Susan Jacoby

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Susan Jacoby
Head-only portrait of a blond woman in her sixties wearing bright red lipstick
Susan Jacoby in 2012
Born (1945-06-04) June 4, 1945 (age 69)
Residence New York City
Alma mater Michigan State University
Occupation author, director
Employer Center for Inquiry-Metro New York
Notable work(s) Wild Justice, The Age of American Unreason, Alger Hiss and The Battle for History, Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism
Religion None (Secular)
Awards Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and a fellowship from the New York Public Library's Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers

Susan Jacoby (/əˈkbi/; born June 4, 1945[1]) is an American author. Her 2008 book about American anti-intellectualism, The Age of American Unreason, was a New York Times best seller. She is an atheist and a secularist. Jacoby graduated from Michigan State University in 1965. She lives in New York City and is program director of the New York branch of the Center for Inquiry.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Jacoby, who began her career as a reporter for The Washington Post, has been a contributor to a variety of national publications, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, The Nation, Glamour, and the AARP Bulletin and AARP Magazine. She is currently a panelist for "On Faith," a Washington Post-Newsweek blog on religion. As a young reporter she lived for two years in the USSR.

Her book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism was named a notable book of 2004 by The Washington Post and The New York Times.[3] It was also named an Outstanding International Book of the Year by the Times Literary Supplement (London) and The Guardian. Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge (1984) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.[2] Jacoby also won an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship [4] in 1974 to research and write about the new Americans: immigration into the U.S.

Raised in a Roman Catholic home (her mother was from an Irish Catholic family), Jacoby was 24 before she learned that her father, Robert, had been born into a Jewish family. Jacoby explored these roots in her 2000 book Half-Jew: A Daughter's Search for Her Family's Buried Past.[5][6]

Jacoby has argued that the idea of anti-Catholicism being "a significant force in American life today is a complete canard, perpetrated by theologically and politically right-wing Roman Catholics . . . and aimed at anyone who stands up to the Church's continuing attempts to impose its values on all Americans."[7]

In The Age of American Unreason (2008) Jacoby contends that the dumbing down of America, which she describes as "a virulent mixture of anti-rationalism and low expectations", is more a permanent state than a temporary one[8] whose basis is the top down influence of false populist politicians striving to be seen as approachable instead of intelligent.[8] She writes that the increasing use of colloquial and casual language in official speech, such as referring to everyone as "folks", is "symptomatic of a debasement of public speech inseparable from a more general erosion of American cultural standards" and "conveys an implicit denial of the seriousness of whatever issue is being debated: talking about folks going off to war is the equivalent of describing rape victims as girls."[8]

In February 2010 she was named to the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Honorary Board of distinguished achievers.[9] Also in 2010, she was awarded The Richard Dawkins Award by Atheist Alliance International.


  • Moscow Conversations (1972)
  • The Friendship Barrier: Ten Russian Encounters (1972, British edition)
  • Inside Soviet Schools (1974)
  • The Possible She (1979)
  • Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge (1983)
  • Soul to Soul: A Black Russian American Family, 1865-1992 (with Yelena Khanga) (1994)
  • Half-Jew: A Daughter's Search for Her Family's Buried Past (2000)
  • Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (2004)
  • The Age of American Unreason, Pantheon (2008)
  • Alger Hiss and the Battle For History (2009)
  • Never say Die (2011) [10]
  • The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought (2013)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barnet, Sylvan; Hugo Bedau (2008). Current Issues and Enduring Questions (8 ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford-St. Martin's. p. 41. ISBN 0-312-45986-6. 
  2. ^ a b "Biography". May 14, 2004. Retrieved 2008-06-15. 
  3. ^ "About the Author". Retrieved 2008-08-14. 
  4. ^ Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship
  5. ^ Shapiro, James (August 13, 2000). "Too new to know". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-15. 
  6. ^ Leiter, Robert (8 August 2000 / 7 Menachem-Av 5760). "Unraveling the past: A journalist digs deep into her family's roots–and religious wounds". Jewish World Review. 
  7. ^ Jacoby, Susan (March 14, 2007). "Anti-Catholicism: A phony issue". On Faith. The Washington Post. 
  8. ^ a b c Gatehouse, Jonathan (May 15, 2014). "America dumbs down". Maclean's. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  9. ^ "Honorary FFRF Board Announced". Archived from the original on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 2008-08-20. 
  10. ^ "'Never Say Die,' Susan Jacoby's tough look at the realities of aging". The Washington Post. 2011-02-06. 

External links[edit]