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Regarding the Pain of Others + On Photography + Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 131 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (February 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312422199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312422196
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 3.2 x 0.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Twenty-six years after the publication of her influential collection of essays On Photography (1977), Sontag (In America) reconsiders ideas that are "now fast approaching the status of platitudes," especially the view that our capacity to respond to images of war and atrocity is being dulled by "the relentless diffusion of vulgar and appalling images" in our rapaciously media-driven culture. Sontag opens by describing Virginia Woolf's essay on the roots of war, "Three Guineas," in which Woolf described a set of gruesome photographs of mutilated bodies and buildings destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Woolf wondered if there truly can be a "we" between man and woman in matters of war. Sontag sets out to reopen and enlarge the question. "No `we' should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people's pain," she writes. The "we" that Sontag has come to be much more aware of in the decades since On Photography is the world of the rich. She has come to doubt her youthful contention that repeated exposure to images of suffering necessarily shrivels sympathy, and she doubts even more the radical yet influential spin that others put on this critique-that reality itself has become a spectacle. "To speak of reality becoming a spectacle... universalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world...." Sontag reminds us that sincerity can turn a mere spectator into a witness, and that it is the heart rather than fancy rhetoric that can lead the mind to understanding.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The impact of violent images: Sontag's first full-length work on imagery since her acclaimed On Photography 25 years ago.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Susan Sontag was born in Manhattan in 1933 and studied at the universities of Chicago, Harvard and Oxford. She is the author of four novels, a collection of stories, several plays, and six books of essays, among them Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors. Her books are translated into thirty-two languages. In 2001 she was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the body of her work, and in 2003 she received the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. She died in December 2004.

Customer Reviews

I recommend this thoughtful work and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Arthur J. Boughan
Sontag does not reach many definite conclusions, and those pretty much in the last 2 short chapters, but looks at each issue as objectively as she can.
algo41
She shows a great deal of sensitivity to what pain is caused by war, and how senseless it is.
Thomas Hofer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Arthur J. Boughan on April 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I couldn�t help but wonder what Susan Sontag would have to say about a friend of mine, and the manner in which he gets his daily news. First thing, each day, when he gets to work, he logs into his computer, surfs to Yahoo, and looks at a slide show of all the top news photos for the day. He never reads any articles. At most he reads a caption or two, but mainly he looks at the pictures. How many others perceive the world through Yahoo slideshows? It�s a bit scary. I think Sontag would agree that many people view the world primarily through the images they receive through the media.
In her revealing book, Regarding The Pain of Others, Susan Sontag examines the many issues associated with the photography of warfare, genocide, and atrocity. She discusses the history of such images, why they are produced, the importance of the viewer�s perspective, censorship, and many other related topics. In presenting her ideas, Sontag moves through a wide variety of history and literature ( Plato�s Republic, the Crimean War, the Khmer Rouge, the Nazi concentration camps, Bosnia). Oddly enough, there are no photos in the book. Many photographs that are referred to are described enough to understand what is being said, but the actual photos would have been a much better addition. (Most of the photos referenced are well known and can easily be located online.) It would have been revealing to know why no photos were included.
Many insights regarding war and photography are put forth. Some seemed like just well explained common sense, others were revealing. As a photographer, one concept that was mentioned, I found very profound. I�ve often wondered why photography hasn�t been replaced by video in the manner in which photography displaced painting.
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55 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Professor Presto on April 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
As I watch the constant war show on CNN, am I a spectator experiencing war vicariously as entertainment, and if so, should I not be watching? On the other hand, if I choose not to watch am I hiding from reality and turning my back on the soldiers who after all represent me?
If you experience any kind of discomfort with the constant coverage, then Sontag can offer some guidance.
She concentrates mainly on photographs rather than video, but this enables her to draw comparisons between the present and past conflicts. Her elegant potted history of war photography from the Crimean war to today is in some ways a rebuttal to the notion that the ubiquity of media renders modern war substantially different to historical war. If video footage defines our experience of war, photographs become our memories, and this is no less true now than in the 1860's.
If this sounds dry, then I do the book an injustice. First of all, Sontag is able to maintain page-turning readability without sacrificing scholarship. Second, even the most careful reading won't take more than 3 hours. Third, her arguments are forceful and in some cases passionate.
I found "regarding the pain of others" erudite, persuasive and strangely moving.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful By "blissengine" on May 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In this insightful essay, Sontag springboards from an analysis of "Three Guineas" by Virginia Woolf into a discussion about the effects of photography and televised imagery on modern culture and ideas about war and violence. Weaving excerpts from works by Leonardo da Vinci, Plato, Wordsworth, and others, including her own previous work "On Photography", she leads readers on a journey into our own psyches and ways of thinking and viewing the world, and pushes us to examine with conscious knowledge the usage of images. I was especially taken with the idea that it is entirely human to turn away from these pictures of suffering, which are often used as a form of entertainment in the modern world. Sontag rightfully doesn't offer answers or platitudes, but instead indicates a welcoming of our own humanity's foibles as a way to deal with the obligations of conscience and the limits of sympathy.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on April 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
In her On Photography, which appeared 35 years ago, Susan Sontag worried that the public's continuous exposure to horrific photos of the violence of war might backfire. The purpose (or at least one of the purposes) of such photos is to rouse opposition to the cruelty of war. But the continuous publication of them can surfeit and benumb, encouraging instead public passivity.

In her Regarding the Pain of Others, Sontag rethinks this claim (even though it's now become received wisdom), suggesting that such photos in fact haunt us. True, our attraction to images of suffering can be prurient (Plato, in the Republic, was the first to catalog this human curiosity). The way in which a photo of suffering is framed, moreover, can transform it from an object of horror into one (primarily) of heroism. But notwithstanding these and other manipulations, photos of war victims remain what Sontag calls "emblems of suffering" that awaken us to the fact that the violence of warfare is very real indeed, and that we may be complicitous in it, notwithstanding the fact that, as "spectators," we are far removed from the imaged violence. Photographs shouldn't be "supposed to repair our ignorance about the history and causes of the suffering [they] pick out and frame." But they are effective "invitation[s] to pay attention" (p. 117). Viewing photographs of suffering is no substitute for hard thinking about war, murderous violence, and our moral responsibilities. But photos can spark and fuel such reflection (p. 103). For those of us who will never have firsthand experience of the horrors of war, this vicarious exposure can be a moral catalyst. That we can turn away from such photos does nothing to "impugn the ethical value of an assault by images" (p. 116).
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