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The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture

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"My interest in politics began when I noticed that I acted differently than I spoke, that I had seen 'the government' commit sixty years of fairly unrelieved and catastrophic error nationally and internationally, that I not only hated every wasted hard-earned cent I spent in taxes, but the trauma and misery they produced..."

For the past thirty 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. A sample:

The problems facing us, faced by all mankind engaged in Democracy, may seem complex, or indeed insolvable, and we, in despair, may revert to a state of wish fulfillment-a state of "belief" in the power of the various experts presenting themselves as a cure for our indecision. But this is a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Here, the captives, unable to bear the anxiety occasioned by their powerlessness, suppress it by identifying with their captors.

This is the essence of Leftist thought. It is a devolution from reason to "belief," in an effort to stave off a feeling of powerlessness. And if government is Good, it is a logical elaboration that more government power is Better. But the opposite is apparent both to anyone who has ever had to deal with Government and, I think, to any dispassionate observer.

It is in sympathy with the first and in the hope of enlarging the second group that I have written this book.

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.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published June 1, 2011

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About the author

David Mamet

200 books658 followers
David Alan Mamet is an American author, essayist, playwright, screenwriter and film director. His works are known for their clever, terse, sometimes vulgar dialogue and arcane stylized phrasing, as well as for his exploration of masculinity.

As a playwright, he received Tony nominations for Glengarry Glen Ross (1984) and Speed-the-Plow (1988). As a screenwriter, he received Oscar nominations for The Verdict (1982) and Wag the Dog (1997).

Mamet's recent books include The Old Religion (1997), a novel about the lynching of Leo Frank; Five Cities of Refuge: Weekly Reflections on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy (2004), a Torah commentary, with Rabbi Lawrence Kushner; The Wicked Son (2006), a study of Jewish self-hatred and antisemitism; and Bambi vs. Godzilla, an acerbic commentary on the movie business.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 190 reviews
Profile Image for Kenny.
Author 27 books51 followers
October 21, 2014
I had my "Come to Jesus" conservative epiphany thirty five years ago after returning home from living for two years in the Third World, where I saw up close and personal the true face of totalitarianism, barbarism, and statism. When I returned to my hometown, I wanted to kiss the tarmac, I was so grateful to be back in the land of freedom where the only limitation was my imagination.

So I recognize a real conversion story when I see it.

David Mamet, until recently the smartest, most talented, and wisest artist of his generation (read: liberal), has had his epiphany, and now he shares the genesis of it with us, which is, in its simplest form, as follows: one cannot live a life based on cognitive dissonance; one's actions must comport with one's ideals or one is at best a hypocrite and at worst a venal liar.

But now the Left will contort itself into making Mamet into a moron, a dupe, and a selfish rich guy who, now that he's got his, wants to pull up the ladder. Of course, this is NOT what conservatives want; we want the ladder in place (there is plenty of room in our treehouse; it's not a zero-sum game, this life), we just want the ladder to actually LEAD somewhere.

In short, the epiphany both Mamet and I had was this: Why do I strive to live within my means, balancing my own checkbook, but I do not require nor demand that my government do the same? What is the difference? There is none, unless you believe the government is all-knowing and made up of entirely unselfish people, which means you also believe in the Loch Ness monster, magic, and pixie dust.

Mamet's comma-ridden writing style is the only reason I did not give this book five stars. His style is the full-blown parenthetical, which, though it indeed gives us great insight into his thinking process, is hard to grasp in its rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness riffing. He could have used an editor, but who would have dared challenge the author of "The Verdict," "The Untouchables, "Speed the Plow," "The Edge," and "Glengarry Glen Ross"?

But you will not need an editor or a translator to understand that Mamet, whose fascinating dissection of the liberal mindset herein, is on to something. In a radio interview he was asked why it took him, a smart guy, so long to realize his mistake?

"I was stupid," he said frankly.

Typical Mamet: forceful, plain, and painfully honest.

We've all been stupid in our lives, but insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And David Mamet is NOT insane.
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,144 reviews1,849 followers
June 11, 2020
I have read a few of the other reviews of this book and in some cases I've got to ask, did you read the same book I did?

David Mamet was a card carrying member of the political left. His works, plays, movies, (including but not limited to, Wag the Dog, Glengarry Glen Ross, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, The Duck Variations, House of Games) and books were discussed and lauded by everyone "who counts". He was respected and welcomed among the elite of the political left and the media. He has recently re-thought his positions.

I can understand that many people will be unhappy about this and disagree with his decisions... However those who say things like "they were hoping for an explanation" or that they were "hoping he'd offer a thoughtful critique" but found only "the same old tea party positions" etc., them I don't understand. For this book does give the thought process Mr. Mamet went through. He does give his reasoning and reasons.

Mamet here explains how he came to the conclusion that he wasn't living the same ideas (or ideals) he claimed to believe. He thoughtfully looks at what he believed, why he believed it and how he came to change his ideas. For example, he goes into "group think", it's implications and pervasiveness. The book is written in lucid language with an interesting and detailed account of his own thoughts and experience(s) including how he looked at them, before and after.

If I try to cover what this book covers, how and why Mr. Mamet has come to believe what he does, I will not do it justice. And lest I mislead, I don't always agree with Mr. Mamet nor do I approach many of the ideas or subjects here the way he does.(For example if you've read many of my reviews you know that I'm a Christian, Mr. Mamet[born Jewish] seems to approach all this from an agnostic or possibly atheist position.) I do find that he's honest and while it can be (is) easier to say good things about people you (mostly) agree with, in this case I am truly impressed. Mr. Mamet takes many of the left wing positions he (and others) held (hold) dear, as unquestioned truths (part of the problem) and eviscerates them.

I would say, ask yourself if you can be open minded and then decide if you want to read this. There was a time in my life when I turned around almost ninety degrees from much I had believed. It took maybe two or three years (or more) to "settle in" and one of the things I had to do was stop and think, actually think about what I believed.

And I think we all find that hard to do concerning things with which we disagree. We're all human.

So, I like this book, and think I will purchase it for my own library as I will want later to reread bits of it and I'll want to be able to pass it on.

You may disagree with this volume, but if you read it (I mean actually read it, not start it and decide you disagree in the first chapter of course) I don't see how you can come away with the idea that it's "just another conservative book". The book is lucid, coherent and eloquent, but it's not William F. Buckley (and I'm a Buckley fan) or Michelle Malkin or Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter or any other conservative, it's David Mamet. There are some humorous statements here, a few snide jabs in places BUT it's Mamet, not anyone else nor is it in anyway shallow. Anyone who says it is OR that it's "just another" conservative or "Tea Party" book/read is either wrong and didn't get/understand it. OR their mind is just set. OR possibly they just didn't read it...
Profile Image for Daniel Cunningham.
229 reviews26 followers
January 25, 2014
First off, reading this book is like reading someone's private journal; the thoughts are broken up, there are incongruous jumps between what are laid out as sections of the same chapter; ideas are just thrown out with minimal or no argument or development. Not what one is looking for in an argumentative or persuasive book. On the other hand, if you want to get a peek inside Mamet's head, this is for you.

