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Editorial Reviews

Noted playwright David Mamet brings the zeal of a recent convert to his book, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture read by Johnny Heller. Mamet attacks modern liberalism by taking on frequent conservative targets, for example, global warming, feminism, and liberal arts education; he tackles modern politics with the crisp, unbridled venom that is a hallmark of his dramatic work. This work is prose, not dialogue, yet Johnny Heller grabs onto the words and infuses them with biting emotional energy. Mamet's writing is award-winning and that talent is clearly apparent in The Secret Knowledge. Heller makes listening to the book a visceral experience as he sneers and spits some of Mamet's choicest criticisms of the left, frequently causing the listener to flinch at many of the author's statements. Through Heller's highly charged delivery, the author mounts scathing attacks on the loss of critical thinking skills, critical questioning skills, and higher education's complicity in that endeavor.

David Mamet's body of work, from riveting plays like Glengarry Glen Ross and American Buffalo to films such as Wag the Wog, as well as essays too numerous to mention, have given sharply critical, frequently ironic, and unquestionably brilliant comments on American life and whatever is referred to as The American Dream. In The Secret Knowledge, Mamet goes for the jugular of the liberal movement and its thrall in American politics, seeing no need to leave survivors. It is at the very least provocative. No doubt it will encourage many to welcome the respected American playwright and screenwriter to the conservative fold, while bringing forth outbursts reminiscent of Mamet's colorful dialogue from the liberal side. —Carole Chouinard

Publisher's Summary

For the past 30 years, David Mamet has been a controversial and defining force in theater and film, championing the most cherished liberal values along the way. In some of the great movies and plays of our time, his characters have explored the ethics of the business world, embodied the struggles of the oppressed, and faced the flaws of the capitalist system. But in recent years Mamet has had a change of heart. He realized that the so-called mainstream media outlets he relied on were irredeemably biased, peddling a hypocritical and deeply flawed worldview. In 2008 he wrote a hugely controversial op-ed for the Village Voice, "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal,'" in which he methodically eviscerated liberal beliefs. Now he goes much deeper, employing his trademark intellectual force and vigor to take on all the key political and cultural issues of our times, from religion to political correctness to global warming. Mamet pulls no punches in his art or in his politics. And as a former liberal who woke up, he will win over an entirely new audience of others who have grown irate over America's current direction.

©2011 David Mamet (P)2011 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"A Manichean analysis from a strident new voice from the Right---for liberals, something intended to ignite antagonism; for the like-minded, a buttress against the opposition." (Kirkus)

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  • Kirk
  • Dahlonega, GA, United States
  • 08-13-11

Mamet's Rubicon

I think as we can see in the previous reviews here, which consist of criticism at the "Mamet sucks" level of intellectual inspection, this book is shaking the left to its core. Mamet's criticism (or Secret Knowledge) has the ring of authenticity. Mamet ranges fearlessly through closely held left-wing tenets such as big-government central control, wealth redistribution, the left's imagined ownership of intellectualism, the fallacy of do-goodism, the evolution of liberalism from its legitimate roots to the ugliness it has become, and many, many more.
The authenticity comes from Mamet's immersion in the heart of darkness itself, namely left-wing Hollywood. Mamet is a true Hollywood insider; however, his criticism is based on solid theory that springs from the headwaters of modern conservative theory in works by authors such as Friedrich A. Hayek. His life experience in Hollywood gives his work a fresh approach that is a delight to consider.
What is interesting is that Mamet states that much like the emperor with no clothes story, liberals know that their worldview is not exactly kosher, but part of being a liberal is not to admit to it. Any liberal who "calls out" the inconsistencies and outright lies on which liberalism is based will be "rejected from the herd," which is exactly what is happening to Mamet. Ironic.
Anyway, this book is more than worth the credit and the time - a really excellent book with a wealth of intriguing ideas. I wish I could have done it more justice here. Do yourself a favor and listen to it. It may be a life changer.

70 of 88 people found this review helpful

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A Brilliant Confession

What made the experience of listening to The Secret Knowledge the most enjoyable?

When a true believer begins to see his lifelong belief from a different perspective, it makes that person a unique witness to what he/she has been doing, thinking and preaching. When you have someone who is so brilliant and is such a master of the English language, Hollywood and Broadway, well no one could have shared his depth of understanding like David Mamet! An Awesome and meaty read!

What other book might you compare The Secret Knowledge to and why?

Nothing really- Perhaps Ameritopa, or Radical Son

If you could give The Secret Knowledge a new subtitle, what would it be?

How Talented Bright Beautiful People Let Themselves Be Sucked Into Darkness Thinking It is Light

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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A Very Interesting Perspective

A thought provoking introspection from someone raised in a liberal environment who comes to question that dogma. A brilliantly written piece that explains much about the why, then counter-points that with some of the unintended but inescapable consequences and the reasons that belief system was ultimately rejected by the author.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Good but sloppy in parts

Where Mamet gets it right, he gets it very right. His critique of, for instance, liberals disdain for the West and the reflexive anti-Americanism that passes for concern for the wretched of the Earth is pretty spot on. His critique of the Nobel Savage myth and much of what he has to say about education, particularly in the humanities is also very good.

