34 pages 1 hour read

Chris Hedges

Empire Of Illusion: The End Of Literacy And The Triumph Of Spectacle

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2009

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Summary and Study Guide


Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle is a non-fiction book written by Chris Hedges, published in 2009. This work of cultural criticism focuses on the effects of mass media and popular culture on American society, politics, and economics. Since its publication, Empire of Illusion has been marketed as a work which predicted the forces that ultimately gave rise to the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Author Chris Hedges is an American professor, journalist, writer, and Presbyterian minister. Hedges won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for his work with The New York Times and his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002). He has also written the books Death of the Liberal Class (2010), Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (2012), and he has contributed to NPR and The Christian Science Monitor.

Empire of Illusion is made up of five chapters, each of which is titled after a specific illusion that Hedges identifies as prevalent in American society. Chapter 1, titled “The Illusion of Literacy,” focuses on the far-reaching effects of celebrity culture in the United States. Chapter 2, titled “The Illusion of Love,” measures the human consequences of pornography. Chapter 3, “The Illusion of Wisdom,” analyzes the failure of elite higher education institutions to train students to think critically. Chapter 4, “The Illusion of Happiness,” targets positive psychology and its relationship to corporate manipulation. Chapter 5, titled “The Illusion of America” identifies a number of themes related to the decline of the United States in moral, political, and economic terms.

Hedges writes in journalistic first-person, citing books, articles, and interviews to support his observations. Hints of Hedges’ education and experience as a clergyman are scattered throughout his writing, which, as critics have noted, often takes the moralizing tone of a sermon. In the end, the main target of Hedges’ many-sided attack is the corporate state, which he believes has negatively influenced nearly all aspects of American society. America’s salvation, Hedges suggests, lies in the ordinary citizen’s ability to discern illusions from reality. Empire of Illusion is Hedges’ contribution to this salvation.