Okay, now on to the review of the content.

He comes right out and identifies himself in the first three pages: a Liberal who, in late mid-life, discovered that life is made of trade-offs and therefore became a conservative. Immediately, for me, the alarms are going off: here is a guy who claims that only in his 50's or 60's did it occurred to him that, “surprise!” life is made of trade-offs and we can't have everything; by extension, we're left to believe that as a “Liberal” he must have believed was that there were no trade-offs and we could indeed have everything.

Next follow a slew of “musings with titles” that we are to take, apparently, as chapters or essays. He fills this with many curious assertions that will sound familiar if you've listened to Fox or Limbaugh.
1. “Liberals hate capitalism.” Full stop.
2. A running screed, spread across a few of his titled musings, that can be summed up as, “Young Liberals suck. Liberal Arts degrees suck. FILM SCHOOLS SUCK.” (He really, really, really does not like film schools.)
3. In particular, “Young Liberals” (he capitalizes that repeatedly) have been, and are now, ruining our country because they hate (economic) freedom, America (-ness..?), and Israel. He softens this here and there by downgrading, “hate freedom,” to something along the lines of, “liberals want the same things conservatives want, but are just hopelessly confused about how to get them.”

Who precisely are these people he hates/pities/dismisses? Apparently they are uneducated and lazy, naïve and clueless, busy doing their yoga, getting their houses feng shui'd, and standing around watching their immigrant gardeners sweat under the Sun while moaning about how it is so unfair they don't get paid more, while faithfully recycling their cans and bottles in a desperate attempt to fill the void left by their rejection of responsibility/authority/God. This is not hyperbole (on my part). Mamet actually writes this.

Do these people even exist? What “Young” person owns a house, complete with gardeners and interior decorators, while going to school and being unemployed and, presumable, otherwise living a life of dissipation? Perhaps in David Mamet's world, this is a reality; but in that case he is not impugning liberalism or Liberalism, but some Mamet construction that simply shares the name Liberalism. Perhaps in the circles he runs in, this is happening (*cough* *cough* looking at the Mamet kids and their friends.) But not anywhere I've been.

In any case, these 20 and 30-somethings have been exerting their terrible power by... actually, that is also not clear. They way he describes them they would seem to unable to even feed themselves. But, as it would seem he has particularly singled out people that have become adults only in the last decade or, at the most two decades, one must assume they not only overcame their obvious disabilities, but also have access to a time machine... or that these people formed a cabal while still in diapers... or something. It's almost like Mamet is blaming today's “Young Liberals” as a way of not blaming... I dunno, just to make up some random numbers, people who at this point, roughly 50, 60, 70?

Moving on a bit, we also find out that liberals are all God hating, but Nature loving because Nature is the new God; as is, confusingly, Government, Equality, and -yet more confusingly- Liberalism itself. Unless Liberalism is just a new religion. I forget. At times his paragraphs are koan-like... or simply nonsense.

Next, we move on to finding out that Mamet hates bureaucracies. A lot. (When Mamet doesn't like something, he really goes all in.) Government, management, labor (presumably organized labor?), safety inspectors, and I'm sure more that I am forgetting; in any case, all of them are leeches, all only existing to perpetuate their own existence. I'm not sure who, in broad strokes, this leaves, but apparently engineers (but only good ones), writers (of course) and set designers are okay. Again, I'm not making this up, that's his list. Also, students who are NOT LIBERAL ARTS MAJORS maybe get a pass.

I suspect he really means to give a pass to some “Rand-ian” class of creators. And he really does seem to mean this in a Randian way; the innovator, the creator, the unfettered striver is the pinnacle of human development, etc.. Of course, he several times tells us that, yes, we need government for roads, police, military, and a handful of other activities; presumably these people would not belong to any bureaucracy, and the above mentioned strivers would not either.

In other words, we will all exist as small, autonomous teams and individuals. Roads, military, police and a few other functions are still to be provided by the (nonexistent) (non-bureaucratic) government (run on, as we later find out many pages later, a 0% tax rate: since lower taxes raise earnings, and higher earnings raise tax revenues, having no taxes at all will generate the most tax rev... wait... hrmm. Oh, wait, nevermind. My 3rd grade arithmetic was bothering me, but I'm all better now.) Unfettered growth and prosperity will be provided by entrepreneurs; in teams of 4 or less, of course, since management and labor are THE HATED BUREAUCRACY.

And of course, it goes without saying, no one will have heard of David Mamet because *?*$+{@&*! LIBERAL ART MAJORS.

Sigh. I wish I was making this up (well, the last bit I did.)

To recapitulate, since I'm letting loose with a bit of stream-of-consciousness myself:
1. Mamet only just now discovered that life is trade-offs and this SHOCK! has shown him the error of his “liberal” ways.
2. Needless to say, having defined Liberalism to be the kind of doe-eyed naivete that would embarrass a Care Bear, Mamet finds tearing it apart is fairly easy.
3. Then, foisting this belief onto others, Mamet invents from whole cloth an entire generation whiling away their time in film school making art pornos, with barely enough time left to split between complaining to their interior decorators, eating ice-cream, and spitting on the grave of Jefferson while writing checks to Hezbollah (presumably from their trust funds.)
4. One wonders, given this, why anyone under the age of 45 is complaining at all, what with the feng shui and peeled grapes and all: David Mamet doesn't deign to address this.
5. Clearly, David Mamet needs to get out more.

Mamet is really angry at the 1960's and 70's, the excesses and absurdities of some strains of Liberalism of these decades. Mamet is angry at the Roosevelts and Taft (and maybe Freud.) And he is angry at film school, and, at this point is so angry he is making the Hulk jealous. David Mamet wants the kids to get off the goddamned lawn.

That said, I am a bit sad: he does broach, in moments of clarity, some issues that deserve to be discussed. Some larger issues like, “What exactly is meant by Equality? How much is enough? How do we know when we've gotten there, and what do we measure in order to know that we've gotten there?” These, and questions like these, are real, difficult, and worthy of serious consideration; and I don't think they are often approached by people of a more leftist leaning; there is a presumption that “equality” is worth whatever it takes, whatever that might mean, and whatever exactly equality means. I think that is a fair point.

