I saw something, especially among the young men and women of politics and ... they’re bright and ambitious and work hard. But it became clear in long conversation that they've received most of what they know about history and the meaning of things through screens. They have seen the movie and not read the book. They’ve heard the sound bite but not read the speech. They read the headline on Drudge or the Huffington Post and then jump to another site with more headlines. Their understanding of history, even recent history, is therefore superficial. Here is the problem: If those trying to make history have only a shallow sense of history, they will not be able to make anything good. They came to maturity in the internet age and have filled much of their brain-space with information that came in the form of pictures and sounds. They learned, that is, through sensation, and not through books, which demand something deeper from your brain. Reading books forces you to imagine, question, ponder, reflect, connect one historical moment with another. Reading books provides a deeper understanding of political figures and events, of the world -- of life itself. Watching a movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis shows you a drama. Reading histories of it presents you with a dilemma. The book forces you to imagine the color, sound, tone and tension, the logic of events: It makes your brain do work. But, oddly, it's work the brain wants to do. A movie or documentary is received passively: You sit back, see and hear. Books demand more and reward more. When you read them your knowledge base deepens and expands. In time that deepening comes to inform your own work, sometimes in ways of which you’re not fully conscious. Not to put too fine a point, but your brain gets bigger, stronger. You become smarter and deeper. That happens with books.
What I'm really saying is that almost everyone involved in politics or covering politics now...is getting dumber. They're getting lost in a sea of dumb. They may drown in it. ... They are involved in the making of history...and yet some are "historical illiterates", ... People in politics now are getting what they know through the internet, through Google searches and Wikipedia. These can give you a certain sense of things but are by nature quick, lifeless and shallow reads that link to other quick, dry and shallow reads that everyone else has also read. Who wrote them? Nobody quite knows. And what you see is often presented at a slant. They put forward as fact what are really the biases or limited knowledge of the writer. It all becomes a big lying loop. Or at least a big, un-nourishing, inadequate one. And they leave out this fact: history is human. History is not dry dates and data, and it is not gossip or cheap stuff, it is human beings acting -- sometimes heroically, sometimes inadequately or wickedly -- in real time. ... I know this: If you cannot read deeply you will not be able to think deeply.