The problem is that where he gets it wrong, he gets it very, very wrong. His critique of liberal economics is not right. It's not even wrong. At best, he descends into caricature, putting into the mouths of liberals words that very few actual liberals would say. He also makes a very common conservative mistake and that is to pretend that capitalism has no flaws, or at least no flaws worthy of taking note of and certainly no flaws worthy of society taking any action to ameliorate. It is amazing, at least to me, that anyone calling themselves a conservative could be opposed to public education but it appears that Mamet believes that education is just a commodity like, say, a table. It isn't.

He also descends into "let's just mock Obama" FOX News territory. His statement on czars around chapter 19 conveniently ignores that every president since Nixon has had this or that czar around with nary a peep. It is just that czar sounds Russian (because it is) and Russian sounds Communist (because they were) and so now that the POTUS is a Democrat czars are one step away from dictatorship. His statements about Obama 'running the car companies' was also not even wrong.

All in all, a worthwhile book. If you are a conservative, I would not waste my money on it because you will not hear anything about liberals that you do not already believe. If you are a liberal then you should buy this book. Yes, it will make you mad but sometimes apostates and outsiders give the clearest picture of a movement and Mamet is certainly entirely wrong about what has become of modern-day liberals.

24 of 32 people found this review helpful

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  • A. Haase
  • Denver, CO United States
  • 05-27-16


It is easy to make your tribe sound good when you get to define the other tribe's beliefs. It is even easier when you give yourself the right to make up your own facts.

The narrator makes this audio annoying by tapping the microphone at random intervals too.

Some examples :
The author claims climate change has been disproven without any source. He also claims that the global climate has been cooling for the last few decades, also without source.

He claims that government cannot make anything complex, like a car, by an example of a European government dirigible versus a private firm stating that the government designed one was of too heavy to fly well (also unsourced); the obvious would be to compare Nasa with private aerospace or something else Americans would have some knowledge of. Why does he go to such an old and obscure story? I don't think that it is to be fair to his straw man.

He also spit balls about what bad things 'hope' and 'change' can mean, leading me to believe his liberal effigy is meant to be Obama. Leaves me wondering why such righteous indignation?

Sorry, but there is nothing here but a senseless rant. I gained no insights into the liberal, or conservative, mind.

In fairness, the author did say that he is a dramatist and his job is to make stories, not relate facts, but I cannot relax my standards to accommodate. This is sold as non-fiction.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrew
  • Hamilton, ON
  • 03-26-13

A brilliant examination!

Would you listen to The Secret Knowledge again? Why?

I must admit, I was reticent to download this book when it popped-up as a recommendation on my feed. How could a legendary script writer and playwright (and recently converted conservative) pull off a political book? Well he does, and at the end of the book, Mamet explains why he tackled the project.

The book shows him to be the wordsmith, that I guess should be expected from such man that has toiled with words for more than four decades.

His insights are vast, his examination of of issues; thought provoking throughout.

A great listen, and a good starting point for anyone that has recently left the 'tolerant', progressive herd.

Heller's naration was top- notch. His pauses, and emphasis' were on cue.

Will certainly listen fully through again in the near future.

If you could give The Secret Knowledge a new subtitle, what would it be?

My journey from the dark-side of the 'tolerant'

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • Pittston, PA, United States
  • 09-30-11

A Consevative Milestone

First, Johnny Heller has to be my favorite Audible narrators... a great gravely voice and an engaging reading. So the book has that going for it right out of the gate. Mamet's writing is smooth and flows like a stream of consciousness in essay after essay. His sentences are constructed informally, or conversationally, yet always with erudition. You get the sense that this is writer who lives what he speaks. Thomas Sowell's prose is in the same category of delivering dense nuggets of wisdom while crafting a clever and quotable sentence. I would love to say this book holds something for everyone, but I don't know whether liberals will read this book. I would hope they do, this book presents truth and wisdom and life experience wrapped in expert prose, it is a joy to listen to. But I don't think liberals like to challenge their innate sense of moral superiority by opening up their philosophy and egos to criticism, no matter how savory. We conservatives are fortunate to be living in a time when great thinkers and wordsmiths are now fleshing out the philosophy of our movement, recapturing and retooling the old wisdom of our great culture, and to be able to hear all these ideas brought to life in well-crafted works both written and spoken. This book is a notable milestone on the road to rediscovery of our American identity, who we are and what we envision for our future and our children's future. I dare say it is the "Common Sense" of our generation. In this battle of visions for America's future they have Krugman, we have Sowell; they have Maddow, Olberman and Sharpton, and we have Prager, Bennett, and Medved. They have most of Hollywood and we now have Mamet.. I'll take those odds all day long.