But those questions are all buried in a angry prose of a guy who -again- only just now figured out that life is made of trade-offs. This is from a guy who lauds plumbers and farmers, but who apparently doesn't get out enough to realize that there might be more to Liberals than his daughter's “heiress” classmates and his friends' “doyen” dinner circles, and that there might be more to the “Liberal Young” than evidenced by the 40 or going-on-50 year old snapshot he has in his head.

This from guy who hates social studies because it is indoctrination, which the schools should not be doing, because culture can only be learned in the family, because only in the family can we learn morals, moral reasoning, and the application of justice... which you have no right to apply in law because games would suck without rules, which is why if you cheat in business maybe you can get a pass, but you should be ostracize anyone who would cheat in a game of poker. Oh, and despite all those platitudes, families are really truly valuable because of their economic impact. Which is why you can't have gay marriage. (Is your head spinning yet?)

The amount of illogic deployed in this book is, literally, dizzying.

Ignoring all that, the book, for me can be paraphrased, emotionally at least, in one passage: Mamet is enjoying a visit to an art gallery and is Disgusted! Angered! Revolted! to see a lady not throw out her paper plate, but instead fold it up and put it in her purse, presumably to reuse. Obviously, he concludes, she is a Liberal desperately placating her untenable nihilism. (Again, that is not sarcasm on my part; this is paraphrasing what Mamet writes.)

Think about this. Run through this yourself. Really ponder what kind of person (a) even notices someone else doing something like this, (b) has any kind of emotional reaction whatsoever to it, much less a reaction of being disgusted and angered, (c) concludes that this is yet more proof of the vast conspiracy against righteousness, and (d) writes about it in a book and publishes it.

That's who wrote this book, and that's what, God help me, I just spent a part of my life reading.
110 reviews3 followers
September 29, 2011
Not really worth reading, but I did read it for a book group. The secret knowledge he wants to impart is that there is no secret knowledge (so why write the book?) David Mamet wants to tell us why he has become a conservative, and in so doing he distances himself from his earlier plays--very strange since they were successful. He is extremely pro-Israel and anti-Obama. He can't seem to understand after two unfunded wars, a war in Iraq precipitated by a yellow-cake/weapons-of-mass-destruction lie, and a financial collapse why Americans voted for a non-Republican. I guess he thinks things were going very well in 2008. To me the weirdest thing is that he totally disrespects the liberal arts (and he a writer) and elite colleges. As a former English teacher, I thought teaching my students how to read very carefully, how to reason, how to write down their logical arguments and then how to voice them in public were actions important to our nation. I am also very tired of people who are unwilling to pay taxes (keeping in mind that the media should do all it can to prevent waste of federal funds). Mamet is one of the complainers who think that everyone should pay federal taxes. This is a downer of a book.
Profile Image for Bill Krieger.
555 reviews27 followers
June 29, 2011
"And we have become a nation of noodges."
- David Mamet, "The Secret Knowledge"

Lordy, my vocabulary sucks:
+ casuistry: The use of clever but unsound reasoning, esp. in relation to moral questions; sophistry
+ noodge: A pest of whiner
+ risible: Such as to provoke laughter
+ depredation: An act of attacking or plundering
+ effluvia: An unpleasant or harmful odor, secretion, or discharge
+ agitprop: Political (originally communist) propaganda, esp. in art or literature
+ inchoate: Just begun and so not fully formed or developed; rudimentary
+ doyenne: A woman who is the most respected or prominent person in a particular field
+ condign: (of punishment or retribution) Appropriate to the crime or wrongdoing; fitting and deserved
+ Jacobin: An extreme political radical
+ proprioceptive: Relating to stimuli that are produced and perceived within an organism, esp. those connected with the position and movement of the body
+ phrenologist: someone who claims to be able to read your character from the shape of your skull
+ cavil: Make petty or unnecessary objections
+ ineradicable: Unable to be destroyed or removed
+ incommoded: Inconvenience (someone)
+ jejune: Naive, simplistic, and superficial
+ aperçu: A comment or brief reference that makes an illuminating or entertaining point

David Mamet is one of my all-time fave screenwriters (imdb). Mamet was a hardcore NYNY Jewish leftie who has been transformed, upon reflection and experience, into a rightie. He transformation began by yelling at the whiny, monotone, droning NPR voice on his radio to "Shut the fuck up!"

I wish Mamet had more personal stories in there. His philosophy is wonderful and well considered, but the book shines brightest when he presents a philosophy through his personal anecdotes, like his interactions with college students.

I haven't bought many rightie books. It's seems kind of, um, jejune (he he!) to read a book that you know will support your opinion. It's like lefties watching MSNBC as if it were a news broadcast or something. So, please consider my Mamet read a guilty pleasure, as I do.

It was actually uncomfortable to hear a true salesman, a true performer, pitching the politics that I believe in. David Mamet provides the one-two punch: 1) he is extremely passionate about his (rightie) beliefs, and 2) he is such a creative genius that he is able to deliver his passion full on, with no pause, no herky-jerky awkwardness. I am used being represented by a stuttering W or big ole Chris Christie sweating at the microphone; Mamet's polish is unsettling.

The content of Mamet's book is rightie doctrine. I won't summarize. It's outstanding from start to finish. His writing is the very definition of compelling and elegant. What is Mamet's "secret knowledge" of the title? There are no "beneficent experts", so beloved by lefties, to run our government, our economy, our health care, our environment, etc. In Mamet's dictionary, President Obama's likeness is side-by-side with the definition of "beneficent experts". I agree with Mamet on beneficent experts, though I prefer a more colloquial approach: There is no Daddy!

This book is very strident, but I empathize with Mamet in his presentation. His experience with lefties has been different from mine (and probably yours). He was so immersed in leftie culture and has felt its full brunt upon even questioning his leftie comrades (he he). He has been branded racist, misogynist, Zionist and more. The left does not suffer being questioned, especially by one of its own.

Oddly, I connected with this simple quote.

"Culture will beat organization every time."
- shop floor sign at Chrysler Motors from "The Secret Knowledge"

Why is America the greatest of nations? Our culture. Our way. Mamet makes this point over and over again. Our uniquely American culture of freedom and opportunity and rugged individualism is the key. Yet this American culture is currently being tested and perverted by the left and it's an attack, can you believe it, is led by a part-time college professor who's never had a 9-to-5 job or made a payroll in his life. Sounds like a David Mamet script or something.
yow, bill
Profile Image for David Wagstaff.
12 reviews4 followers
January 29, 2013
David Mamet, a seminal force in contemporary theater and film, has broken step with the liberal lock stepping entertainment world and proclaimed himself a conservative in a polemic as intricate and brutal as anything he's ever written and yet, you get the feeling, as the book unfolds, that you are talking to a most intelligent whiskey warrior in a bar full of pipe smoke overlooking a bay where sailing ships from another century sail to lands far away loaded with pork bellies and axes.

