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Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World, and How We Can Take It Back Paperback – January 4, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (January 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812978501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812978506
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #448,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jonathan Lethem on Life Inc.

Jonathan Lethem is the author of seven novels. A recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, Lethem has also published his stories and essays in The New Yorker, Harper's, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and the New York Times, among others.

I once sat astonished in the audience at a conference on business law and copyright and watched as Douglas Rushkoff stood on stage and patiently, even gently, explained to a group of record company executives, who'd paid for the privilege of hearing him speak, why it was simply time for them to stop trying to rescue their industry. "You don't make anything of value," I believe he told them, with a tone of humane explanation. Ever since that moment Douglas has been one of my personal heroes, and I've been a most attentive reader of anything he cares to put between covers, knowing that his combination of a cold eye and a warm heart is guaranteed to astonish and embolden my own thinking about what's possible in the world--about what's possible to enact in the space between one human being and another. I don't exaggerate when I say he takes the potentially dry notion of 'public advocacy' and shifts it into the realm of epiphany, and art. That puts him with few living writers--Lewis Hyde, perhaps, and the British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. Yet Rushkoff is perhaps even braver, or anyway lighter on his feet, working without the protection of any sort of ivory tower. He occupies the ground of our most immediate perplexities, and his reports of what he finds are breaking news.

Life Inc. is Rushkoff's best and most important book. Few texts stand any chance of truly changing your mind, let along saving the world. This is one of them. Rushkoff's the first to put the economic crisis in its greater historical and cultural perspective, and doing so, he reveals the underlying biases and embedded agendas of institutions we take for granted, from banking and central currency to corporations and even the suburbs.

Rushkoff really works the manner of a historical philosopher, but without any off-putting jargon or air of self-reference you'd fear encountering within the discipline--he's writing for his readers. His fundamental gesture here is to reexamine the very meaning and use of the world-concept "corporation." You'll never use it again unthinkingly, nor consent to its automatic use in any conversation that's meant to be halfway serious.

In Life Inc. we're given a concise and acute history of corporatism, from its origins as a way for feudal lords of the Late Middle Ages to maintain their monopolies on power, to its present expression in finance industry bailouts--consistently revealing things we take for granted as inventions with purposes that may not be serving us today. In Rushkoff's persuasive account, our acceptance of corporatism as a given leads us to internalize the values of corporations as our own. We use metrics like the GNP to measure our health as a nation, treat people as competitors or marks to be exploited, and the planet as a resource to be extracted. Each Wal-Mart purchase further bankrupts the local community, alienates us from our neighbor merchants, and makes us less likely to attend the PTA meeting.

Life Inc. is a book to give your uncle the disenchanted union organizer, and your other uncle, the soon-to-be-disenchanted Tea Party activist. Rushkoff goes beyond the left/right dialectic to show how both political parties suffer from a dependence on highly centralized solutions and an unhealthy marriage to corporate interests that know no national allegiances.

I recently wrote about the great John Carpenter movie, They Live, which concerns itself with magic sunglasses that translate the corporate signage all around us back into the raw propaganda it really is at its root: a set of commands to WORK, CONSUME, SLEEP, OBEY. This book is those glasses, a lens for seeing deeper into the world you occupy, the commitments you've chosen, the money in your wallet. Read Life Inc. and you'll want to start organizing a local currency in your neighborhood, I promise you.


From Publishers Weekly

Rushkoff (Nothing Sacred) offers a shrill condemnation of how corporate culture has disconnected human beings from each other. An engaging history of commerce and corporatism devolves into an extended philippic on how increasing personal wealth and the rise of nuclear families constituted a failure of community—whose services are now provided by products and professionals. While he makes some good points—for instance, about how some laws are now written to favor the rights of corporations above the rights of human beings, and the phenomenon of pro-wealth spirituality as espoused by The Secret, Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen—he skews wildly off-course lamenting how œbasic human activity... has been systematically robbed of its naturally occurring support mechanisms by a landscape tilted toward the market's priorities. His unsupported and flawed assumption that societal interdependence is a natural or even preferable state for all people, everywhere, his disdain for filthy lucre and joyless recasting of independence as œselfishness will leave readers weary long before the end. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Winner of the first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other's values. He sees "media" as the landscape where this interaction takes place, and "literacy" as the ability to participate consciously in it.

His ten best-selling books on new media and popular culture have been translated to over thirty languages. They include Cyberia, Media Virus, Playing the Future, Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism, and Coercion, winner of the Marshall Mcluhan Award for best media book. Rushkoff also wrote the acclaimed novels Ecstasy Club and Exit Strategy and graphic novel, Club Zero-G. He has just finished a book for HarperBusiness, applying renaissance principles to today's complex economic landscape, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out. He's now writing a monthly comic book for Vertigo called Testament.

He has written and hosted two award-winning Frontline documentaries - The Merchants of Cool looked at the influence of corporations on youth culture, and The Persuaders, about the cluttered landscape of marketing, and new efforts to overcome consumer resistance.

Rushkoff's commentaries air on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR's All Things Considered, and have appeared in publications from The New York Times to Time magazine. He wrote the first syndicated column on cyberculture for The New York Times and Guardian of London, as well as a column on wireless for The Feature and a new column for the music and culture magazine, Arthur.

Rushkoff founded the Narrative Lab at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and lectures about media, art, society, and change at conferences and universities around the world.

He is Advisor to the United Nations Commission on World Culture, on the Board of Directors of the Media Ecology Association, The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, and as a founding member of Technorealism. He has been awarded Senior Fellowships by the Markle Foundation and the Center for Global Communications Fellow of the International University of Japan.

