Mark Bauerlein
Tarcher/Penguin Books

It's a little alarming when the publisher's website misspells the author's name. One pictures the culprit as a 23-year-old staffer with iPod and ear-buds who illustrates the point of this Emory University English professor's terrific new book: today's young people don't know squat in large part because the trappings of the "digital age" have addled their brains, distorted their priorities, and occupied all their time. It's a polemic, yes, but it's full of compelling data as well as even more compelling anecdotes and vignettes. Bauerlein faults the grown-ups, too, in a forceful chapter called "The Betrayal of the Mentors." (Short version: professors ennoble youth and its values rather than taming the former and correcting the latter.) "As of 2008," Bauerlein concludes, "the intellectual future of the United States looks dim. Not the economic future, or the technological, medical, or media future, but the future of civic understanding and liberal education. The social pressures and leisure preferences of young Americans, for all their silliness and brevity, help set the heading of the American mind, and the direction is downward.... It isn't funny anymore." Neither is this book, but you really need to read it anyhow. It can be ordered here.

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