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Envy: The Seven Deadly Sins (New York Public Library Lectures in Humanities) Hardcover – August 28, 2003

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Public Library Lectures in Humanities
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1St Edition edition (August 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195158121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195158120
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.7 x 5.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #672,024 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Oxford University Press/New York Public Library Seven Deadly Sins series, of which Envy is the first volume, comes hot on the heels of Penguin's successful Lives, which provocatively pairs celebrated subjects with well-known writers in compact and accessible biographies. Unfortunately, Envy is insubstantial and unambitious even for its modest size. While it might have a seemed a good idea to get Epstein, author of the uneven but amusing Snobbery: The American Version, to address the related sin of envy, he does not seem to have anything very provocative to say about it. Derived from a public lecture, Epstein's opening chapters give a decent if unenlightening overview, larded with enough quotations from such greats as Schopenhauer and Lord Chesterfield to maintain interest. Over the course of 14 chapters, some of a few hundred words each, cliche turns up often (Shakespeare is "that most universal of writers," and Othello is about Iago, it turns out), yet the book's airy charm and lightly worn learning might work as diverting, high-toned amusement if not for the one-dimensionality of some of the ideas that emerge. For Epstein's notion of envy is ultimately that of the moneyed and powerful, who characterize any challenge to their power as being based on envy. Marxism? Envy. Feminism? Envy. The academy? Envy and "hopelessly radical political views." This kind of rhetoric might go over in a country club or cigar lounge, but in the world of ideas to which it is presumably addressed, it reads more like an example of the eighth deadly sin: smugness.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Seven writers have been invited to consider the seven deadly sins, and the results are being published in a promising series of small, cleverly illustrated, and, so far, scintillating volumes.

Epstein's recent book on snobbery has met with great acclaim, making him uniquely suited to the task of analyzing envy, since snobbery is based on its cultivation, and, indeed, Epstein is a witty and thoughtful elucidator of this covert and poisonous state of mind. Of the seven sins, Epstein observes, envy is the most common and insidious and the least enjoyable. He discusses various types of envy, the differences between women's and men's envy, Freud's preoccupation with it, and worlds in which envy rages (the arts and academia may be the worst). Epstein confesses to his own struggles with envy over the course of his musings, which grow in gravitas as he moves beyond individuals to consider how envy between nations leads to war and how anti-Semitism can be interpreted as a particularly malignant manifestation of this deadly sin.

Novelist and critic Prose brings her keen interest in our conflicted relationship with our bodies to her creatively, even voraciously researched and elegantly argued inquiry into the paradoxes of gluttony, a sin writ large on the body and, therefore, impossible to conceal. Prose notes that the term is rarely used now that overeating is viewed as a psychological and health problem rather than a "crime against God." Equally conversant in religious and secular perspectives, Prose turns to theology and art to illuminate the curious history of a sin rooted in a behavior essential to survival. She traces the line between gourmandism and binging and ponders the increase in obesity in our consumer culture and the stigma of being overweight in a society that loves excess in everything but body size. Gluttons now sin against "prevailing standards of beauty and health," and the punishment is living hell. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

I enjoyed this book and learned a lot.
This book will at least guide you in that, and it may make you appreciate the levels your envy has not reached (if you're so fortunate).
Mr. Epstein is a well read person, an above average researcher, and a skilful non-fiction author.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Epstein is an artful and insightful essayist. His thoughts on ' envy' will I believe help most readers better understand the subject, and reflect more deeply upon their own relation to it.

He points out that ' envy' of all the vices has the least positive to be said about it. About this I am not so sure. Surely most of us are ashamed of envying especially when the other person or persons envied is someone close to us who we should want the good fortune of as much as our own. But envy is not necessarily the worst of sins. We after all often by envying express a certain kind of admiration , and recognition of the value others have which we would like to. Envy becomes truly evil only when it moves us to action to truly hurt another or deprive them of their good. And even then in many instances such ' action'( Think of various kinds of ' fair competition') is not necessarily sinful.

Epstein points out that we are jealous of what is our own, and envious of what is others.(which we ourselves do not have) Epstein writes a series of short essays some of which deal with qualities and characteristics of others that we envy, Shakespeare's ' this man's art and that man's scope'.

One central point on the whole subject of envy is how foolish we so often are in envying others when they have their own life and story, and fate. Often we envy someone who we believe to have a better fortune than our own only to learn that they have sufferings and troubles beyond those we imagined.

'Envy' is a seemingly inescapable element of our nature. And this little book may do an enviable job of helping us understand it a bit better.

And this said with the minor praise of one who might envy Mr.Epstein's talent and success which is considerable.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By P.B. on February 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
There are few things more satisfying to enviers than the demise or expense of their targets. If you can't have it, whatever it is, all the more better that they should suffer humiliation and misery; a trademark of envy, according to the author, known as "Schadenfreude". In this book, the author looks at envy in nearly all of its incarnations, ranging from envy of the youth, envy of beauty, envy of the Jews, and makes an unusual case in pointing out that societies designed to purge envy from the people instead create more envy within (a bit hard to follow for me, personally). He provides tips on "Spotting the Envious" people, and also helps better define "envy" from its related forms, such as resentment, ressentiment, and jealousy. He says while jealousy involves matters of the heart, envy involves matters of other's possessions; jealousy, despite popular thought, is not envy.

Of all the books I've read in the Seven Sins series so far, this has provided the easiest read. It's easy to follow, and the author makes his points with a humorous edge, and without delving too much into inner psychiatry or politics.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Corie Ginsburg on September 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The first of a projected series about the 7 deadly sins by various authors, commissioned by the Oxford University Press, Joseph Epstein's small book, ENVY follows on the heels of his treatise on SNOBBERY: The American Version. His research of these maladies make him a kind of connoisseur of soul sickness. Examples from literature, observation, and introspection document their pervasiveness and the possible utility of these psychological phenomena. He differentiates between jealousy and envy which are often confused; jealousy being applied to one's own possessions and envy to that of others. Envy, he says, is felt in varying degrees causing discomfort from a twinge to a holocaust. The ability to deal with such subjects with candor and a soupcon of humor is the mark of a very special mind.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Brian Myers on December 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
As the Chicago Tribune once noted, "Reading an essay by Joseph Epstein is much like watching Joe DiMaggio hit a pitched ball: the pleasure is in watching a difficult art performed with matchless grace and ease." This latest collection by one of our greatest essayists in recent decades will be well received by readers of such prior collections as the bestselling "Snobbery: The American Version," "Narcissus Leaves the Pool," "Ambition: The Secret Passion," and "With My Trousers Rolled." Those who are unfamiliar with Epstein's work (can there be anyone unfamiliar such classics as "The Art of the Nap," "Waiter, There's a Paragraph in My Soup" or "Whaddya Drivin?) will find this to be an excellent and highly engaging introduction to possibly our smartest and most engaging critic since Mencken. I read "Envy" not once but twice within a single day. You will too.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John Thorne on September 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The book is better than the reviews above suggest. The format is very cute, kind of like the new PG Wodehouse editions: small book, small print, 14 short chapter in 109 pages. Reading about sins, you don't want quirky originality. Epstein is so well-read this little book contains a good collection of the wisdom on this ageless subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on February 24, 2008
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
So wrote the poet W.H. Auden in his "Many Happy Returns," and Joseph Epstein takes it as the exhortatory epigram to this little book on envy. Part of a horribly uneven series on the 7 deadly sins, Epstein's book is one of the better ones (which is to say that it could well provoke envy on the part of the less successful authors in the series).

Epstein argues that envy is the most insidious of the 7 deadlies because those of us who suffer from it rarely recognize it for what it is. Most of us know when we're angry or lustful or greedy. But envy is the "hidden" vice that masquerades as something else, and so it's difficult to recognize and overcome. To make matters worse, we live in a culture that encourages envy--although, once again, it's disguised as "competition," "improving one's lifestyle," or "making the most of one's opportunities."

Epstein's analysis of envy is written entertainingly, and the text is punctuated with wryly appropriate cartoons from the "New Yorker." In his analysis of envy, he makes useful distinctions between (for example) jealousy and envy and schadenfreude and envy. His discussion of ressentiment (yes, that's with two s's), which he borrows from the philosophers Max Scheler and Friedrich Nietzsche, is especially useful, although of no surprise to the professional philosophers who read his book.

But there are two areas where I wish Epstein had developed his theme a bit more (even as I recognize that the point of the series is to offer short, pithy treatments of the 7 deadlies). Epstein mentions in passing (Chapter 1) Aristotle's claim that not all varieties of envy are immoral or destructive, and famously cites emulation as one example. Epstein dismisses a virtuous emulative envy as "not so easily done," and quickly moves on.
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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.

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