No matter what your political philosophy this is a good read. But if you are the sensitive type whose panties get all in a knot when all you deem unfair is viewed as not entirely preventable with some new government intervention, you'd best not step into this particular smokey room. Because in spite of a few bizarre assumption about who comprises the working class and some astounding over-simplifications, Mamet will most likely kick your pale boot licking ass.

Personally, I have equal contempt for the Red and the Blue in their current uncompromising forms: each side blaming the other and neither with any real ideas about how brake the nation's current skid into financial and cultural disaster. We are headed for a civil war. But during those upcoming war years the right will
have not only their deep rooted belief that somehow God likes them better, but an intelligent theatrical force in David Mamet. The left, however, will continue have better bumper stickers, I'm sure.
Profile Image for John Harder.
228 reviews12 followers
June 20, 2012
David Mamet, child of the ‘60’s and playwright (American Buffalo, About Last Night) came to a realization late in his life; he lived like a right winger, while asserting that he was a liberal. This is typical. One must live like a conservative to survive; practical realties, trade and common values are the lifeblood of a prosperous and free society. If one does not accept reality -- everything is subjective, there is no right or wrong and living in a meritocracy is oppressive -- you are bound for failure. Fortunately most liberals do not practice what they preach.

Mamet stresses that contrary to our current educational system, young adults must learn that in order to make a living they must provide value. Personal fulfillment is fine if you can find it, but no one owes you fulfillment along with a check to subsidize you and your study of pre-Columbian art.

Of course this book is well written, after all it is Mamet – but he also presents a clear argument. I recommend this book.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books348 followers
July 4, 2016
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 mostly speaks of becoming gradually disillusioned, of seeing the world in a more "realistic" light, and 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.

Given 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 liberal Jews. Methinks the tribalism here should be evident, 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, and the way so many liberals blame the Israelis for everything while giving the Palestinians, and Arabs in general, a pass for even more despicable behavior - but I 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."

Most of the places 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 collection of conservative talking points asserted 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 axiomatically, 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 conservatives, who see even the slightest touch of socialism (for example, any form of social welfare or workers rights) as indistinguishable from 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, 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 in the DMV line.

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 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 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.
Profile Image for John Parker.
91 reviews
August 17, 2011
I was so disappointed with this book. Not sure where to start, except that it was annoying book and said nothing. Secret Knowledge (and I mean this, I'm not kidding, I promise), had more parenthetical phrases (and I mean literally parenthetical, not figurative, being that the phrases represented rabbit chasing trains of thought and were offset by parenthesis) than any other book (and I'm not exaggerating here) I've ever (as it were) read. And that wasn't annoying enough--it also made frequent use of * footnotes. The book read as though Mamet dictated it into a tape machine and the typist cranked it out the way he spoke it.

Beyond that annoyance, the book made broad, blanket generalizations about everything from liberal arts colleges to the way people stand in elevators, without any specifics to back up his statements. He simply said them and expected others to accept them.

Not at all a thought provoking or helpful book.

A classic case of "If this guy wasn't already famous, there's no way that book would have been published."

Profile Image for Anna.
916 reviews36 followers
July 24, 2018

"I have written a political book not because I am expert but because I am a citizen. I have published a political book because other citizens wrote a Constitution denying to our Government the power to control Speech.
I am the beneficiary of those who lived and died to defend our Constitution. I need no permission to publish my work -- only the endorsement of another citizen or group who believe they may, financially or otherwise, profit from its publication."
--David Mamet, The Secret Knowledge

I have had this book on my reading list since its publication in 2011. I was determined to read it following a local radio interview in which Mr Mamet was asked what had prompted him to write such a book AND if his friends were still speaking to him. What followed was one of the most personal and introspective conversations/monologues in which he acknowledged that after many conversations with his Rabbi and examinations of conscience, he (Mamet) needed to align his beliefs/values with his actions.

I had the luxury of listening to an audio version as I was reading along. I was in the same state of awe and admiration that I used to have as a teenager watching William F Buckley on Firing Line as he was interviewing (schooling) his latest guest. In short, David Mamet has created the most eloquent and tangible explanation of Constitutional Conservatism - American Democracy and Exceptionalism - Capitalism -- Baby Boomers. And personalized it! So many ideas. So many great lines.

You can agree or disagree, but you must acknowledge the calibre of writing and expression.

"My son asked me to explain the difference between a Conservative and a Liberal. I went on at some length. He thought for a while and said, 'Then, basically, it's the difference between the Heavenly Dream and the God-Awful Reality' -- a succinct and accurate compression of those views which I have, at somewhat greater and, I hope, excusable length, endeavored to express here.
--David Mamet, The Secret Knowledge
Profile Image for Josh King.
3 reviews140 followers
February 20, 2023
not this mediocre white man thinking the world needs his overwrought, poorly written screed of a political treatise. recently read his “three uses of the knife” and was annoyed by his insistence that plays, and art generally, should not be used to advance or win support to some political cause - that they should merely entertain. such postmodernist bullshit. and i am infuriated by his ignorance on the issues he purports to be grappling with. only in later middle age did he realize that liberal media is hypocritical, shallow, and biased? no shit! that doesn’t mean the natural progression is to embrace conservatism. he completely ignores the huge gulf of actual leftist thought and analysis, conflating corporate liberals with the entire left in a way that is so reductive and silly. absolute pretentious, shallow, obnoxious drivel.
Profile Image for Bob.
19 reviews10 followers
May 2, 2014
I read this because a friend of mine recommended it. I borrowed it from the library. He is an interesting read. His plays are probably better.

I am trying to understand the other side or other people's "conservative" opinions, especially my friend's. There is a wide range of opinions on many issues but the liberal vs conservative distinction Mamet seems comfortable promoting. This book about the fact there is no "secret knowledge" is perhaps better titled something else like "What is wrong with the Liberals". His letter to the Village Voice in 2008 titled "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal' "(http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-03-1...) is similar and it is as though this book is his testament to the fact that now he is a proud conservative.

Some of the opinions I appreciate. I agree that it is wrong to be a "brain-dead" liberal. I think there are many "brain-alive" liberals.

I think a good gauge for comprehending the differences between the liberal and conservative sentiments or propensity for judgements is the work being done on http://www.yourmorals.org/aboutus.php by John Haidt (See his book "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion"). So having read that book, I was trying to understand Mamet's expressions and concerns. I think I get most of it.

