Menand brilliantly weaves from the strands of late nineteenth century scientific and philosophical thought, the entire tapestry of America's secular theology -- democracy, free speech, enlightened self-interest, pragmatism, public schools and individual rights. Less than half way through this engaging discussion on the origins of the great American Experiment, I regained a small part of the national pride of which the sixties and seventies deprived us all. I also realized, to my great surprise, that the values I most dearly hold today were taught to me by the California public school system in the 1950's and 1960's -- that an eager, open-minded inquiry into the natural, social and political world is the best road toward wisdom, peace and prosperity for the greatest number; that diversity of opinion (like the diversity of the species) is the most important source of a society's health and longevity, and, that, as Oliver Wendell Holmes opined, it is certitude itself that inevitably leads to violence. Fascinating, stirring and entertaining. One of my new top ten books to take to a desert island.
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