What was the '90s homeschooled-kid's treatise on American politics?
August 15, 2011 7:32 PM   Subscribe

In the late 1990s a well-educated 18-year-old boy, homeschooled on a farm somewhere like West Virginia, published a book commenting on American society and politics from a classical perspective. His story was covered by major newsmagazines, and he went on to an Ivy League school. Who was he?

I vaguely recall it was supposed to be a serious, liberal book that talked about Jefferson and the Federalists, comparing their ideas to the current state of our culture, and used poli-sci words like "polity."


1. Was it any good? I could never tell if the attention came from his precociousness or a real intellectual quality.

2. Is it worth reading in 2011? In the age of Bachmann and Beck, are that guy's teenage thoughts and predictions still relevant?
posted by Harvey Kilobit to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Jedediah Purdy.

For Uncommon Things.
posted by dfriedman at 7:34 PM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

On the question of whether the book was any good, well, here's a parody.
posted by dfriedman at 7:35 PM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Book title is For Common Things.
posted by dfriedman at 7:36 PM on August 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, dfriedman. Obviously I didn't remember those articles about him very well.

The fact that his book is about the corrupting influence of irony on youthful idealism kinda suggests it's a bit dated to the days of Generation X fever.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:43 PM on August 15, 2011

From the parody: "Jedediah Purdy is 24, so technically, he doesn’t know about Dean and Frank firsthand. But he’s a serious man, and a serious student — a student of life, of love, of earnest notions. And he’s listened to all the stories."
posted by dfriedman at 7:46 PM on August 15, 2011

He's teaching law at Duke, albeit with a bad haircut, so he must have weathered the storm somehow.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:54 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The book came out roughly at the same time as Dave Eggers' "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius", and so the two were reviewed simultaneously as a sort of pro- and anti- irony two-fer, although Eggers' book isn't really any kind of polemic, just a memoir. I happened to read the two back-to-back.

Purdy's book seemed to me to be largely constructed as an argument against a strawman "ironist" that may or may not exist in reality, but his main point is that the pervading ironic sensibility in these times (pre-9/11, the heydey of Seinfeld) is robbing us of a sincere connection with things. I don't remember there being any kind of acknowledgement that people can have a sort of duality in their takes on things, treating things with an ironic sensibility while also realizing the full import of their happening. Like, I can make jokes or snark about things, but that doesn't mean that I don't actually care about things or go through life maintaining an emotional distance from everything. So, there's a valid point to the book, but it's a bit overblown.
posted by LionIndex at 8:15 AM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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