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Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book Trade Paperback Edition Edition

83 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0312253998
ISBN-10: 0312253990
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Editorial Reviews Review

The late Walker Percy's mordant contribution to the self-help book craze of the 1980s deals with the heavy abstraction of the Western mind and speculates about why writers may be the most abstracted and least grounded of all. (Before taking up novel writing, Percy was a medical doctor who became a patient in the very institution where he had worked.) The book disappeared for a time. Now it's back in print. Take the quizzes in it, then take a walk--you need to be back in the world before you write another word. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“A mock self-help book designed not to help but to provoke; a chapbook to inveigle us into thinking about who we are and how we got into this mess.” ―Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Original and imaginative, it conveys a serious, occasionally somber message in a vein of high comedy. I love this book. It is not to be read once through, but to be reread, savored, and pondered.” ―Edmund Fuller, The Wall Street Journal

“This is a stunningly innovative collection, for readers who like both to chuckle and to think hard.” ―People


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Trade Paperback Edition edition (April 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312253990
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312253998
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,312 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Walker Percy (1916-1990) was one of the most prominent American writers of the twentieth century. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was the oldest of three brothers in an established Southern family that contained both a Civil War hero and a U.S. senator. Acclaimed for his poetic style and moving depictions of the alienation of modern American culture, Percy was the bestselling author of six fiction titles--including the classic novel The Moviegoer (1961), winner of the National Book Award--and fifteen works of nonfiction. In 2005, Time magazine named The Moviegoer one of the best English-language books published since 1923.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

123 of 125 people found the following review helpful By T. H. Mckinnie on August 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
One of the five subtitles of this impossibly good book reads: "How it is possible for the man who designed Voyager 19, which arrived at Titania, a satellite of Uranus, three seconds off schedule and a hundred yards off course after a flight of six years, to be one of the most screwed-up creatures in California-or the Cosmos"
This book defies description. Dr. Percy is unrelenting in forcing the reader to examine the disasters visited upon man through our almost universal refusal to acknowledge our nature, despite the high level of "self-awareness" present in what Percy describes as "the flaky euphoria of the late twentieth century." Although this "self-help" book offers nothing in the way of answers, you will feel after reading (and re-reading (and re-reading)) it that you have been let in on the greatest inside joke of all time.
This book is not chicken soup-it will not give you a set of instructions for living or boost your "self-esteem," but it will stun you with Dr. Percy's simple brilliance and it will alter the way you watch the evening news (and Donahue/Springer), cut your grass, shop for groceries, and generally manage to survive another Tuesday afternoon.
Percy also offers a concise, thoughtful examination of semiotics, a critical study of the nature of human language which he wanted to devote himself to through his novels and non-fiction, although this material does nothing to dilute the potency of the diabolically simple, yet unanswerable, "quizzes" and "thought experiments."
If you are one of those who has ever wondered about how everything started getting horribly off track (including, most importantly, ourselves) about the time that Star Trek reruns stopped regularly appearing on non-cable broadcast stations every weeknight, read this book immediately.
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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful By 718 Session on October 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
Allow me to shout it to the clouds: "I AM A PRODUCT OF WALKER PERCY!"
With Phil Donahue back on the air, Walker Percy's 1983 self-help book seems less dated now then it did in 1995 when I first read it. Now as then, it packs a wallop.
Those reviews calling it a satire are being a little misleading. This book actually IS a self-help book. In fact, it is probably the only self-help book out there.
While traditional self-help books are full of answers and leave little to question, this one is full of questions and almost entirely empty of answers. The idea is, that life is a journey that does not have a "little instruction book". And maybe, just maybe, there are things in our lives that distract us from even asking those important questions.
Are we lost? Not if we're enjoying the journey.
I don't want to go into any more detail. This book is something I have a difficult time talking about to other people. I feel like I have an intimate relationship with it that is difficult to describe to the casual outsider. The relationship was a little frustrating at times, but is now the kind of satisfying thing that has become a part of my life that has enriched me.
Fans of the work of Tom Robbins will know what I'm talking about when I say that this book is deadly serious and frivolously playful all at the same time.
Let's just say that with the sole exception of "What Color Is Your Parachute", this is the only self-help book out there that helped me. After reading this, "Dianetics" made me laugh until tears ran down my face.
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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Micah Newman on April 30, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Walker Percy is very much a modern-day Pascal, in that he is wrapped up in the project of waking up modern man from his numb, jaded, over-entertained stupor into realizing what a predicament he is in. It's an existentialist concern, in the Christian-existentialist sense of Kierkegaard, especially insofar as both Percy and the Melancholy Dane are obsessed with the problem of subjectivity, and our awareness of it, and the paltry ways we try, unsuccessfully, to transcend it.

So, this is NOT really a humor/satire book, per se, although the dust jacket's description tries to bill it as such (perhaps to expand the market appeal? Feh!). Early on, though, there is a send-up of the Phil Donahue show that is just *hilarious*. Most of the book is a series of (fairly involved) rhetorical questions, about such things as who in a hypothetical situation you would identify with the most, and why. The way the questions are counterposed, one could accuse Percy of making his points backhandedly via strawman-demolition, but that would be beside the point. Percy's overall aim is to get at the background of all our operating assumptions, and the ways in which we judge and evaluate others in relation to self, and what that says about what kind of thing man is.

In the middle of the book is a digression on semiotics, the theory of signs. One of Percy's central ideas here is that man's cardinal innovation over other animals is his use of signs and not just signals. The "sign" usage is essentially triangular, involving subject, object, and the intersubjective sign, whereas an animal "signal" is two-dimensional, such as "danger, run away." All of our thought and communication is predicated on that sign-based three-dimensional framework.
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