Berman, Morris 1944-

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Berman, Morris 1944-

PERSONAL:

Born August 3, 1944, in Rochester, NY; son of Harry and Libbie (a teacher) Berman. Education: Cornell University, B.A., 1966; Johns Hopkins University, Ph.D., 1971. Politics: Social Democrat. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Washington, DC.

CAREER:

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, assistant professor of history, 1970-75; Concordia University, Montréal, Québec, Canada, assistant professor of history, 1980-82; University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Lansdowne professor of history, 1982-88; currently freelance writer, lecturer, social critic, and cultural historian. Visiting professor, Seattle University, 1990, Evergreen State College, 1991, University of Kassel, 1991-92, Simon Fraser University, 1997, Johns Hopkins University, 1999-2000, and Catholic University of America, 2003—; Incarnate Word College, San Antonio, TX, Amy Freeman Lee Chair in the Humanities, 1993; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, Garrey Carruthers Chair in Honors, 1994-95; Weber State University, Ogden, UT, Eccles Chair in Honors, 1997. DC Writing Services, Washington, DC, founder and director, 1998—.

MEMBER:

American Historical Association.

AWARDS, HONORS:

NDEA Title IV grant, 1966-69; Johns Hopkins University fellowship, 1969; American Philosophical Society grant, 1972; NATO postdoctoral fellowship, 1972; Rutgers Research Council Faculty Fellowship, 1973; Leverhulme Trust grants, 1974, 1975; University of Victoria Faculty Research grant, 1982-84; Society Science and Humanities Research Council grant, 1984-85; Governor's Writers Award, State of Washington, 1990; Rollo May grant in humanistic studies, 1992; New York Times Notable Book, 2000, for The Twilight of American Culture.

WRITINGS:

Social Change and Scientific Organization, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1978.

The Re-Enchantment of the World, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1981.

Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.

The Twilight of American Culture, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2000.

Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 2000.

Dark Ages America: The Final Phases of Empire, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2006.

Also author of blog Dark Ages America. Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Nature, Isis, Journal of Social History, Orion, Nature Quarterly, and the New York Times Book Review.

SIDELIGHTS:

Social critic and cultural historian Morris Berman is the author of numerous books on the evolution of the human consciousness and the state of the American state. An academic, Berman writes for a general audience; at the heart of most of his work is an examination of how one is to live an ethical and meaningful life in the modern world. Often he uses Enlightenment ideals as a beacon for modern men and women to follow. Berman explained his motivation for writing to Michael Causey on the Washington Independent Writers Web site: "Personally, I write to solve what I regard as crucial cultural questions, or dilemmas. When it is working, writing has a certain quality whereby the characters or ideas take over, and the energy starts to move you along, involuntarily, as it were. That is a sign that things are on track. It's larger than the writer, and pulls him or her along."

Berman's trilogy on the evolution and development of the human consciousness comprises The Re-Enchantment of the World, Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West, and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality. In the first book in the series, Berman traces the modern world from the sixteenth century to contemporary times, noting that with the rise of the scientific revolution a sense of enchantment and magic has been lost in the world, resulting in mankind becoming disenchant. In the second work in the trilogy, Coming to Our Senses, Berman traces mankind's sense of alienation and loss farther back in time, noting, as many others have, that the distinction between self and other occurred deep in prehistory. Among other themes in the book, Berman traces mankind's relationship with animals as an index of such a dichotomy. Counter-cultural trends or heresies provide another avenue of exploration into the development of human consciousness for Berman. Mirka Knaster, writing in East West, had high praise for Coming to Our Senses, asserting that it "boldly presents an entirely new perspective on the history of Western civilization and challenges us to use it to see our way into a better future." Similarly, Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Alex Raksin found Coming to Our Senses to be "a thought-provoking, boldly original book." The final work in the trilogy, Wandering God, looks at our hunter-gatherer ancestry and its immediacy and sense of alertness, as well as wonder in the everyday. Berman contends that such a flexible perspective has become lost as society was changed from the nomadic, with horizontal or egalitarian relationships, to a more sedentary, vertically organized society in which power and spirituality came from the top down, rather than from the "grassroots."

