The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani
“For almost four decades, Michiko Kakutani has been the most feared cultural gatekeeper in America,” said Josh Glancy in The Sunday Times. As chief book critic of The New York Times, she has subjected so many writers to stinging reviews that a verb – “Kakutanied” – was coined to describe the process. But last year, the “famously reclusive critic” left her post, prompted by what she sees as an “existential threat to her country”. In The Death of Truth, she eloquently explores how Donald Trump “both reflects and amplifies” a new environment of “fake news and alternative facts”. With his repeated and brazen lies, Trump is undoubtedly a novel phenomenon in American public life, said David Aaronovitch in The Times. But the culture that gave rise to him has been a long time in the making. Kakutani traces it back to postmodernism, with its “insistence that everything is just a construct”, as well as the “new narcissism” of the 1970s. More recently, these strains have combined with the internet and social media to produce a “perfect storm” of “misinformation and relativism”. Kakutani isn’t the only author to have diagnosed this phenomenon, but her book is “particularly elegant”.
Kakutani’s “outrage” may be justified, but she makes the mistake of trying to over-intellectualise Trump, said Peter Conrad in The Observer. Given that the president boasts of never opening a book, it makes little sense to relate his “chronic mendacity” to the “slippery tricks” of Jacques Derrida. And as she “bangs on” about “filter bubbles”, “content silos” and Russian “troll factories”, her book becomes “numbingly” repetitive. The fact is that, in the battle against Trump, ridicule is a “more effective weapon” than sincerity. The Death of Truth, though well-intentioned, will do nothing to deflate the president.