1) Israel - He is angry that Israel's reputation has been hurt by people expressing concern for the Palestinians who it seems by reports and policies unfairly treated by Israeli's. I get that. It is a messy situation full of revengeful hatred and easily builds walls.

2) He is upset by "free-loaders". People who take advantage of some programs' loopholes or the fact that there is not enough responsible action required.

3) He has bought into the Liberation themes that he hears on the AM radio in the LA area. And I think it may have resonated with his own anti-Vietnam/ anti-government sentiments. He did not want to fight for his country during the Vietnam war (then) and is now still fighting government ideas on behalf of personal freedoms - kind of a libertarian theme.

So I think he is ready to throw out the notion that government has a role in promoting common concerns and infrastructure or at least willing to greatly reduce what is considered to be government common concern claiming it is inefficient.

On Global Warming - The fact that he chooses to trust a minority of scientists that claim man made CO2 is not contributing to global warming is an interesting contrast. I think he has a valid point to raise questions of trust in authority whether they be political or from science. At least he does not dismiss the 150 years of evolutionary science. But I think the fact that he is willing to jump to an opinion about matters of science (as do many who are invested in big oil profits) reveals a kind of "brain deadness" in itself. I think an intelligent review of the effectiveness of climate models is well represented in this Ted Talk - Google "Ted Talks: the_emergent_patterns_of_climate_change" ).

Don't get me wrong.. I think he is a very bright man with an art for writing else he would not have received a Pulitzer prize for one of his plays. He raises the bar and challenges Liberals to be sure we think and not just trust big government. But I think he may unknowingly (or knowingly) be catering to what sells. Fox News and AM radio has made the "conservative opinion" a kind of vocal majority. And many people have had their conservative reactions since 9/11 (John Haidt did too).

So, if you read it, be aware that the purpose of this book is to attack Liberals and blame government and to allow him to voice some deep seeded anger about real events instead of just writing about the complexity of ethical issues in his plays. If you need confirmation of your own disgust with things political, then you will enjoy having him echo your concerns. But I don't think you will learn much new. If you want to stretch yourself, try reading a book founded in disciplined study and not just opinion.

I did not buy it and will not.

I would rank it 2.5...but a 3 would give it too much positive regard for its content. His writing is good, but his ideas provoking and the overall tone is pompous.
Profile Image for John Devlin.
Author 22 books79 followers
July 19, 2022
There’s nothing wrong with Mamet’s insights.

Pointing out how culture is a passport to allowing others to recognize the like minded and how the more the intellect the person has leads them into the confused world of abstraction is good stuff.

It’s just that the rest is obvious…if you are a conservative.

Mamet wasn’t a conservative for the largest part of his life and I would like to have seen those moments where he had an epiphany depicted, but I always think it’s a bit unfair to criticize a book for what it’s not.
50 reviews
March 9, 2013
A bit wordy at times, but overall quite good. Here is one particularly insightful part:

(p117) “To wish to abrogate a legal contract between employer and employee because a nonparticipant feels someone got too much money is greed. It is not greed for money, but covetousness born of envy - the desire for that which legally belongs to another. That those in favor of this may not want the actual money for their own use is beside the point - they want the enjoyment of the power to strip the money from another. They may not use the confiscated funds to buy a car or a meal, but the billionaire who earns another million dollars cannot spend it either - he, like the offended Liberal, is enjoying the warm glow of its possession. A rampant and untrammeled glee, an unchecked ambition for gain is, in the individual, called miserliness; in the society which strips him of it, it is called Socialism.”

And here is something noteworthy for its timeliness, if nothing else:

(p207) "The Obama administration (on April 6, 2010) announced a new directive regarding our Nuclear Arms - that they will never be employed against a Non Nuclear Power." Contrast that with how hard it was for Obama/Holder to agree that they have no authority to use drones to kill American non-combatants in the US (March 2013).
Link that has a reference to this: http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/0...
82 reviews7 followers
July 14, 2011
Mamet has done what many of us have gradually done of late: awakened to the delusional and destructive nature of leftist constructs. Perhaps this is happening more lately because today there aren't just nice liberals anymore, but full-fledged leftists in the forefront.

Mamet uses a great deal of personal reflection to make his arguments, making his book not just some political formulation, but one of personal insights and reflections. He recognizes how easy it had been not to think, but to just go along with the crowd in what had always just seemed right. Upon recognizing at one point how he was perhaps parroting things he didn't agree with, he started thinking, reading, reflecting.

Mamet is articulate and impassioned. He read widely as he began questioning, and that is reflected in his arguments. He also doesn't refrain from citing literature or friends which provided insights for him. His bibliography at the end of the book isn't one of books of shallow political screed, but of books which require attention and intellect to explore, as one would expect from someone of his intelligence.

He also reflects on his new viewpoint through the lens of his Jewishness and of Jewish traditional teachings. This was refreshing. Clearly Mamet didn't just adopt a new set of intellectual arguments, but integrated his changes all the way through.

A readable and enjoyable book, one which needed an extra comma here and there for clarity, but articulately sparkled with wit, warmth and insight.
Profile Image for Bob Zeidman.
Author 15 books8 followers
October 28, 2012
Really great. An eloquent series of rambling essays on the foolishness of liberal philosophy by a "reformed liberal." David Mamet has found a way to be articulate, profound, and funny while espousing deep concerns about our country and Western Civilization. The book is very well researched and very well annotated. I had the privilege of having dinner with David a few weeks ago and the pleasure of discussing these concepts with someone I admired long before I knew he was a conservative thinker (and long before he knew it). Now that I've finished it I hope I get another chance to discuss its contents with him (and to get his feedback on my book too).
Profile Image for Carmen.
332 reviews25 followers
July 6, 2011
A good conversion story always holds a strong appeal, from the transformation of Saul to St. Paul, to the lines of humility and beauty in a song like Amazing Grace. David Mamet, the famed Hollywood screenwriter and power player, here outlines how his political philosophy slowly morphed from a died in the wool "brain-dead liberal," as he termed it in The Village Voice(!), to a modern day, big government-hating conservative. Even if some West coast types undergo this sort of sea change from left to right, it is still quite surprising to see such a heavy hitter in the entertainment business come out and so publicly renounce his previously held political beliefs - beliefs which are largely considered to be the status quo among his contemporaries and employers, and so deeply entrenched within that community, that to go against them can almost be considered tantamount to career suicide.