He regularly appears on TV shows from NBC Nightly News to Larry King and Bill Maher. He is writing a new monthly comic book for Vertigo, and developed the Electronic Oracle software series for HarperCollins Interactive.

Rushkoff is on the board of several new media non-profits and companies, and regularly consults on new media arts and ethics to museums, governments, synagogues, churches, and universities, as well as Sony, TCI, advertising agencies, and other Fortune 500 companies.

Rushkoff graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, received an MFA in Directing from California Institute of the Arts, a post-graduate fellowship (MFA) from The American Film Institute, and a Director's Grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He has worked as a certified stage fight choreographer, and as keyboardist for the industrial band PsychicTV.

He lives in Park Slope Brooklyn with his wife, Barbara, and daughter Mamie.

Customer Reviews

PROS: -Very fast and engaging read.
E$
If you would like to read something that will actually make you think and rethink and then want to talk and discuss with everyone you know - buy this book!!
Guy Andrews
We can only think of one system of money despite the existence of many others throughout history.
Justin Ritchie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

121 of 126 people found the following review helpful By Marylene Delbourg-Delphis on June 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book starts with a telling anecdote: the author, Douglas Rushkoff got mugged on Christmas Eve in from of his Brooklyn apartment, and instead of getting sympathy, he was basically urged to shut up by local residents, afraid as they were that the incident would damage the reputation of their neighborhood, i.e. reduce the value of their home. "When faced with a local mugging, the community of Park Slope first thought to protect its brand instead of its people," Rushkoff writes. The anecdote is Rushkoff's starting point to analyze how, since the Renaissance, "the market and its logic have insinuated themselves into every area of our lives." He argues that they mediate every single aspect of our existence, disconnecting us from everything that surrounds us. The book is quite expectedly somewhat controversial -- yet may also be one of the most inspiring recent books for entrepreneurs and innovative marketers.

Chapter after chapter, the author recounts how charters disconnected us from commerce, how by mistaking the map for the territory, we got disconnected from place, how the real estate business disconnected us from home, public relations from one another, consumer empowerment from choice, a unified financial architecture from the meaning of currency, big business from the creation of value - and how many of our attempts to combat corporate power are likely to disconnect us even more. "Brands were invented to substitute for the real connections we had to people, places and values."

The system that we have created for ourselves through a "six-hundred-year-old-business-deal" is a "progress" that translates into a loss.
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54 of 55 people found the following review helpful By E$ on July 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
PROS: -Very fast and engaging read. Entertaining and provocative.
-Personally - hit very close to home on many points regarding how we are suckered in to so many corporate schemes on both large and small levels. Especially impactful when discussing how little value we create and how little value we give our own lives, working every day just to survive long enough to work another day.
-Fascinating take on the Dark Ages, Renaissance, and rise of corporatism that came of these periods, and how it relates to our lives now.
-Easy to follow explanations of the cause and effect relationships between corporatism and our lives unraveling.
-On-point analysis of the current state of American society and, most importantly, WHY it is the way it is. Personally I felt like he was expounding upon the exact complaints I've been voicing gradually over the past 10 years, such as: Why don't I know/see/interact with my neighbors? Why can't I walk/bike to all the stores I need to get to? Why don't I know who made my food, or even what state it's from? Are there ANY small businesses left? Why do all the radio stations suck? Do I actually own my home when I own a home? Why does buying a car feel scarier than getting married? Why don't my kids play outside? Why can't I sell my house? Why don't I watch the news anymore? Who has my name and contact information and purchasing history? Why am I so fat? Why do I own so much crap? Why are we always at war? Will I ever be out of debt? If the apocalypse came tomorrow, and I survived, would I be able to support myself for more than a few days? And so forth.
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70 of 83 people found the following review helpful By S. Kittelsen on June 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Full disclosure: I performed research for Rushkoff on this book.

And I'm proud to have done so.

LIFE INC. isn't another Shock Doctrine or some Millenial Marxist Manifesto. It's a history of how we came to mistake human-implemented value systems as natural laws, how these value systems have disconnected us from each other and from our work, and how we might reprogram this systems and reconnect with each other.

It was a tough book for Rushkoff to write, incorporating myriad disciplines and historic perspectives into a narrative of our corporate lives.

Whether you think you agree with him or not, Rushkoff will certainly get you thinking about how we got where we are and where we can go next.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Chuck Dickens on August 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Under 250 pages, it's a light read. The book doesn't dive into technicals and I found it a decent airplane read.

The chapters on pre-Renaissance commerce are thought provoking. The idea of local versus centralized currencies is also interesting. But midway through, the book starts to wallow in your typical left-wing hodgepodge of history lessons that are loosely tied back into the main thesis of the book. The middle section of the book jumps around from Joe Millionaire to Walmart to GM writing road legislation. It's the system, man, the system.

And I feel a little conned when the subtitle includes, "and how to take it back" which only accounts for the last 15 pages of the book. Rushkoff tells a few stories about some people in the Bronx starting a garden and a restaurant that makes a different kind of coupon. My guess is the publishing house tacked on that subtitle.

Overall, I learned something about pre-Renaissance Europe, a different way to think of commerce and currency, and it opened my mind to new possibilities. The institutions in our world have been around before we were here, and I had been ingrained to think of them as a given, and not a choice. This book is thought provoking in that sense, and this book opened my eyes to think of commerce in a different way. Should have waited for the paperback though. Or maybe created my own currency and paid for the book that way (sorry cheap shot I know).
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