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Sincerity: How a moral ideal born five hundred years ago inspired religious wars, modern art, hipster chic, and the curious notion that we all have something to say (no matter how dull) Paperback – July 22, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0393346220 ISBN-10: 0393346226 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (July 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393346226
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393346220
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This is a book that adds sincerity to the list of modern qualities worth serious attention, offering nuanced definitions and a solid connection between past causation and current manifestations. It casts new light on modern art broadly construed, amplifying some of the key interactions and tensions between popular arts and the wider society." (Peter N. Stearns, Provost, George Mason University, in The American Interest)

"Energetic...well-researched...Magill proves most lively as he brings the reader up to date; his Hipster Semiotic Appendix demonstrates his acuity and sense of humor." (Publishers Weekly)

"A sophisticated meditation...a rewarding read...[Magill writes with] scholarliness, humor, and humanity....Two recently deceased men who knew about sincerity and silliness, Christopher Hitchens and Maurice Sendak, would approve of the whole enterprise....Anti-intellectuals need not apply." (Library Journal)

"An illumination of the shifting attitudes and ambivalence toward a value that society claims to hold in high esteem....Sincerity proves to be a richer topic than readers might initially suspect." (Kirkus Reviews)

"A charming and thought-provoking account of the concept [of sincerity], from its theological origins to its (more contested) role in contemporary culture....Magill's analysis is provocative and penetrating." (Glenn C. Altschuler, The Oregonian)

Sincerity is a serious and engaging cultural history painted on an admirably large canvas, yet Magill is careful not to take himself too seriously, as evidenced in his snarky asides and chatty footnotes. He wraps up on an eminently reasonable note: society needs both sincerity and insincerity. You can’t go too far in either direction: neither the frothy superficiality of court society nor the deadly purposefulness of the French Revolution. Who can argue with that?” (Laura Kipnis - New York Times Book Review)

“Fascinating. . . . Mr. Magill’s range is extraordinary, and his wit, erudition and powers of observation give credence to [his] judgments.” (Daniel Akst - Wall Street Journal)

“Intriguing. . . . Magill agilely traces his subject through the ages.” (Rachel Shteir - New Republic)

About the Author

R. Jay Magill, Jr. is an independent scholar living in Berlin, where he works for the American Academy as a writer and editor, as well as a host of a radio program on NPR Worldwide. He is the author of Chic Ironic Bitterness, published in 2007, and from 1999-2005 was an editor, staff writer, and then Executive Editor of the National Magazine Award winning DoubleTake Magazine. During that time, Magill was also a teaching fellow at Harvard University, for which he received the Derek Bok award. He has written for, among other publications, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Policy, American Prospect, Der Spiegel, and Print; and as an illustrator he has produced scores of political cartoons and caricatures for a variety of newspapers, periodicals (e.g. The Believer), posters, and books (e.g. The Ultimate Guide to the US Economy). Since 2005 he has been a staff illustrator at the political bimonthly The American Interest, in Washington, DC.

More About the Author

R. Jay Magill Jr. is the author of Chic Ironic Bitterness (2007) and Sincerity (W.W. Norton, 2012). A writer and illustrator, his work has appeared in THe American Prospect, American Interest, Atlantic Monthly, Boston Globe, Foreign Policy, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Believer, Print, and Spiegel Online, among other periodicals and books. Magill is a former Harvard University Teaching Fellow and Executive Editor of DoubleTake, and he holds a PhD in American Studies from the University of Hamburg, in Germany. A native of Philadelphia, he lives in Berlin with his wife and son.

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By flintwich on September 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Both comprehensive and finely focused, SINCERITY succeeds at giving context to a notion that bedevils the modern age - our need to believe that people are saying what they REALLY think or feel. The subtitle hints at the fact that this is not an effort to convince the reading public to be more sincere - it is rather a sophisticated tracing of how the idea morphed from one thing to another, then another in European and American history. Though it traces something like 500 years of history, the book is at its best when dealing with modern-day America - in its introduction and the latter 80 or so pages. Indeed its point of departure is Sarah Palin: the modern political personality who most insisted on - and seemed to convince at least part of the public of - her own sincerity. Magill points out that being sincere doesn't mean that you are right, or that you've thought about what you've said, or that you are honest even: it just means you're more or less allowing the world a glimpse at how you FEEL. This, he argues quite persuasively, is not what we want in our politicians - we might rather ask them to be competent, honest, or other things, rather than demanding emotional transparency. He also finds sincerity buried under the modern ironic style as practiced by media figures like Steven Colbert and John Stewart - the ache for the 'real thing' that can only express itself through layers upon layers of irony. Very interesting stuff.

The book is just slightly less timely than it might be this fall because sincerity is not the hot-button issue of Election 2012, as it was when Sarah Palin appeared on the scene in 2008 and one political party seemed to have a lock on the concept. But Magill doesn't limit himself to politics - he exhumes the hipster sensibility that has evolved form irony to a kind of strained sincerity and dissects it with wit and style. Highly recommended read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It was amazingly painful and dull to read but there were parts of great interest. The author is rabidly anti-Catholic which was prejudicial to the writing in one section (ugly stories of debauchery which were probably true, but not annotated or relevant to the main point). Still, there were parts which stimulated my thinking and that's why I chose to read the book. I did enjoy the discussion of the Romantics and the Enlightenment. Undoubtedly, much of my disinterest stemmed from the fact that I didn't really understand what a hipster was until after reading the final chapter. Nor did I understand the excruciating interplay between religion, philosophy, fashion and art. I'm glad I read it, but I did NOT enjoy it.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By troyesffigy on January 11, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
i give a truly unaffected, slightly ironic two thumbs up to this book. it lays out a nice timeline of the history of the idea of sincerity. Magill also does a good job showing the space between authenticity, sincerity, honesty and their relationship with irony. buy it, read it.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By zeffrey throwell on October 4, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hilarious and insightful, it was the best thing I read all summer. I highly recommend it. Can't wait for his next book
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