Mamet doesn't hold back, which is both refreshing and surprising, considering political correctness basically sprang out of the culture from which he came. Here's a snippet: "Liberalism is a religion. Its tenets cannot be proved, its capacity for waste and destruction demonstrated. But it affords a feeling of spiritual rectitude at little or no cost. Central to this religion is the assertion that evil does not exist, all conflict being attributed to a lack of understanding between the opposed" or "Socialist Europe is held up as a model of 'just behavior' but the Left forgets that for 75 years America defended Europe from the Communist threat, and bore the cost, which would have bankrupted Europe, and which, in the event, bankrupted Communism...now the Left has elected a President who thinks it good to go to Europe and apologize for our 'arrogance,' who proclaims the benefits of appeasement both at home and around the world." Mince words, he does not. He also boils down the gulf between the two sides as lying in a belief in the Tragic View of life, which I agree with, while the entire work is most definitely informed by his deep loyalty to his Jewish roots. The book is infused with the exuberance and exhilaration of a new convert, and if you don't agree with his new political outlook, you may just enjoy the deft and dramatic construction of his argument, while delighting in creating an equally adept and formative counterargument.
Profile Image for Henry Barry.
Author 1 book15 followers
January 9, 2015
I don't do 5 star ratings often, but did for this book because it changed the way I think about society, culture, and the government dramatically.

Mamet, a former liberal turned conservative, basically uses the book to write out his worldview, which, he admits, is his right as an American. His words resonated very strongly with me and helped me understand both the liberal and conservative world views and how politicians exploit these expectations. It made me question things that people say, and become very aware of many of the government's abuses and people's misconceptions about how society works and how it should work. I won't go into more detail because this isn't meant to be a restatement of my or Mamet's political beliefs.

The book was both difficult to read and refreshing because of Mamet's style. It is clear that he isn't mainly a nonfiction writer, because he often doesn't bother citing some of his claims, or even fully explaining them. Because of this, he covers a lot of ground in little time and doesn't waste words, but sometimes leaves readers scratching their heads as to what exactly he means and why. However, for me, this was more than compensated by the level of insight the book gave me.
Profile Image for Marina Fontaine.
Author 7 books47 followers
January 19, 2012
I was reluctant with this one because I thought from the title that it would be really depressing. It is, in a way, but Mamet's dry humor and insight into human nature make it very enjoyable. It is a true Intellectual work, in the best sense of the world, weaving history, the Bible, literature and psychology together to show what makes people believe certain things and how that translates into political reality. I have truly learned a lot and I highly recommend it. The audiobook is very well done, great choice of the reader. I completely forgot it wasn't Mamet himself talking- it sounded very natural.

By the way, I read the play November that apparently caused Mamet to "come out" as a conservative (it's mentioned at the beginning of this book). It is also very good. I have reviewed it separately if anyone is interested.
Profile Image for Rick.
159 reviews1 follower
October 13, 2011
Had been anxiously awaiting this one. I've loved David Mamet's work for many years. Movies like Glen Garry Glen Ross, The Spanish Prisoner, The Verdict, The Untouchables.....so many more. The guy is one of the most gifted and successful writer-directors in the business. Over the past few years he has also undergone a very radical change in his politics---from Liberal to Very Conservative. I mean REALLY, REALLY Conservative. I'm a pretty staunch conservative my self and he seems to be to the right of me on some things. this book is a very well-written explanation of his views on many of the issues of the day. Written by a professional writer who very much knows how best to tell his story. I can't argue with a thing in the book. No longer a self-described "brain dead liberal", he writes with all the passion of the recently converted. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Brian.
317 reviews
May 31, 2016
I expected this one to be excellent and while it's message is one that have conservatives like me vigorously nodding their heads in agreement there is a lumpy thickness to Mamet's writing that I find irritating. I feel the same about the dialog of his movies but I suppose I was expecting it to be absent in a political tract. My other main complaint is how stream-of-consciousness the chapters are, where they are split off into 3 and 4 sections in just 5 pages, leaving the reader to do the heavy lifting of finding the thread that coheres the information.
Profile Image for Seth.
111 reviews
November 10, 2017
It took me forever to get through this book. For about a year it collected dust in storage. However, since it is a collection of essays that can be read independently it was possible to pick it up again and FINALLY finish it. This augurs well for my Goodreads goal of reading 15 books this year without taking credit for “The Cat in the Hat.”

So what did I think of it? “The Secret Knowledge” is David Mamet’s attempt to write a political book that expands upon his essay in the Village Voice: “Why I Am No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead Liberal.’” Essentially, Mamet tired of his own knee-jerk liberalism, which he discovered was a form of conditioned group think. Since everyone he knew held a certain set of beliefs, so did he. But he determined that he knew no one who actually applied liberal beliefs in their own lives. Although everyone passionately advocated for liberal policies for society as a whole in theory, they responded to the normal pecuniary economic incentives for themselves and attempted to maximize their own well-being in practice. In my own example: Did Marx turn down royalties for “Das Kapital”?

If you have the patience to untangle some of Mamet’s intricate syntax and obscure vocabulary, you will encounter some trenchant insights on youth’s search for respectability through essentially meaningless professions (yoga instructor, film student, etc.), the unjustified faith in government’s goodness and omniscience, and the pandering of self-serving politicians who dispense patronage and favors to their donors.

I must reveal one spoiler: in the final chapter Mamet admits that despite the title there is no “secret knowledge” other than that “the Federal Government is the zoning board writ large.” He praises self-government, as exemplified by the jury system, as an alternative to a blind belief in so-called experts (lawyers arguing a case). In other words, once one realizes that officials are neither omniscient nor good, one can abandon the Left’s drive toward ever expanding government until the collective swallows the individual. Since the US Constitution is based on the principle of limited government and checks and balances, it is wrong to interpret the country’s mission as the perfection of socialism.
Profile Image for Elliott Hughes.
5 reviews1 follower
February 24, 2020
One of the tenets of my book-reading ethics is that I will not stop reading a book even if it is poorly written, distasteful, disagreeable, or disappointingly insipid. The Secret Knowledge was one of those books that I struggled to finish.

Apart from the clunky, discursive writing style and nauseatingly long footnotes (my god Mamet, if your footnote is half of the page then move the point up to the main text), Mamet deals superficially with some of our most pressing social and governmental issues. "All taxation is theft"; "the nuclear family is the only way to perpetuate American values"; "Liberals cut down any erstwhile dissent in their ranks because they envy the vibrant rebellious free-thinkers." All of these distillations would have perhaps been much more interesting had they been cloaked in flesh and clothes and speaking to us from the mouths of characters on the stage. Indeed, I think that Mamet's effusive diatribe against Liberal values and socialist ethics was intended in his mind for stage personalities. But, sadly, Mamet gave us 223 pages of overweening drivel that wasn't even a piquant story of his personal conversion to conservatism. Were it not for the occasionally cheeky phrase and decent insight into human nature (see Ch. 20, "Their will to believe is in direct conflict with their understanding") I would have awarded the book 1 star.
Profile Image for JoséMaría BlancoWhite.
305 reviews37 followers
July 13, 2016
(En español más abajo)

I was expectant of this book by the great script writer David Mamet. I loved his work, even when I knew him to be just another voice from the self-righteous left, the elitist and intellectual left. And I could only forgive myself for liking his work because the man has talent, no question about it. Mamet explains what happened in his live, what he saw around him, that influenced him into leaving the Socialist-Liberal cocoon and becoming a Conservative, and what's harder to do: to go public about it.

