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Ambition: The Secret Passion Paperback – August 1, 1989

ISBN-13: 978-0929587189 ISBN-10: 0929587189 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee; Reprint edition (August 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0929587189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0929587189
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,463,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A good amount of wit and with the clear, straightforward analysis of a man with a point of view.... Epstein writes fluently, in clear, elegant sentences, about a complex and philosophically interesting idea. (The New York Times)

About the Author

Joseph Epstein, editor of the American Scholar, teaches literature at Northwestern University. His other books include Divorced in America and several collections of essays, the most recent of which is Partial Payments.

More About the Author

JOSEPH EPSTEIN is the author of the best-selling Snobbery and of Friendship, as well as the short story collections The Goldin Boys and Fabulous Small Jews, among other books, and was formerly editor of the American Scholar. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By PARTHO ROY on August 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is one of Joseph Epstein's earlier books, which makes some of its commentary out of date (hardcover edition, 1980). The grand subject of ambition has changed quite a bit over the past twenty years, and the contemporary reader may find Mr. Epstein's insights, though comprehensive in scope, behind the times. Although Epstein's historical anecdotes can be witty and original, the way in which he approaches the general subject of ambition unfortunately raises more questions than answers. If you are hoping for some meaningful self-help guidance from this volume, prepare to be both disappointed and further bewildered. (And if you are socialist--which I am not, incidentally--prepare to be insulted.)
The first chapters of the book lack a satisfactory pace, but it picks up during the second half. Epstein's take on the world of high American Society in the chapter on Edith Wharton is especially entertaining, and reads a lot like his current book, "Snobbery: The American Version." The subsequent chapter on F. Scott Fitzgerald, failure, and intergenerational downshifting is downright depressing. One detects a sharp note of disapproval from Epstein towards people who seek to simplify their lives by setting their career goals with modesty. Were he to write this chapter during the current epidemic of corporate scandal and societal Affluenza, I wonder if he would reach the same conclusions. The final chapter on Wallace Stevens extolls the virtues of a bourgeois man driven by immediate career satisfaction, but who still supplied time for poetry on the side. I was surprised to see Epstein write so glowingly about what seems to me as the dullest representative of ambition mentioned in his book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mary E. Sibley VINE VOICE on July 31, 2010
Format: Paperback
The author holds that ambition is too much a part of human nature to be denied. Ambition has been considered coarse. It may be striving for superiority and perfection. A loss of energy is a loss of ambition. Ambition is a passion that releases energy.

For Benjamin Franklin success was a pleasure. Americans believe in progress. The belief in progress may be a sort of tyranny, and then there are so many choices. Success is ambiguous, failure is not. John D. Rockefeller organized his life for success. He applied the principles of combination and cooperation both in business and in philanthropy.

Connections are more important to achieving success than character. Meyer Guggenheim was not a plunger. He sought control. Rockefeller went into refining oil and Guggenheim went into smelting ore. The American inventors were farm boys. On a farm technical ingenuity is rewarded. Henry Ford was a brilliant publicist and mechanic. He was energetic. The Model T first appeared in 1908. The five dollar a day wage policy and the assembly line were powerful industrial devices. Unfortunately Ford began to believe some of the out-sized claims about himself that were advanced.

Luce was a self-made millionaire at thirty. He possessed an absence of cynicism. Edith Wharton had very real advantages, (connections), but Aristotle and Plato counsel against ancestor worship. Social class and societal standing are somewhat alien concepts in America, although the SOCIAL REGISTER exists. Like Henry Ford, Joe Kennedy had reserves of energy. In finance he had good timing. He used money to satisfy personal ambition, the political careers of his sons.

Theodore Dreiser and George Gissing knew of, and wrote about, failure. Joseph Epstein uses a variety of figures to exemplify aspects of success and failure in this well-written book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ryan C. Holiday VINE VOICE on March 12, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Epstein's Ambition is the rare kind of book that simply kicks around an idea for a few hundred pages rather than beating the reader in accepting a certain interpretation of it. Despite being nearly two decades old, the approach has kept the book current and refreshing.

Frankly, I'm not sure I could tell you what Epstein thinks of Ambition beyond the fact that he has, in fact, thought a lot about it and that it is a complicated subject. The book has sub-chapters called "Curiosity Shops" that really are just curious explorations of different situations. One could fill a nice bookshelf with the obscure sources Epstein drags up to discuss and I plan on doing just that.

Ambition is best looked at as book to be flipped through and consumed in pieces. Don't struggle too much when it starts to drag and take and absorb what you like. Definitely marvel at the fact that Epstein is a hell of a writer.
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