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The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves Hardcover – April 13, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (April 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006125133X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061251337
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #986,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

According to Potter (coauthor of Nation of Rebels), the cost of modernity's dismantling of traditional frameworks of truth and meaning has forced meaning and authenticity to become individual searches that are private and consumercentric. Potter's lively cultural analysis combines an astute analysis of foundational antimodernist thought (in particular Rousseau) with savvy surveys of mass culture to flag the pitfalls and ironies of the modern obsession with authenticity in its every incarnation (authentically punk, spiritual, environmentally conscious) from our jeans to our celebrities. Potter champions a mitigation of modernity's negative, alienating effects rather than a rejection of modernity, and his characterizations of antimodernists can be dismissive to the point of oversimplifying a large and varied spectrum of dissent from the status quo. But in redeeming modernity from primitivists, apocalyptic doom-mongers, and more subtle critics, the author offers a shrewd and lively discussion peppered with pop culture references and a stimulating reappraisal of the romantic strain in modern life. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

We live, Potter argues, in a world dominated by the prepackaged and the artificial, the fraudulent and the fake. Growing out of this increasingly bleak cultural landscape is a movement centered on the notion of authenticity: the honest, the natural, the real. That’s all fine and good, Potter says, except for one thing: we don’t have a clue what we mean by authenticity, and even if we did, we wouldn’t know how to find it. That is, the quest for authenticity is a hoax—there is no such thing. Authenticity is an exclusionist notion, defined, by what it isn’t, not by what it is, and, for the most part, so-called authentic lifestyles are just as artificial and contrived as the rest of modern culture. It’s a fascinating approach to a fascinating subject, and Potter bolsters his argument with examples drawn from pop culture, history, and other sources. Written in a lively style that invites the reader to argue with the author, the book, at the very least, will turn the reader’s eye inward, and make us take a good, long look at the way we present ourselves to the world. --David Pitt

Customer Reviews

I loved this book and found it very readable.
Amazon Customer
My other criticism is that Potter has not clearly defined "authenticity."
No real, no fake, no good, no bad, no self, no other.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The above quote is from this book's seventh chapter. Not only are we all multiculturalists now, but the idea of being 'authentic' is simply part of our every day vocabulary. Bestsellers like The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Dilbert and The Office lampoon the inauthentic desk job, and a robust consumer market of 'authentic' everything (from jeans to organic produce) grows by the year.

So, why challenge it? Andrew Potter gives us several good reasons. First, he suggests that seeking for authenticity is as self-defeating as it is phony. It is self-defeating because when one quests for the authentic, one tends to get lost in the search (which is the opposite of focusing on any 'true self'). It is phony because, all too often, seeking the authentic - buying organic food, appreciating different cultural artifacts, etc - is every bit as much about appearing to be authentic to others as it is achieving authenticity for the self. The first several chapters (minus the first, which explores the emergence of authenticity as an ideal, explore these themes).

Next we come to some chapters that question the very distinction between authentic and inauthentic, on epistemic and ontological grounds. Ontologically, it is simply arbitrary to call x natural and y authentic when, in reality, they may be both made from the same stuff. What makes, say, an original painting authentic and a reproduction inauthentic? Now we get to the shaky epistemology. The original painting is real, says Potter, not because of anything about the painting, but EVERYTHING about our expectations of the painting.
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43 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Fairweatherassult on June 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The author's status as editor with a Canadian business magazine, and that the National Post calls him 'smart', should give you your first indication of what is this author's perspective (one he never self-critiques). This is from the point of view of centre-right, pro-global corporate thinkthanking.

So, it becomes very evident quite quickly that by 'authenticity', the author is not offering a complex understanding for the 'search of self' from a psychological, religious, or even philosophical point of enquiry. Instead, 'authenticity' as a pursuit is quickly shelved under a collective disdain for ecofeminists, organic chefs, and other loony lefties looking for alternatives to big business. In the author's view, they're dupes of faux liberalism that, contrary to their claims to being alternative, in fact enforce their own capital of elitism by claiming to be the morally superior.

I'm willing to listen. We all know that 'Eat, Pray Love' spawned an industry of 'Shop, Buy, Consume' in terms of pasta machines and yoga mats. But here's where the author's need to dump pop culture reference gets sloppy. Naomi Klein is lumped alongside Deepak Choprah. Fair trade coffee enthusiasts share a Titanic ride with home-schooled adventurers who die at the hands of Somali pirates off the coast of oil soaked shores. It becomes very clear that, far from being a philosophically astute work on identity politics in a digital age, this is simply a screed against those who don't agree with his economic policies. And this is where the book is terribly unoriginal in its diagnosis: to sweep away discussions on self-realization and authenticity as little more than 'rainbow-chasing' or sound-bite sentimentality is hardly original. He might as well have called the book, "Tree huggers, get outta my way.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. Miller on August 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Bad: Several of Potter's personal positions go unexamined throughout the writing. The writing itself often feels undirected (and unrelated to the core thesis) from chapter to chapter. And Potter often spends so much time explaining previous findings and other arguments that his actual point gets lost.

The Good: There's a huge amount of stuff in here linking a wide range of philosophers to particular societal behavioral patterns that have played out over the years. I suspect that this book would be more valuable for people than most 100-level philosophy college courses. Really, I loved how much large portions of this book shifted my perspectives so that I could think about things in different ways.

The Ugly: Potter seems to run the entire book without tapping either existentialism or absurdism, which is a bit of a problem as they're directly concerned with answering to what is real about humanity, starting with the basic premise that Existence Precedes Essence (a.k.a. You are as you do, not as you think) and, as Sartre wrote "Hell is other people" not because they don't get the real you, but because maybe they do. Also, Erich Fromm might have been mentioned in passing for his work in Escape From Freedom, but not nearly enough to appropriately reflect his body of work on this topic.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By M. Mazza on July 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a pleasure to read. To me, the author's aim is to help us question the assumptions that we either take for granted or otherwise cling to as though they were unshakable truths.

Enter "authenticity," a term that most of us define by describing what "it is not." This contrastive definition is a start, but it makes us come up short when it comes time to actually identify what "authenticity" really is, or at least what we mean by it. The truth is, there is no consensus; "authenticity" is subject to personal bias and psychological "framing," a term that describes the application of our preconceptions to the matter at hand.

Essentially, Potter shows us that to define "authenticity" is to negate it. With several examples, he shows how the "authenticity" we end up settling for is a branded product, courtesy of a consumer culture long tweaked to our psychological needs.

What we are really after, according to the author, is distinction--status disguised and marketed as "authenticity." It's sold to us because we want it--and perhaps even need it in such a fashion, so it is not entirely fair to lay the blame on the corporations that are experts at fulfilling our whims.

To me, the search for "authenticity" also masks a search for the self--and identity is a fragile thing. We might get "lost finding ourselves," but I'm not so sure we know what we're looking for to begin with.

In his chapter about politics, for instance, Potter poses one of the best questions of the book: do we genuinely want honesty? I don't think so. I'm reminded of two observations, one by George Carlin made long ago: "If honesty were introduced into politics, the entire system would collapse.
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