As I was reading I was smiling, and thinking how lucky I had been not having gone through the same revelations Mamet had to go through. But his intellectual honesty won the day in the end. Many sure will take years to realize how they are being part of a farce, and benefiting from it, to the detriment of the great majority of society, but -lacking honesty or courage -or both- will never quit and go public about it. Mamet did, with complete honesty, and I have to say too, with total candidness. Candidness or courage, again. With only a year, I believe, from his political conversion, he might be having second thoughts, knowing how without compassion the left treats its critics. But I think Mamet will be alright. His faith in the God of the Jews, and of Christians, will sustain him through.

And I was greatly amazed at how an intelligent man, even a man with the open mind Mamet has, can be deluded into assuming without questioning the rightness of the Leftist agenda. Only with time and intellectual honesty did he become not only aware, but critical, of those propaganda slogans he had been made to believe. The devil is a great liar, and selects those lies we are predisposed to believe. It seems unbelievable, but it is true: some people prefer to be serfs, slaves, that is, rather than free individuals. It saves them from thinking; it saves them from fighting to bring home the daily sustenance; it saves them from thinking about what the day may bring tomorrow. It's a price more people than we think are willing to pay. And upon this knowledge, that seems so improbable at first thought, some people act. This knowledgeable people take advantage of the weakness, the necessity, and the poverty of many. The knowledgeable assume the role of the weak and the poor, but they are neither weak nor poor, and nevertheless their farce seems to work. Now, a Conservative (a Reaganite, i.e.), a free thinker, a Libertarian stand on one basic thing: Freedom. Freedom as a means to an end (i.e. the pursuit of happiness), and an end in itself. But to those who have no end other than picking up the crumbs handed out by the "caring" elite, what good is freedom, anyway?

Thanks to this book I found out that living in the West today is not a matter of choosing sides; it is rather of who's doing the choosing for you.

En Español:

Es verdaderamente un mito extendido por los creadores del pensamiento único el camelo de que sólo son intelectuales, gente inteligente, los miembros de la progresía social. El cine, la literatura, el arte en general deben ser reducto solo de los socialistas y afines, creen ellos. Y quien se salga del discurso único-social será excluido, callado e ignorado; porque tanto el cine, la literatura, y el arte en general son medios de propaganda demasiado valiosos para dejar en manos de independientes, de gente que no obedece a los dictados de quienes les subvenciona. David Mamet pertenecía a esa camarilla muy numerosa en Estados Unidos. Pero en Estados Unidos, afortunadamente, aunque tienen mucho dinero, y por consiguiente poder, los progres no son mayoría, y al fin y al cabo sí hay salida para aquellos artistas que no quieran someterse -como Mamet- a los dictados de la demagogia de la izquierda política. Cierto que Mamet se ha labrado una brillantísima carrera de dramaturgo y como guionista de cine y televisión formándose en esas filas. Pero más vale tarde que nunca.

En este libro de memorias y confesiones, donde se relacionan vivencias personales y política, además de cultura, Mamet se confiesa al lector y da buenos argumentos para que éste comprenda los motivos no solo de su viraje político, sino el origen de su mentalidad izquierdista y su progresivo desencantamiento. Criado entre progres millonarios, en un cocoon social donde la elite privilegiada vive vida de conservadores, pero predica la vida progre, sin darse cuenta de la ironía, solo siendo -como Mamet- sincero con uno mismo podrá uno examinar su conciencia, creencias e ideas, y -si éstas se probaran falsas- podrá vivir conforme a esas nuevas ideas. Nada más publicarse el libro los que antes le adulaban, las revistas y crítica progresista se echó en su contra. Pero Mamet no necesita de ellos. Y Mamet es americano: no le va a faltar trabajo por ello.

Es alentador ver cómo hay todavía personas que tienen el valor de actuar conforme a sus ideas, y de exponerse a dar un giro tan radical, pero razonado, en su forma de ver el mundo y, más concretamente, el "mundo" cultural dentro de Estados Unidos. Y personalmente me alegra una barbaridad, porque David Mamet no solo es un escritor genial, que causaba envidia entre colegas de todo el mundo, y admiración entre los fans de sus obras y películas, sino que ha demostrado tener coraje, personalidad, valor, e integridad. Y dejo para el final una última perla: es de los pocos americanos judíos que no renuncian a defender ardorosamente a Israel.

David Mamet no ha roto con las ideas de la izquierda para defender las de las derechas (en plural), sino que ha roto con la izquierda para poder defender sus ideas, las suyas propias. Y si esas ideas, libres, coinciden en algo con las de los conservadores, pues mejor para los conservadores.
179 reviews3 followers
April 9, 2012
I consistently love David Mamet as a playwright, but I think that some of the qualities that make him such a brilliant playwright--clarity of purpose chief among them--are the same qualities that make him infuriating to read as a critic. His writings about acting and directing are HIGHLY prescriptive, and what where Three Uses of the Knife, for example, could have been a fascinating look into one gifted director's mind becomes instead a series of dogmatic pronouncements on ALL directing. As an actor and as a reader, I constantly feel on the defensive; Mamet's books dare me to close my mind, which his plays never do.

The Secret Knowledge is Mamet's coming out party as a "reformed liberal," an event just as earth-shattering as when that kid from your high school who wore ascots to school every day finally came out of the closet. Mamet seems to truly be the last person to know that he's been pretty far to the right all along. But while this book constantly puts me on the defensive against a number of sweeping and unexamined statements and claims (social programs are always foolish, criticism of Israel's policies is anti-Semetic, feminists hypocritically criticize only mistreatment of women by conservatives, the news on the AM radio dial is more accurate and sensible than anywhere else, a Liberal Arts education has no value, etc.), I really am interested in what he has to say, and unlike the case with some of the more mean-spirited and disingenuous conservative writers out there, I respect what he has to say, too. Even if he probably would not extend the same courtesy to me.

