Jedediah Purdy

Jedediah S. Purdy is a senior correspondent of The American Prospect and a second-year student at Yale Law School. Purdy started with the Prospect as a writing fellow, writing about culture, technology, politics, and the environment. His 1998 articles include "Age of Irony" on a generation that refuses to take itself seriously, and "Dolly and Madison" on the ethics of cloning.

His first book, For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today, was published by Knopf in September 1999. His current research addresses agriculture, environmental sustainability, and the place of work in American culture. He has also been working on conceptions of human excellence in democratic politics. In 1999 he was a faculty member at the Century Institute Summer Program on America's liberal and progressive political traditions.

Purdy was born and raised on a hillside farm in central West Virginia. Until age 14, he taught himself by reading, exploring the local woods and meadows, and working alongside his parents and younger sister. After a checkered high school career that eventually took him to Phillips Exeter Academy, he returned to West Virginia, where he worked as a carpenter and spent a year in environmental politics.

In 1997 he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in social studies. In 1996 he was selected as a Truman Scholar and as West Virginia's nominee for the Rhodes Scholarship.

Recent Articles

Essay: Age of Irony

Taking irony seriously may seem like missing the point. Today's ironic sensibility is never serious. But the old masters of irony had serious fun cutting through cant and pretension.

The New Culture of Rural America

During the Roaring Twenties, President Calvin Coolidge had himself photographed in a Vermont hayfield, a fresh pair of overalls covering his dress shirt, his black shoes still gleaming from their morning shine. Despite the incongruity, no one laughed. In 1994, after the Republican take-over of Congress, Bill Clinton's pollsters devised the model American vacation for a president on the defensive: a hiking and horseback-riding expedition to the high country of Wyoming. A few years later, when candidate Al Gore recalled pitching manure during summers on his father's Tennessee farm, the political press hooted as delightedly as if the vice president had claimed as his birthplace a log cabin on K Street.

Shades of Green

More than two-thirds of Americans call themselves environmentalists. Their rank includes every serious presidential candidate, a growing list of corporate executives, some of the country's most extreme radicals, and ordinary people from just about every region, class, and ethnic group. Even allowing for some hypocrisy, finding consensus so tightly overlaid on division is reason for a closer look.

After Innocence

At 10 o'clock on a cloudless and balmy Tuesday morning, two eras overlapped on the streets of Washington. A little more than an hour had passed since two hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center in New York. Just minutes ago, another had crushed one wing of the Pentagon, the American military command center outside Washington. Half the pedestrians on the street had no idea what had happened. They chattered loudly about plans for dinner, proposals to rent the latest video release, and whether to leave their offices early on a gorgeous day. The other half walked silently, stiffly, urgently yet without direction. Their expressions were stricken and their faces were ashen. When their blank gazes met, each knew that the other knew as well.

Planet Bush, Planet Gore

In 1997 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) undertook a routine reassessment of its national air pollution standards. After reviewing new public-health studies, EPA Director Carol Browner proposed strengthening limits on two major pollutants--ozone, the source of smog; and particulates, tiny particles that lodge in the lungs and cause respiratory illness. Her proposal promised to anger car companies, the trucking industry, and oilmen. President Clinton let the proposal sit for weeks while the heads of the Commerce, Energy, and Transportation departments expressed skepticism and downright hostility. Then Vice President Gore weighed in. Gore put all his clout behind Browner and broke the impasse.