We’re pleased to announce that Truthdig’s Peter Richardson won first place in the online critic category at the L.A. Press Club’s Sixth Annual National Entertainment Journalism Awards on Sunday. Nominated in the same category were two other Truthdig book critics: Chris Hedges for Kill Anything That Moves and Jean Randich for The Performance of Peace. This is the second year in a row that Truthdig has brought home the top prize in this category from the NEJ Awards.
Richardson won the award for his review of the book The Science Delusion by Curtis White. Coming in second was our very own Chris Hedges and the third-place winner was Timothy Spangler of the LA Review of Books.
The judges said of Richardson’s winning piece: “A balanced, comprehensive, precise and strikingly smart essay that, as a bonus, is delivered with accessible erudition.”
From Richardson’s review:
In “The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers,” Curtis White considers the handiwork of Hawking, Rosenberg, Dawkins and others who seek to discredit humanistic inquiry to better establish science’s monopoly on truth. This isn’t White’s first rodeo; now professor emeritus of English at Illinois State University, he’s most famous for “The Middle Mind” (2004), which argued that most of our cultural programming, including NPR’s “Fresh Air,” consistently fails to take literature seriously. His takedown of host Terry Gross, whose attention improves the fortunes of any book, created a succès de scandale. Molly Ivins dubbed White a “splendidly cranky academic,” and David Foster Wallace, Paul Auster and Slavoj Žižek endorsed his work. In the next five years, White produced two books, “The Spirit of Disobedience” and “The Barbaric Heart,” which not only argued for but also demonstrated the relevance of humanistic thought to American public life. (Full disclosure: I acquired both works for my former employer.) For a cranky academic, White is remarkably playful—one of his basic tenets is that play deepens and expands our humanity—but the most refreshing aspect of his work is its focus on a central humanistic question: How shall we live? Science is ill equipped to furnish an answer, and with all due respect to professor Rosenberg, one wonders how that supremely practical question reduces to entertainment.
White begins “The Science Delusion” (the title echoes Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”) with a disarmingly simple observation: Even as the Science Boosters denigrate the humanities, they routinely fall back on its basic concepts, especially when describing nature’s marvels. Their books teem with references to dazzling beauty, amazement, awe and wonder. But as White notes, none of these notions has anything to do with the practice of science. Such celebrations of the natural world, he argues, “operate within a matrix of familiar aesthetic values that while not necessarily religious are entirely extra-scientific.” Moreover, their appeals to those aesthetic values are often trite. “When scientists gush about the splendor of the universe,” White observes pointedly, “they are speaking like poets but very bad poets. Bad because they are so incurious about the meaning of their poetry—the claim that the universe is beautiful—and are content with a tautology.” Bad poets or not, White quickly adds, these authors are correct that the universe is beautiful; but all too often, “they have no idea why this is true.”
Others honored at the NEJ Awards include Kenneth Turan for his movie reviews and actor and activist Forest Whitaker for using his influential status to promote human rights.
It goes without saying that three nominations in the online critic category would not have been possible without the extraordinary insight of Truthdig’s visionary book editor, Eunice Wong.