The book discusses "culture" in the broad sense of how the norms and ethics of interactions between individuals evolves over time (not, as I was expecting, the narrower sense of "culture" as that meta-analysis of Big Culture that includes art, social sciences, and intellectual engagement). Where Mamet's arguments here gain traction is when he makes the case that Culture transcends reason, and that the error of Liberal political thought is that it seeks to contain perceived injustices of Culture into logical boxes that can be systemically solved as problems. Mamet wants it both ways, though; he repeatedly announces that a rejection of conservative values--particularly economic beliefs--is a rejection of reason. He despises the "abstractions" made possible by more nuanced political and critical thought as the equivalent of a magician's smoke and mirrors, distracting you from what are simple and easily comprehended truths about Good and Evil. But he never takes on any of these "abstractions" in depth. It will surprise nobody, for example, that he dismisses feminist social criticism--but his hack-and-slash methods reveal more about his own ignorance of the variety of feminist thought and approaches than it does even about the few feminist figures he criticizes.

All in all, an interesting read, but only because I'm interested in the man. If the guy down the street had written the same words, I wouldn't have stayed interested long enough to get to the meat here. And there is meat--some thought-provoking stuff about justice and identity, for example. But if David Mamet wants to be more than a great playwright and filmmaker, he will need to embrace some of the philosophical and critical tools that he too easily writes off here.
Profile Image for Phil.
536 reviews6 followers
May 27, 2021
Demented boomer the book. David Mamet seems to be the embodiment of the worship of the virtue of success, covered by the idea that they worked hard, where the young and the poor have not. One of those times you are glad for free speech, he has the right to saw crap, and he can be made fun of for it.
Profile Image for Zeb.
64 reviews
April 9, 2016
Ok, I tried, so I'd be justified to make a comment. I'd be interested in a good critique of the "left". But I actually find this guy really hard to understand, like, I read certain sentences, read them again, read the paragraph above, below, still have not idea: W T F is he talking about? I don't get it. And when I get it, it wasn't worth the effort.
Because he talks Kafaffel. So I gave up halve way through. One person here made the laudable effort to find all the words she didn't know and gave definitions from Dictionary, well thank you. But for the paucity of content, the obscurity of vocabulary seems quite out of proportion.
Just one point I HAVE to disagree with Mamet LOUDLY: everybody does NOT want to come and live in the USA. As he asserts. I've heard that just one too many times, and this was that time.
I've never been there, only know it through tales or the many media and US citizens I have met - all of whom, really, were lovely. I have not ever met a horrid US person. Well,lucky me. Maybe it is one of the grandest nations, but THE GREATEST as Mamet asserts, I don't know. Certainly not the best. I've lived in two others I'd rather be in, one of them New Zealand. Not a single New Zealander I know wants to go there (as in go there to stay!). Hardly any Germans I ever knew; none of my face book friends from Australia; nor the Norwegians. Probably not even all Mexicans. PLEASE, you lovely people from the USA, relax, we don't all sit behind your border ready to pounce. There is far too much wrong with the USA which is good or at least better elsewhere like: gun-control; like:rate of population in prison; like: the state of state schools; like: spending on military versus education; amount of rubbish produced ... I was thinking literal rubbish not Hollywood or this book. (note: all of these points would have been driven to a better state by liberals rather than conservatives!)
But quite aside from itemized or measurable points of rank-ability among nations, it is natural to value your own place above all others. Just like you value your own baby above all others. Only if one was egocentric to the point of having a mental disorder would one seriously expect strangers to also see in your baby that very special child, as opposed to seeing that in their own baby. Sometimes the US self reports come across thus self centered. Enough said.
http://www.pouted.com/top-10-countrie... Hey, look at this link, USA makes sixth place here, and New Zealand does not feature. I'm surprised USA is sixth. I could name quite a few others they forgot before, LIKE US! Never mind. God bless Amerika, all of it not just the United States, and the rest of the World! PS: I like my spelling of Amerika.
Profile Image for Patrick.
193 reviews18 followers
September 24, 2011
Best book I've read in a while. Must read1

Amazon review:
For the past thirty 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. A sample:

The problems facing us, faced by all mankind engaged in Democracy, may seem complex, or indeed insolvable, and we, in despair, may revert to a state of wish fulfillment-a state of "belief" in the power of the various experts presenting themselves as a cure for our indecision. But this is a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Here, the captives, unable to bear the anxiety occasioned by their powerlessness, suppress it by identifying with their captors.

This is the essence of Leftist thought. It is a devolution from reason to "belief," in an effort to stave off a feeling of powerlessness. And if government is Good, it is a logical elaboration that more government power is Better. But the opposite is apparent both to anyone who has ever had to deal with Government and, I think, to any dispassionate observer.

It is in sympathy with the first and in the hope of enlarging the second group that I have written this book.

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.
Profile Image for Frederic.
316 reviews41 followers
June 16, 2011
An infuriating book...not because I disagree with Mamet's analysis of American Culture(I agree with much of it)but because I think his basic premise(a Manichean duality of an all-powerful,all-pervasive,atheistic Leftist ideology opposed only by a tiny band of Right-minded patriots seeking to reclaim the America of 1776,or,at least 1956) is not only flawed but badly argued...Deepak Chopra,Jane Fonda,New Age Crystals,Leftist Teachers(from Kindergarten to Graduate School)and Democratic politicians are trying not only to undermine America but to actually destroy it...parables that he concocts to make a given point are given the same evidentiary weight as the out-of-context quotes attributed to anyone who does not toe the Mamet Party Line...which line seems to be Authoritarian Patriarchy in the Home,Authoritarian Patriarchy in Politics and a return to the "traditional"(Christian or Jewish)Faith of Our Fathers to sort out any ethical or moral uncertainties we may face...are the Obama Administration and Congress doing a terrible job?...I'd say "Hell,Yes."...three illegal wars,an imploding economy,the end of Habeus Corpus,the justifications of Torture as a legal tool,etc.etc.but if the answer is to turn to crypto-fascist solutions for redress,well,I'm glad that I'm an old(er)man and won't live to see the dissolution of my country...sadly,Mamet's pride in being a Jew and his love and admiration for the State of Israel have led him to make common cause with superficial "supporters" of Israel who, like John Hagee,espouse a Likudnik Israel while (barely)concealing the Jew-hatred at the core of their ideology...the vocal Left(such as it is)has not covered itself with glory with regard to Israel but if Mamet thinks that his new political bedfellows will be Good for the Jews he is sadly mistaken...and I believe that his understandable,admirable and appropriate love has led him to this conversion to Talk Radio Theology and it is going to disappoint him more than the Left ever did...Three stars for his wonderful,hyper-masculine verbal dexterity...
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