11 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • tennismike
  • Silver Spring, MD United States
  • 09-17-11

David Mamet Exposes the Left for What It Is

Mamet's trademark writing style adds punch to this personal expose about how the Liberal Left's blind devotion to moral and cultural relativism has frayed the very fabric of this country by abandoning the fundamental Truths on which America was founded. The narrator does such an excellent job with Mamet's manuscript, that you'll think the author is there sharing these important life lessons. Every citizen, especially educators and politicians, should read this book; it offers major food for thought that transcends our present problems to pose important questions about the important role of morality in a free society.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Why he's not a liberal

I listened to David Mamet's screed (and that's mostly what this book is, a screed) with interest. While I have not gone fully over to the conservative side, like Mamet, I too am a former liberal who has left the leftist camp. So I was hoping to get some insight as to what caused Mamet, a big-name Hollywood director and playwright who used to be very much a fellow traveler in Hollywod, to abandon his leftism and join the Dark Side.

But he apparently doesn't have much insight to offer - he goes into no more depth than he did in his famous Village Voice column, 'Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'. He merely speaks of becoming gradually disillusioned, of seeing the world in a more "realistic" light, and mostly attributes it to being a director, who unlike actors and others Hollywood types, actually has to deal with working people and thus sees how the world really works. From all his kvetching about the media and the left's treatment of Israel, though, I suspect that was the single biggest factor. It's true that Israel tends to be a fault-line in leftist politics: all good liberals sympathize with the Palestinians and despise the Israelis except for, uh, liberal Jews. Methinks the tribalism here should be obvious, and an obvious counterpoint to Mamet's confident assertion that liberal politics is entirely driven by emotion while conservatives come to their positions by cold, hard reason, but one thing this book makes clear is that his shift did not make him any more objective than he was before.

I don't disagree with him about Israel and the Palestinians, mind - I just don't see how he can claim that his beliefs are nobler and truer just because he's seen the light and abandoned "brain-dead leftism."

Where I agree with Mamet is where he goes after the easy targets: dumb college students, dumber Hollywood celebrities, and smug hipster leftists in general. The derogatory term "SJW" (Social Justice Warrior) was not yet in vogue in 2011 when Mamet wrote this, but these are the people he's talking about, and the people who have driven me away from mainstream liberalism in disgust.

That said, his Secret Knowledge, as he admits himself, is not secret, but neither is it really knowledge. It's just a book-length assertion of conservative talking points as fact. Some of it is risible: global warming is obviously a hoax because liberals, and Obama is obviously a terrible president because liberals, and the government is obviously bad at everything because liberals, and so on and so on. He goes on extended rants about how FDR was the worst president ever and socialism is evil, and dips into the well for yet another salvo against Jane Fonda.

Sure, there are legitimate points here, but if you are trying to sell conservatism in the 21st century, can't you do better than ranting about Hanoi Jane?

One of Mamet's targets throughout the book is the government, and he repeatedly asserts that government agencies are terrible at everything, and government workers are lazy and unmotivated almost by definition, because they supposedly have no incentive to actually get anything done, let alone do it well. This is of course an article of faith among many conservatives, who see even the slightest touch of socialism (for example, believing in some social welfare) as indistinguishable from advocating hardcore Marxism, and who assume that all government workplaces are essentially Soviet-style bureaucracies as described by Kafka.

Now, I may be revealing my own tribalism here, but as a government employee myself, I'm just going to say that Mamet is flat-out wrong here. I am not really offended by his characterization of government workers, but it's as if the only government employees he's ever encountered were at the DMV or the IRS.

There is an entire field of study on workplace management and how to motivate people, but the bottom line is that it's simply not true that working for the government intrinsically robs you of motivation or work ethic. Most people want to do meaningful, useful, and interesting work. If allowed to do so, in conditions that are not too unpleasant, this has proven in many studies to be even more of a motivating factor than money. Yeah, there are people who will always go for the higher paycheck, but the average person is really only motivated by money up to a certain point. After basic needs and wants are met, all but the most ambitious or cut-throat workers just want to feel useful and not too bored.

This is definitely my experience in a fairly large and bureaucratic government agency. While we may make jokes about those employees who have "retired in place" - meaning they have essentially stopped doing any work and are just occupying a desk while waiting to retire - they are actually pretty rare. Most people want to work, and contra Mamet, they want to do their work well, and they want to improve things, and they want their projects and their organization to be successful. They do not want to just come to work every day and go through the motions while filling out a timesheet because they work for the government and thus can't be fired.

I don't think Mamet is being dishonest, I think he just reveals the limits of his own understanding and experience, while berating liberals for their own inability to comprehend conservatives because so few of them actually interact with conservatives.

So, in summary, The Secret Knowledge will probably fire up those who are already converts to the cause and regular readers of National Review. Its short chapters are just bullet points of conservative ideology. David Mamet is a far better writer than the likes of Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly. He makes his points with literary style rather than bombast and vitriol. (Well, there is some vitriol.) But it's pretty much the same message. So this book is unlikely to win over your liberal friends and make them question their beliefs.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • Hutchinson, MN, United States
  • 04-27-12

Very Insightfull

Mr. Mamets book takes you inside the mind of a Democrat and gives some valuable insight on what they believe and why. Definately worth the time

5 of 8 people found this review helpful