"The Death of Expertise", by Tom Nichols

Brian Gongol

One-paragraph review: There are books that are important because they speak to permanent ideas -- books like "On Liberty" or "The Wealth of Nations". There are also books that are important because they speak to urgent needs of a particular time. "The Death of Expertise" is one of the latter. A civilization that wants to remain free and forward-moving occasionally needs correction, and Tom Nichols thinks America needs a correction away from the belief that all opinions are created equal, and back towards one that respects a healthy balance between the commitment that experts have to the society to which they belong -- and the deference that society ought to pay to their considered opinions. Nichols makes a persuasive case that the simultaneous confluence of several trends and developments (in areas ranging from higher education to the Internet to the Federal bureaucracy) have brought us unwittingly to a condition of denial about how little most of us actually know -- and how dangerous that is. He is appropriately self-conscious about the risks of calling out the shortcomings of his time, but is resolute in doing so anyway. His prescriptions ask a lot of both experts and the public, but they are not to be dismissed lightly. As Nichols notes in his conclusion, "[L]aypeople too easily forget that the republican form of government under which they live was not designed for mass decisions about complicated issues." We dismiss his own expert conclusion at our own peril.

Verdict: A well-delivered call for all of us to do some urgent introspection about how much we don't know