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Assholes: A Theory Hardcover – October 30, 2012
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A New York Times bestseller!
"James neatly does what philosophers must do: he defines his terms, organizes and codifies, declares his own loyalties; he locates himself on the spectrum of assholery and suggest origins both psychological and sociological. The result is a delightful combination of the demotic and the technical."—Jane Smiley, Harper's Magazine
"James’ research is both thorough and imaginative; his impressive source list ranges from obscure philosophy books to popular websites to Rudyard Kipling to Kanye West, hip-hop’s greatest asshole. The author’s enthusiasm for the subject makes it possible to get through the book quickly.... [T]here are moments of great insight and outright hilarity."—Kirkus Reviews
"James's volume is equal parts philosophical meditation and historical survey, but its true value lies in his attempt to precisely define the term."—Joe Keohane, New York Magazine
“Aaron James provides us with a delightful philosophical romp through the world of assholes. I was especially tickled by his analysis of different types: smug assholes, royal assholes, the presidential asshole, corporate assholes, the reckless assholes, to name a few.”
—Robert I. Sutton, Stanford professor and author of the New York Times bestsellers The No Asshole Rule and Good Boss, Bad Boss
“Aaron James explores a very rude term that many now find unavoidable in the description of an alarming human type. His witty and accessible study of the personal and social problems the asshole creates draws on his lucid and brilliant accounts of the best in contemporary moral and political philosophy. James’s analysis of asshole capitalism is a tour de force of philosophically astute political analysis and criticism. This is a book that should appeal equally to the general reader and the philosophical specialist.”
—Marshall Cohen, founding editor of Philosophy and Public Affairs and university professor emeritus, University of Southern California
More About the Author
I mainly write for academics (in professional journals and in a recent book on fairness in the global economy). I have plans for a book on social practices and global justice, and grander intellectual ambitions, for the long haul, that run across my research areas of moral theory, political philosophy, and the foundations of ethics.
All of this can be strenuous, so I've also begun to dabble in popular writing, in hopes of contributing to public life in more direct and (if I'm lucky) more entertaining ways. I wrote a book about assholes. I've got ideas for a book about surfing and what it shows about the human condition, how to live, and capitalism. (I've been an avid surfer since my early teens, so a book about surfing and philosophy would join my life's two more central preoccupations.)
Academic details: Ph.D. in Philosophy, Harvard University; Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of California, Irvine; awarded the Burkhardt Fellowship by the American Council of Learned Societies, spending the 2009-10 academic year at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Visiting Professor at NYU for Fall 2013.
Photo credit: James Hammack
Top Customer Reviews
Aaron James took a break from the philosopher's customary search for the meaning of life to ponder a more burning question: What does it mean to be an a-hole? I have the sense that James wrote A-holes so he could share his complaints about surfers who behave like a-holes, particularly Brazilians. Whatever his motivation, and despite his earnest attempt to subject a-holes to scholarly thought, much of A-holes is enjoyable simply because the topic is so appealing. Everyone, after all, has an opinion about a-holes.
A-holes consistently cut in line, interrupt, and engage in name-calling. They do not play well with others (in James' language, they are not fully cooperative members of society). Many (perhaps most) people occasionally behave like an a-hole without becoming an a-hole. As a theory of the a-hole, James posits that an a-hole is a person who enjoys "special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people." Although I think "a-hole" is pretty much self-defining, in the sense of "I know one when I see one," I like James' definition. I think it's a definition rather than a theory, but I'm probably just quibbling about semantics (which is pretty much the philosopher's job description, making it a battle I can't win). Whether it is a theory or a definition, after he finishes parsing it, James politely suggests that it is up to the reader to decide whether to agree with it. James is plainly no a-hole.Read more ›
Dr. James begins by attempting a definition of the a-hole. He then, amusingly, names a variety of people he considers a-holes in public life. While Dr. James is a self-described liberal, he's pretty even-handed in apportioning a-holiness to the left and right. (He reserves particular distaste for Fox News, which he regards as the "gold standard" of a-holiness; desipte being a conservative myself, I find it very hard to disagree with him). He goes on to offer classifications of various types of a-holes.
The later chapters are more philosophical. He inquires, for example, why a-holes tend to be male, and why they tend to be produced more frequently in some cultures rather than others. For example, he considers Italy, Israel, Brazil and the US to be particularly prone to a-hole generation, while regarding Japan as almost incapable of producing a-holes. I'm not sure I agree with him here - I think the interactional style of Israelis (with whom I work pretty extensively) tends to lead others to believe they're a-holes when they're not. And I suspect (although I have little direct experience to validate this hypothesis) that Japanese interactional styles lead Americans to conclude that Japanese are never a-holes when in fact some of them probably are - we likely just don't understand when a Japanese a-hole is being an a-hole to us.
The question of whether a-holes are begotten or made is further explored - Dr. James concludes that there is some genetic predisposition to a-holiness but that society plays a critical role in forming a-holes.Read more ›
The second part of the book discusses dealing with a-holes, one-on-one and in a group dynamic. That there are no simple formulas for this serves as testament to the basic intractability of the a-hole.
The book makes a case that a-holes operate to the ultimate detriment of society. Hopefully the term a-hole (in its technical sense) becomes part of our common lexicon, for it appears that only as a social group can we counter a-holes.
As I write this review I see the spectrum of opinion is flat over the "hate it" to "love it" range. Reading the opinion of SOME of those who didn't like the book, I was struck by the vehemence of their dislike. The language employed by these pundits would seem to qualify them as a-holes. I wonder whether an a-hole would typically perceive the book as a personal attack and would perforce respond with unwarranted hostility?
Most Recent Customer Reviews
redundant, boring, monotonous... I was fooled into buying the book because of it's title but there is little substance to the book, as stated in previous reviews. Read morePublished 16 days ago by drdrdenise
Great item, excellent price and super fast shipping. Thank you.Published 1 month ago by Michael Potter
Let's recall some titles from stellar philosophers: "A Critique of Pure Reason" -- "Being and Nothingness" -- "Mind and Cosmos" -- "Principia... Read morePublished 1 month ago by J. Marlin
I received this book as a Christmas present from my mother. Now, whether she did that as she thought I could learn something about myself (as only a mother could truly call her son... Read morePublished 1 month ago by D. Angelotti
I'm 80 pages into this yawn fest and want to toss it in the ocean. Repetitive waste of time. This could've all been summarized in a 4 page magazine exerpt. ZzzzzPublished 1 month ago by Lila Wolfe
This book is dry-witted hoot, half tongue-in-cheek and half formal philosophical disquisition. So the language can take a bit to get used to (I recognized it from a philosopher... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Coventry