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Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives Paperback – February 8, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 297 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (February 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679758887
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679758884
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #490,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While a psychiatrist's study of the "vital role of ambition in women's changing lives" hardly sounds like absorbing reading, this book by Fels, an occasional science writer for the New York Times and other popular media, is surprisingly interesting. After introductory comments about how life has changed for modern women, thanks to increased longevity, birth control and other factors, Fels raises a curious question: why do women still feel anxious or evasive about admitting to having ambitions, but men don't? The answer lies in understanding that ambition has two components: the mastery of some specific skills and the recognition of that mastery by others. While many professions have opened to women in the 20th century, allowing them to learn a variety of skills, Fels says, women have still not found a plethora of sources for recognition, or ways of being valued by others for the special skills they've acquired. Lacking "sustaining affirmation," women sometimes settle for mere attentionâ€"sexual attention being the easiestâ€"or "recognition by proxy," reflected glory from the accomplishments of husband or children. Men, on the other hand, Fels finds, have traditionally had a wide range of sourcesâ€"colleagues, mentors, friends, family, spouseâ€"for "affirming attention." As Fels examines the mixed messages women get about claiming recognition (especially the taboos on outshining one's husband or appearing less than devoted to child-rearing), women readers may see their own goal problems more clearly. This book isn't sexy, nor is it self-help, but career womenâ€"or anyone raising smart daughters to do big thingsâ€"will find a lot within its pages to think about and discuss.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

Why is it that women who can talk about anything find it so hard to talk about ambition? In this insightful study, Fels, a psychiatrist, argues that women fear—correctly—that seeking recognition will expose them to attacks on everything from their sexuality to their sanity. Although women now have access to schools and jobs, "social resources" like affirmation, support, and simple encouragement are jealously guarded male preserves. Recognition, Fels writes, is something that makes us better at what we do, and without it ambitions die. She comes down firmly on the side of working mothers, and advises those who choose full-time motherhood to get a "pre-nate" contract. She has no patience for "difference feminists," who she thinks simply rationalize women's subordinate position. According to Fels, the barriers are practical, not innate; the problem isn't the poverty of women's "chimerical" ambitions—"half plan, half dream"—but "the miserable job that they're stuck in."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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These two books provide a nice complement to one another.
Inspiring Insomnia
While the book is written with much more of a feminist slant than some of the other books I have read on this topic, it was thought provoking and fun to read.
SF Native
I will recommend this book to many of the women who ask me for advice and counsel on having an exciting career, a soulful relationship and healthy kids.
Pensive

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A. Lee on July 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
I am not the author's friend, nor do I know the author. This is a true and unbiased opinion on this book.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way (I am always wary of five star reviews myself), I just have to say that this is a great book. I first bought the book thinking it was a book on teaching woman how to be more ambitious. I am a pretty passive person in general. I lack drive and motivation, but have big dreams for myself. Yep, I'm also pretty lazy. So I was looking for a book to jumpstart my psyche so I can go out there and get what I want. Well, I didn't get that from this book. What I got was an eye-opening experience on why woman do the things they do, what drives them to do it, and a brief history of women's accomplishments and hardships through the centuries. I could not put this book down. While reading, I felt compassion, anger, hope, devastation, and a slew of other emotions that I haven't felt in a long time. I was finally understanding why I do the things that I do, why I defer to men all the time and let some of them run my life. This is a deeply psychological book, and the way it is written reminds me of a professional research paper. What I'm saying is, you really have to follow closely and pay attention to get the most out of it. It is definitely for the serious reader. So please, whether you are a woman or a man, you will benefit much from reading this fine work.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Katha Pollitt on May 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
How many women do you know who have a hard time claiming their own path and fulfilling their gifts? Who do all the work and let others take the credit? Anti-feminists argue that women lack ambition and drive, or care more, in the end, about taking care of their families. Drawing on a wealth of new research and her own psychiatric practice, Fels argues that ambition is social: women, like men, need positive reinforcement from others for their work (praise, attention, appreciation, reward, advancement), but, unlike men, are discouraged in many ways from seeking it, or even acknowledging its importance.
Not a self help book -- there are no Ten Steps to a Better You in these pages --Necessary Dreams will help you think about your life in new and maybe surprising ways. It's the perfect answer to the ongoing backlash against feminism that has done so much to make women feel guilty for wanting things men take for granted. The writing is a joy, too--clear, trenchant, and witty.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Martha H. Garvey on April 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Fels has managed to do several extraordinary things within the covers of this book. She has, first and foremost, told a great, if sometimes disheartening, story: the saga of middle class American women as the fourth generation of feminism is about to be born. Why does "ambition" remain a dirty word for so many glorious, accomplished women? What are the subtle, and not so subtle, cues in our culture that seem to dampen women's desire to be and do more? Why do mentors mean so much, and what happens when they disappear? Why did Madonna have such a damn big wedding, while Oprah bragged about having no wedding at all? This book provides the answers in beautifully written prose, and also functions, as the best therapy does, as a kind of catalyst for change.
It's also the rare scholarly psych book that's also...very funny. Fels' two-page takedown of John Gray's tired (and wildly flawed!) Mars/Venus formula will make you laugh...while you wince. Women of the Western world, read this book: you're not crazy, but you are tired and suffering from a kind of low-grade, ambition-sapping flu. This book provides a healing balm...and a bracing wakeup call.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Others have already given great reviews of this book - I just wanted to share how validating this book is to someone who is working up the ladder. Fels backs up her insights with clear, irrefutable evidence - her explanation of the "spelling bee" study has helped me to convey precisely how antagonistic our culture is to a woman "taking" recognition from a man.

This book is not about male-bashing; it's about seeing the ways in which our society (male and female) consistently discourages women from seeking recognition for their achievements - and ultimately from achieving anything at all. While Fels offers some guidance on how to correct the imbalance, I wish there were a clearer path laid out. I suppose that's up to us to figure out.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Kate S on May 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Necessary Dreams" is quite simply the next book in this progression: "The Second Sex," "The Feminine Mystique," and "Necessary Dreams." Fels distills the past to its essence and elucidates what must happen in the future if women and men are ever to be equals, and she does all this in less than 300 pages. It is written in a straight-forward and eminently readable style with no scapegoats. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Pensive on May 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book helped me understand a lot of what I and other strong, smart, ambitious women have been up against. And the incredible personal and professional roadblocks that are in our way. But it is a MUST read for all women because it does help you understand and make sense of this challenge. And it acts as your cheerleader as you forge forward in the light of all of these challenges. We are so grateful to have Dr. Fels' insights and her thoughtful examples to reflect on as we each create our own life. I will recommend this book to many of the women who ask me for advice and counsel on having an exciting career, a soulful relationship and healthy kids. Thank you.
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