Berman employs this same discussion in a critique of America and, indeed, Western civilization in his The Twilight of American Culture. For Berman, the signs are everywhere that American culture is in decline: a citizenry that is losing the power to think critically, evolving a sort of brand-name mindset in which most Americans base their knowledge on television rather than actual facts. As Tim O'Brien reported in America, Berman's "book is intellectually ambitious, focused on the broad consequences of education in decline, salacious media and nonstop Muzak and a megamerged, ‘Starbuckized,’ corporate ‘McWorld.’" Berman attributes such an intellectual malaise to globalization and the corporate imperative, providing a partial solution with what he calls N.M.I.: new monastic individuals. These people will preserve Enlightenment ideals in a world gone amok intellectually and morally, focusing on work they love and disdaining pop culture. For O'Brien, this was "an insightful, eloquent, albeit not entirely persuasive thesis." Mary Carroll, writing in Booklist, considered the book to be "provocative," and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly similarly found it "engaging reading" with a "provocative remedy." However, this same contributor predicted that the book is "unlikely to galvanize many readers." Alexander Star, writing in the New York Times Book Review, also praised The Twilight of American Culture as an "impassioned indictment of contemporary life," but faulted the author for failing to provide a coherently developed argument. "Apparently, the author is among those Americans who see little reason to provide any evidence for their most sweeping statements of fact," Star concluded.

In his 2006 work, Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire, Berman offers a further critique of America in decline, comparing the country to Rome in its final days. He argues that U.S. policy abroad and the erosion of democracy and civic culture at home have brought the nation to the verge of collapse. Booklist contributor Gilbert Taylor termed this book "a wide-ranging condemnation of American economic and foreign policy of the past 50 years." In the absence of any way out of the predicament that the author can provide, Taylor also called the work "more of an alarm than a solution." Reviewing Dark Ages America in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani remarked that the work "begins as a grim prophecy of decline and fall, citing four traits shared, he says, by the late Roman Empire and the United States today." These four include religion trumping reason, critical thinking and education in remission, the use of torture, and a reduced degree of respect for and economic impact of the republic in the world. Kakutani took issue with what she saw as Berman's lack of close development of these themes, writing that he instead resorts to "an all-purpose rant against virtually everything American." Kakutani also complained of what she characterized as Berman's "grating tone of sanctimonious, know-it-all condescension." She felt that such a tone and the author's numerous complaints "undermine the valid points he wants to make about the role the Iraq war has played in fomenting further terrorism, the moral implications of torture at Abu Ghraib [prison camp] and the dangers of a ballooning trade deficit and an overextended military." Similarly, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly concluded: "Often stimulating and insightful in its particulars, [Berman's] indictment, like the jingoism it abhors, is too sweeping and essentialist to fully capture American reality."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

America, May 21, 2001, Tim O'Brien, "Doom and Gloom," review of The Twilight of American Culture, p. 31.

Booklist, June 1, 2000, Mary Carroll, review of The Twilight of American Culture, p. 1840; March 15, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire, p. 19.

Boston Globe, May 21, 2006, Ann Mundow, "A Civilization Running on Empty," interview with Morris Berman.

Common Boundary, July, 1991, review of Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West.

Cross Currents, fall, 2001, Michael Quirk, review of The Twilight of American Culture, p. 405.

East West, April, 1991, Mirka Knaster, review of Coming to Our Sense, p. 128.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2006, review of Dark Ages America, p. 118.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 14, 1989, Alex Raksin, review of Coming to Our Senses, p. 6.

Omni, August, 1991, review of Coming to Our Senses.

New York Times, June 16, 2006, Michiko Kakutani, review of Dark Ages America.

New York Times Book Review, October 15, 2001, Alexander Star, "Chances Are, You're a Barbarian," review of The Twilight of American Culture, p. 21.

Publishers Weekly, May 1, 2000, review of The Twilight of American Culture, p. 56; February 13, 2006, review of Dark Ages America, p. 80.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2006, review of Dark Ages America.

ONLINE

Catholic University of America, Sociology Department Web site,http://sociology.cua.edu/ (March 19, 2007), brief biography of Morris Berman.

Morris Bergman Blog,http://morrisberman.blogspot.com (April 17, 2007).

Washington Independent Writers Web site,http://www.washwriter.org/ (March 19, 2007), Michael Causey, "Q & A: Morris Berman."

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