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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know

a book by E. D. Hirsch and Joseph F. Kett and James Trefil

(our site's book review)

In this fast-paced information age, how can Americans know what's really important and what's just a passing fashion? Now more than ever, we need a source online that concisely sums up the knowledge that matters to Americans—the people, places, ideas, and events that shape our cultural conversation. With more than six thousand entries, The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy wishes it was that invaluable source, except that as a book, it isn’t. It needs to be online and updated often. Apparently it was online, but we can only find it currently in 2013 as part of a forced installation of SimpleFiles, which will modify the default search engine and other preference settings. This makes the book seem like (?) part of a scheme to get malware onto computers, although we are not dumb enough to find out the hard way if this is true or not by downloading this book.

So beware of sites that give you great free stuff if only you'll put up with them installing things on your computer you do not want and changing your settings! In our humble opinion, this is not how reputable companies conduct business! "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," which means "Don't trust your enemies," and alludes to the Trojan Horse story, and suggests that among the possible results of such a suspicious download is an actual trojan, which is a hacking program that is a non-self-replicating type of malware which can gain privileged access to your operating system while appearing to perform a desirable function but instead drops malware code, often including a backdoor allowing unauthorized access to the target's computer. We're not claiming the suspicious download from contains anything but an unwelcome and unsolicited program installation, but for most of us, that alone is quite enough to get us to cancel the download.

But the book is everywhere—and cheap. But much of the info in such a book will be getting obsolete really fast. Think about the huge social networking explosion, Facebook, smart phones, iPads—what good is a book that wouldn’t have heard of these? The book is a 2002 book. One guesses they didn’t expect the world to change so darn fast! This is a classic example of built-in obsolescence, since at the rate the technology and the world keep changing, it would be difficult to put together a book full of knowledge, publish it, and get it distributed before the book was already obsolete.

We believe Wikipedia is a much better place to find out about the people and ideas that really matter to people, since its users keep it up-to-date and it's online and it has tons more stuff than the The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Go to Wikipedia and judge for yourself. In the meantime, the authors make our case for us by publishing The New First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy two years later and saying it is "Fully updated for the twenty-first century." Oh really? So what Jobs did at Apple, smart phones, iPads, Facebook, predator drone strikes, and Osama Bin Laden's killing are in there? How about Obama admitting our country's emails are being spied on and the death of privacy as we know it? The list is endless, and yet neither a 2002 nor a 2004 book will have heard of Obama or any of the rest of these critical Cultural Literacy issues. A book trying to keep up with either technology or the world in this century will be doing what Toffler used to call "racing to keep up." Unfortunately, no book could possibly keep up. It's what the Internet and sites like Wikipedia were built to do. Get a clue, E. D. Hirsch Jr. and Joseph F. Kett and James Trefil.

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden