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Escaping the Self: Alcoholism, Spirituality, Masochism, and Other Flights from the Burden of Selfhood Hardcover – August, 1991

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 268 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1ST edition (August 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465020534
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465020539
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 1.3 x 5.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,313,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

A perceptive study of modern culture's overriding fascination with the self and identity. Baumeister (Psychology/Case Western Reserve Univ.) states that the history of the self in Western culture began by equating it simply with the physical body; the self has now grown to be regarded as vast, unique, important--containing personality traits, the wellsprings of creativity, the keys to personal fulfillment, and the solution to life's dilemmas (all of which is absurd to cultures that don't share our zealous faith in the inner self). The more inflated this self, Baumeister argues, the more burdensome it becomes: In the wake of calamity, or to escape its demands, people flee from it. For example, says Baumeister, bulimics, painfully preoccupied with themselves and the way they look to others, go on binges to escape their tyrannical self- images. During a binge, meaningful thought is abandoned for a narrow focus on immediate sensations; the troubled self disappears from awareness by becoming preoccupied with one cookie after another. In masochism--most common among successful, individualistic people at the top of the socioeconomic hierarchy- -the competent, virtuous, energetic, and decisive selves these people maintain are gratefully relinquished by submission to the master. And, through pain, the self is reduced to the body, and the world is shrunk to one's immediate surroundings. Baumeister notes that the cult of self-esteem--which has so raised people's expectations and obligations (looking better, making love better, success at work, play, dieting and saying clever things)--will be dangerous in the long run as they try, through aberrant behaviors, to escape this self-imposed despotism. And perhaps self-esteem in itself is not always desirable. ``Weren't self- importance and overconfidence two of the factors that embroiled the US in Vietnam?'' Baumeister asks. Well written in nontechnical language; unique and persuasive. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A. Wakefield on August 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
"Escaping the Self" is a manifestly brilliant work of social psychology and social criticism. Reading the book, I recapture the feelings of insight that originally attracted me to psychology.

The main idea of the book is that many difficult to explain behaviors, such as masochism and suicide, result from a need to escape - and that this need to escape is very specific escape from self-consciousness. Baumeister goes into detail about the various motivations for this need to escape and how they motivate different forms of escape, and also details social trends that have magnified the burden of escape from the self.

This is in many ways the kind of book I would love to write. Baumeister is able to see the implicitly accepted dogmas and flaws of the culture he lives in, much like a Nietzsche, before they are generally recognized. It's interesting that this work is out of print now - and the idea not generally appreciated by those who could best put it to work. This pattern occurs with many 'heretical' thinkers. And since the works details more the downside of our obsession with self - something we do not recognize as a choice, or something unusual - this might explain the book's status.

Easily the most interesting social/behavioral science book I have read in a long time - it also opens many new avenues for scholarship to the careful reader. Highly reccomended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Blutarsky on September 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read several of Baumeister's books. I first read "Escaping the Self" in 1992. I have re-read it several times.

I have never met anyone who "likes" this book. But I know many people who recommend it.

It is not a comforting book, and as one other reviewer noted, it does not include much in the way of remedy.

But the book is an enlightenment - often a painful one, even for someone who does not quite qualify for any of the "isms" in the title.

What I find most useful about the book is its clinical dissection of how people act out on an over burdened identity. The initial premise is that we were probably wired for a much simpler world with far fewer identity options. Now that we have more options, we find the burden of keeping up our identity a kind of constant emotional maintenance. If we have "too much" identity burden, then we bust out in one or more kinds of reactionary behavior.

The way Baumeister weaves us through the thinking is not always linear, but full of "Aha" moments.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By "dh23492" on June 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Whatever your drug of choice, read this! An amazing theorist and scientist who is an aclaimed social psychologist and accomplished writer. Roy Baumeister has taskled issues that are relevant to all of us. He is able to concisely express his theories regarding the actions of the human species...Essentially the "why" of what we do what we do. A great read for anyone, but especially valuable for those interested in psychology and people in general. An essential tool to the "future-counselor." A must read!
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