his research and knows what he's talking about.

I love that the book ends with hope. The situation may be dire, but it is not, and never will be, hopeless. The closing paragraph acknowledges the truth that hope and love exist now and will still exist when our world of illusion comes crashing down on us. In the "wreckage that remains" they will endure.


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