Punditry at the Drive-Thru

Peter Beinart's books represent the intellectual equivalent of what nutritionists call the empty-calorie principle.

Issue: Sept-Oct 2010

Peter Beinart, The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again (2006; repr., New York: Harper Perennial, 2008), 320 pp., $14.95.

Peter Beinart, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 496 pp., $27.99.

IT IS a safe bet that most readers of this magazine don’t much care for fast food, or that the minority that does views it as anything else but a guilty pleasure for themselves or a necessary concession to their advertisement-saturated, merchandise-craving children or grandchildren. The intellectual equivalent of this sensible preference for slow food should be for nuance and complexity. And yet in this age of the sound bite, the twenty-four-hour news cycle, multitasking and new media, the books that commercial publishers seem to want to publish, and that ambitious policy intellectuals aspire to write—which came first is probably best viewed as a chicken-and-egg question—are for the most part the intellectual equivalent of a meal at Burger King or Taco Bell. At first bite, tasty, appealing and seemingly complete; in the end, bloating, cloying and empty of genuine intellectual fortification.

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