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Friendship: An Expose Hardcover – July 5, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (July 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618341498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618341498
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #939,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The idealization of friendship, writes noted essayist Epstein, is "somehow false to the truth of friendship, at least as... we all live it." So Epstein examines the "art" of friendship, which "calls for regular maintenance through thoughtful cultivation." He opens with a "little taxonomy of friends," exploring the semantics of the word "friendship," and categories of friends (the saddest being the "ex-friend"). Epstein (Snobbery) goes on to explore his own friendships, in particular the category of the "best friend." He catalogues the factors that influence the nature and course of friendship, from shared traits such as ethnicity or regional roots to connections across barriers of generations and class, including the complications of friendship between the sexes. A survivor of a bad first marriage and long remarried, Epstein is astute on the permutations of friendship within and alongside marriage. At the center of the book is a celebratory memoir of a long friendship with an older, much respected friend (now dead). Another friendship, conducted almost entirely in diary-like e-mails, is celebrated for its literary merit. Drawing on Aristotle, Montaigne, Cicero and Pliny, Epstein lucidly paraphrases and applies wisdom to his own life experience, producing a meditative memoir that is refined and modest in tone, but perhaps too hermetic. (July 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Following the hit-a-nerve success of Snobbery (2002), Epstein offers another philosophic and adroitly crafted scrutiny of a hard-to-pin-down yet essential aspect of human life--friendship. Happiest when he is exercising his mordant wit, misanthropic viewpoint, and daredevil candor, Epstein tries the reader's patience with repeated assertions that he attracts friends easily and that friends are too demanding. But even the most riled reader will stay the course because Epstein's deliberately provoking inquiry is deeply intriguing and his conclusions striking and resonant. As he analyzes the components of friendship--trust, reciprocity, obligation, understanding--he draws on the Greeks and Romans, Montaigne and Johnson, and he rolls out a fascinating history of friendship, which, like every other aspect of human existence, changes over time. As Epstein contrasts men's and women's friendships, and considers aspects of contemporary life that endanger friendship, he articulates perceptions and feelings usually left inchoate or suppressed. Epstein engineers irksome generalities to flush out startling insights, and it is a pleasure to sharpen one's mind against the polished stone of his meticulously reasoned prose. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
'Friendship' is one of the most important elements in human life. I know people usually without strong family ties for whom friends matter more than anything else in the world. Now Joseph Epstein one of the sharpest and most insightful of contemporary observers of human character has written a work in which he analyzes and seeks to encapsulate the wisdom of his own experience in Friendship. He does many different things in the nineteen essays which constitute this book, one central one is to tell the story of a major friendship in his life at length. He also does other less congenial things like keeping a diary in which he lists all the inconveniences and problems maintaining his friendships cause him. Epstein in his previous works on 'Snobbery ' and 'Envy ' has been no stranger to seeing the less - attractive sides of mankind, and he does this here. In his favor it can be said that he is most candid about his own foibles.

As Epstein sees it , like many other things, Friendship is not what it used to be. Our E-mailing speeded up world has made Friendship seem to many more of a quick fix and a burden. In talking however about his own estimated seventy- five friendships, including those with such luminaries as Saul Bellow and Ralph Ellison Epstein also indicates how Friendship can broaden our perception and perspective. He analyzes in the work a whole variety of different kinds of Friendship, and tries to as it were create a personal Taxonomy of the subject.

Towards the end of the book catches himself and says that his critical remarks about friendship have not been made in order to discredit the institution.

" At moments in the course of writing this book I had the staggering thought that I seemed to be coming out against friendship ....
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Angie Boyter VINE VOICE on August 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book stimulated me to think about the nature of friendship, but ultimately it was somewhat unsatisfying because the author did not seem to have any special insights of his own.

For a person who clearly considers himself to be rather reserved, the author was very candid about his own friendships and attitudes towards his friends (leaving me glad I am not among them!), but he seemed too quick to generalize without any apparent basis. There also seemed to be a tendency to "name drop", as if he felt the quality of his Friends List would give stature to his conclusions.

Nonetheless, the book was an interesting exploration of an important subject that most people do not think about. Many of Epstein's pronouncements made me ponder about my own concept of friendship, which was a worthwhile experience, even when I ultimately found many of his ideas inaccurate or unconvincing.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on July 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
An unusually insightful read about a surprisingly neglected topic. Aristotle and Montaigne both had a go at it. Recent entrees are all self-help books - heavy on the mystical and the idealistic. In "Friendship: An Expose," Epstein analyzes his own experiences and methods in friendship, making this a personal memoir of surprising candor: "When I was a boy, I took on and scraped off best friends the way a careful boat owner does barnacles. Most were, with time, demoted to friendships of lesser intensity."

He started out with a subject, but no theme. As he progressed, his theme solidified - that his friends weren't perfect, but neither was he a perfect friend to them. "Perfection in friendship just isn't on the menu. To idealize friendship, in general, is a serious error." Epstein didn't want to write the glorified version. Whether he knows it or not, Epstein's personal anecdotes could have come straight from textbooks on game theory and evolutionary psychology. Some of the themes he develops are:

Friendships entail obligations - sometimes ample, sometimes miniscule and subtle. A man should keep his friendships in constant repair. Reciprocity is the heart of friendship.

Friends keep updated tally-sheets on each other. "Score-keeping - I wish to root such behavior out of myself. I can't." Detecting who's in business solely for himself can be a subtle matter. Fortunately, we come from the factory with a good cheater-detection module.

Some openly prefer acquaintances to friends - more variety, less baggage - "They're too much on their good behavior to exhibit their weaknesses."

Maintaining too many friends at one time on a regular basis turns you into a professional friend.

We enter friendships mainly through instinct.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By transponder on October 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If, as Joseph Epstein writes, friendship can rest on nothing more or less than liking someone enough to see him again, one wonders how he can elsewhere say that spouses or romantically engaged people aren't really friends, at least in the early days of their relationship. I'm sure this is true for many people (who may in fact never be good friends and require other supports), but it is certainly not true for the rest of us. Early married friendship as friendship may have its deficiencies, but surely those deficiencies vary in number and gravity with each couple; and on his own showing, friendship itself has deficiencies. Aiming too high or asking too much may mean that one doesn't have friends at all.

But that raises another question: is friendship a thing in itself, with standards or criteria that must be met in order to be friendship, or is it something that we can squeeze and shape and reduce as opportunity or lack thereof requires, a sort of Procrustean thing? In other words, friendship may be swell, but maybe the real thing is just rare, and no amount of longing can make it less rare.

An interesting question, also (for me at least), is how Epstein's friends have received this book. Epstein makes it clear, in different places, that he has more friends than he really wants; he is someone presented with a huge chocolate box of friends, but he really only likes the hazelnut ones, and then even these must have hard centers. All his friends must be wondering: am I the hazelnut with the hard center or the mint one he could do without? And if so, can I do without him? He may be the only person in history that has written a book not to make more friends but to have fewer.
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