Blue Collar Intellectuals

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Another familiar figure in Flynn’s cast of characters is “Poet of the Pulps” Ray Bradbury, one of America’s foremost pop culture authors. Bradbury, a “nerd’s nerd” who grew up in poverty in Illinois, was anything but shy. But his continuing rejection by his peers engendered his idea of achieving ultimate acceptance by becoming a star. Bradbury achieved that reality primarily as a short story writer, mostly in the sci-fi genre, and a lot of his work appeared in “all-too accessible” publications. That made him oh-for-three among the cognoscenti who were also offended by his small-town, Midwest sensibilities, and his disdain for human spirit-sapping technology such as video games. But the audience he reached loved him.

Since he couldn’t afford college, Bradbury developed his talent at the Los Angeles Public Library, which he often referred to as his “alma mater.” His seminal work, Fahrenheit 451, sold millions of copies, and remains in print today, most likely due to its relevance: despite being published in 1953, it is a dark vision of a state-controlled society hostile to books, where people are hooked on cheap entertainment and drugs. Flynn sums up Bradbury’s great contributions to America quite simply. “Bradbury’s books glorified books,” he writes.

Flynn makes plenty of trenchant observations about our deteriorating society, beginning with his first sentence, “Stupid is the new smart.” And he makes a great case for why it is happening, noting that pop culture “has divorced itself from the life of the mind,” even as “those who pursue the life of the mind have insulated themselves from pop culture.” Good stuff, some of which may have packed a harder wallop at the end of the book, rather than the beginning. Yet for those interested in the kind of accessible ideas that influenced millions of regular Americans–courtesy of regular Americans–Blue Collar Intellectuals is a solid read. Alas, for Flynn and for society in general, those likely to benefit most from a book like this are least likely to read it.

Yet Flynn remains reasonably hopeful. “Regular people can still find smart if they look hard enough,” he writes. Here’s hoping some of them look hard for Blue Collar Intellectuals.

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  • Robert Pinkerton

    Missing from this roll of (deserved) honor is Eric Hoffer. How about discussing him in your next installment?

  • ebonystone

    The Durants, Adler, Friedman, Bradbury; that's five. Who's the 6th? Or the 5th and 6th, if the Durants count as one.
    I'm guessing H.L. Mencken.

  • Mo86

    This book was just recommended to me. Thank you for the review.