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Status Anxiety Paperback – May 10, 2005


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More from Alain De Botton
Alain De Botton's clear, witty prose brings new life to the study of philosophy and literature. Visit Amazon's Alain De Botton Page.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375725350
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375725357
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This sophisticated gazebo of a book is the latest dispatch from the Swiss-born, London-based author of the influential handbook How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel (1997). Promising to teach us how to duck the "brutal epithet of 'loser' or 'nobody,' " de Botton notes that status has often been conflated with honor and that the number of men slain while dueling has amounted, over the centuries, to the hundreds of thousands. That conflation is a trap from which de Botton suggests a number of escape routes. We could try philosophy, the "intelligent misanthropy" of Schopenhauer, for who cares what others think if they're all a pack of ninnies anyhow? Art, too, has its consolations, as Marcel found out in Remembrance of Things Past. A novelist such as Jane Austen, with her little painted squares of ivory, can reimagine the world we live in so that we see fully how virtue is actually "distributed without regard to material wealth." De Botton also discusses bohemia, the reaction to status and the attack on bourgeois values, wisely linking this movement to dadaism, whose founder, Tristan Tzara, called for the "idiotic." The phenomenon known as "keeping up with the Joneses" is nothing new, and not much has changed in the 45 years since the late Vance Packard, in The Status Seekers, wrote the definitive analysis of consumer culture and its discontents. But even at the peak of his influence, Packard was never half as suave as de Botton. (A three-part TV documentary, to be shown in the U.K. and in Australia, and hosted by de Botton, has been commissioned to promote the book.) Lively and provocative, de Botton proves once again that originality isn't necessary when one has that continental flair we call "style."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

From the creator of the “literary self-help” genre comes a new volume of social criticism and lively anecdotes for The New Yorker set. De Botton’s trademark erudition is the foundation for his road map, and he spares no literary reference towards the goal of enlightening his audience. Like his previous books, How Proust Can Change Your Life and The Art of Travel, Status Anxiety is well written, and makes a convincing argument for our current malaise. The author’s decided lack of personal reflection sounds a false note for some critics; his personal experiences are few and far between. Still, with the exception of the Rocky Mountain News, the critics considered Status Anxiety an otherwise insightful work.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


More About the Author

Alain is the author of seven non-fiction books that look at the great questions of ordinary life - love, friendship, work, travel, home - in a way that is intellectually rigorous, therapeutic, amusing and always highly readable. His goal is to bring ideas back to where they belong: at the center of our lives.

Customer Reviews

All this makes one wonder what future ages will make of our own time.
Greg Hughes
This book is not a philosophy text and, like Alain's other books, is written in an easy to read style and tackles the question in an interesting and thoughtful way.
James Scott
In the second part of the book, Solutions, de Botton gives us some potential avenues with which we can relieve our status anxiety.
Camden Gaspar

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

156 of 159 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Hefele on August 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Alain de Botton (AdB) has written another book in his trademark witty, erudite style, kind of like a Woody Allen with a classical education. This time, his topic is the quest for social status. He probes the causes, and explores various prescriptions taken from philosophy, art, politics, religion, and bohemia to sooth our fears. He uses historical examples, from Tocqueville to Tony Robbins, to help us keep perspective and to sooth our anxieties.

I thought this was enjoyable summer reading, though not profound or complete by any means - although it was not meant to be. Also, some of AdB's other books are slightly better, so if this is the first book by AdB you want to read, I'd recommend "How Proust can Change your Life" first. But if the topic intrigues you, as it did me, then by all means give this book a try.

A summary of the topics covered is below:

First, AdB begins by claiming that it's human nature that we want to be a "somebody" rather than a "nobody," and to rise rather than fall or remain at too modest a rung on the social latter. This hunger for status can indeed drive us to achieve - but it also leads to a kind of restlessness characteristic of free, meritocratic societies. In contrast, there was no such anxiety in the Medieval caste system, because ones social status was fixed for life.

One root cause of our anxiety, AdB claims, is that our egos are forever leaky balloons forever requiring helium of recognition and love, but always vulnerable to pinpricks. The prescription: Don't take others evaluation too seriously - after all, "does an emerald become worse if it isn't praised?" Also, remember that the views of the masses are often perforated with confusion and error, relying on intuition, emotion, and custom rather than rationality.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Celia Redmore on May 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The skill of Swiss-born Alain de Botton lies in his ability to peel back the layers of complexity surrounding human relationships and lay bare the kernel. In "Status Anxiety" he looks for the source of modern angst-not to mention obsession-about our social rank. In particular, he examines the stories we tell ourselves to explain the righteousness of our situation and how those stories affect our happiness.
De Botton looks back at a time long ago when peasants led a far harsher existence in material terms, but rarely worried that their difficulties were "their own fault." Thus had God made the world, and such were the affairs of men supposed to be. When we could not improve our social rank or material worth, there was no tendency to confuse riches with saintliness.
Starting from that idealized Rousseau-esque time, the author follows changing ideas about personal rights and responsibilities and finds a distinct downside to the whole concept of Western meritocracy. If we can be anything we want to be, our current relative lack of wealth, power, beauty and fame must be our own fault. No longer able to blame God, bad luck or the stars for misfortune, we see the world split into winners (virtuous, hard-working and strong) and losers (evil, lazy and weak). Where we once understood the complexity and frailty of human existence, we now see the world in terms of newspaper headlines: "Oedipus the King: Royal in Incest Shocker."
Finally, "Status Anxiety" looks at some of the ways that modern humans have tried to escape this social trap. It considers both bohemian and Christian philosophies and finds merits in both, if notably fewer in bohemianism. Ultimately, the book concludes, if our current set of values offers true happiness and contentment to only an elite minority, the democratic solution is to change those values. De Botton's contribution to that end is this book.
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101 of 115 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Doepke on April 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
Turn on the tv or pick up a magazine, and chances are you'll experience a well crafted exercise in status envy, the stock-in-trade of our highly inventive advertising industry. Commercials are designed to create a need where none exists, and in many instances, where none should exist. It's this latter that is really the subject of de Botton's book. The text amounts to a learned yet oddly remote treatment of how we judge others and ourselves through the prism of status, a very serious and messy subject.

The book's first half, is informative and helpful, furnishing needed analytic and historical perspective, particularly the chapter on the self-defeating nature of expectation. However, the text would have been stronger and less remote had the author updated his account to current times instead of inexplicably trailing off in the 19th century. He really needs more research on the 20th century, when the problem of status anxiety exploded with the advent of the "level playing field". It's this literary-style approach that limits itself to previous centuries that separates his account from our current climate, and underlies much reader dissatisfaction.

The book's second half is given over to proposed remedies. From a merchandising point of view, this half amounts to an erudite guide for those seeking relief from the problem of is-my-standing-in-society-good-enough. Philosophy, art, and religion-- all share the capacity to reorient life's values away from social status to those transcendant values pointing toward the eternal. Of course, there's nothing like a view from eternity for stripping away petty concerns like status envy-- and everything else, for that matter .
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