Stanford Review - Archive - Volume XXVI - Issue 1 - Book Review
Incorrect Thoughts by John Leo
The recently published Incorrect Thoughts: Notes on Our Wayward Culture by John Leo is a collection of slightly more than one hundred two-page commentaries, most of them drawn from Mr. Leo's columns in U.S. News and World Report. Despite the nominal focus on political correctness and its associated problems, Mr. Leo ranges quite far afield. He discusses such diverse topics as media bias, the messages in modern advertising, educational trends, abortion, feminism, affirmative action, and criminal justice.
Incorrect Thoughts' greatest value is as a collection of the major social issues of the 1990's. If you are looking for a reference manual for the trends of the last decade with a conservative perspective on why they are dangerous (or, occasionally but rarely, desirable), this book is an excellent choice. The organization of the book makes it possible to find information on a given topic quite easily since the book is divided into seven groups: Media, Education, Family and Gender, Race and Minorities, Politics and Law, Culture and Language, and Society and Social Behavior.
The majority of the pieces are relatively conservative positions on a wide variety of issues. The result is an interesting collection of the cultural issues prevalent in American politics, usually well presented and often with incidents or details of incidents which were not widely publicized. Indeed, it is the collection of examples and statistics in each column which make them so useful. Flip through the section on education to find statistics comparing Catholic schools to public schools or excerpts from a particularly poor "Whole-Math" style textbook. Turn to the section on culture and language to find the classic hoax by physicist Alan Sokal who managed to publish an article arguing that gravity is a social construct and then revealed the parody, much to the embarrassment of the magazine which had printed it as a serious argument.
A handful of columns are surprising attacks on conservative positions from a conservative angle. A typical example is the column on the trial and imprisonment of alleged police killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, where Mr. Leo argues that regardless of personal opinions on Jamal's guilt, he deserves a new trial. Like the columns he writes from more traditionally conservative positions, it is a well-reasoned if cursory discussion of the subject.
Unfortunately, while the columns were probably quite interesting on their own, when compiled into a book, something is lacking. Although the columns are placed into several groups, discussion of a given issue is often disjointed, appearing in one column and then again a little later, and perhaps a third time in a different section, examined from a different angle. More frustrating, because the pieces were originally published independently, Mr. Leo often uses the same quotes or examples. The result is that the reader gets three similar introductions to a given debate rather than an in-depth discussion which could have taken the same space.
In the end, the word that describes Incorrect Thoughts is unfulfilling. Mr. Leo's tidbits are enough to leave you wanting more, but never enough to satisfy. While it is an interesting read, it really is a collection of columns poorly drawn together, and most readers would be better suited picking a topic that interests them and finding a book which deals with that topic in depth.
Henry Towsner is a sophomore majoring in Mathematical and Computational Science. He scrupulously avoids thinking anything not first approved by the appropriate committees.
Page last modified on Wednesday, 01-Mar-2006 23:57:22 MST.