Academic journal article American Studies

INVENTING THE EGGHEAD: The Battle over Brainpower in American Culture

Academic journal article American Studies

INVENTING THE EGGHEAD: The Battle over Brainpower in American Culture

Article excerpt

INVENTING THE EGGHEAD: The Battle over Brainpower in American Culture. By Aaron Lecklider. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2013.

In a sense, there are two differing aspects to Lecklider's book. On the one hand, he is making a grand argument in which he explores "representations of intelligence in twentieth-century American culture," particularly popular culture (4). He views this as a crucial project because "rethinking the history of brainpower in American culture as the history of an organic intellectual tradition forces us to rethink narratives that diminish the voices of ordinary women and men in intellectual conversations," (226) and that popular culture is the crucial site of contestation because "the relationship between intelligence and social power informed the emerging popular culture of the twentieth century" (225). Lecklider argues that from 1900 until the 1950s, popular culture presented an ever-widening range of definitions of intelligence embodied in a range of Americans, always inflected by differences around race, class, and gen- der. This is key for his larger argument that the intellectual historians of the 1960s, including Richard Hofstadter with Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) and Christopher Lasch with The New Radicalism in America (1965), were fundamen- tally misconstruing the role of the intellectual because they were arguing against the characterization of the intellectual as "the egghead," which was a construct of the late 1950s with a decided right-wing slant and that "bracketed off intellect from the brainpower of ordinary women and men and divorces intelligence from working- class cultural politics" (222). The intellectual these thinkers were defending was, then, only one variation on the theme.

This is an interesting and provocative argument that can in fact lead to a rethink- ing of many questions in American intellectual and cultural history. …

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