Looking over some of the early left-wing blog commentary on Jonah’s book (which I just read last week), I’m left with one response: they should really read the book. Its cover and title unfortunately make it too easy to render a dismissive judgment without cracking the thing open. But more than any book I’ve seen in a very long time, this one should not be judged by its cover. It is an extraordinarily ambitious intellectual history: serious, accessible, challenging, forceful, and finally I think basically successful. I don’t agree with everything it has to say (I think, in particular, Jonah gives short shrift to the other side of the left, the scientific rationalist side whose strengths and weaknesses have had a lot to do with the story he tells, and that he therefore goes too far in claiming much of enlightenment liberalism for the right), but for the most part it’s thoroughly and responsibly argued and very hard to dispute. It offers an example of revisionism in the best sense, and on a subject badly in need of it.
The case it makes is also much more modest than most of its critics (at least those who haven’t read it) seem to expect or imagine. Here, again, the title and the cover may not help, but people should really be mature enough to look between the covers before going berserk. (I know, I know…)
That doesn’t mean Jonah’s critics on the left will love the book; just that they should read it. I bet they’ll find it worth their while, and worth arguing with.