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The Cultural Contradictions Of Capitalism: 20th Anniversary Edition Paperback – October 18, 1996

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Anniversary edition (October 18, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465014992
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465014996
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #179,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Daniel Bell is the Henry Ford II Professor of Social Sciences Emeritus at Harvard University and Scholar-in-Residence at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of editor of 17 books, two of which, The End of Ideology and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, were listed among the 100 Most Influential Books since the Second World War (TLS, October 1995).

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

81 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Mandamus on August 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
Daniel Bell's book highlights trends in modern Western culture that tend to go unnoticed, to our own detriment. Namely, that the driving forces that created modernity have been left unchecked to reach the negative end of their logical conclusions. The "Protestant work ethic" has been abandoned for hedonistic consumerism, and traditional cultural values have been eroded by egoism and nihilism. Very, very important points that we, as a society, need to think consciously and act decisively about. In this sense, CULTURAL CONTRADITCTIONS is an important book.

However, the book is far from perfect. One of the most irritating aspects of this book is that it focuses primarily on art. Bell spends far too much time lamenting the demise of--what I guess you could call--"classicism" or traditionalism in art. Intellectually interesting in its own right, but much of this discussion should have been left for another book.

Second, while Bell does a great job dissecting the problems, he is pretty scanty on solutions. He offers the tradional ineffectual intellectual solutions such as returing to "traditional" values and a renunciation of unrestrained consumerism.

Not surprisingly, he also calls for a return to religion. Religion is, after all, a significant pillar in Western culture, despite increasing secularism. Even if everyone stoped going to church or synagogue, we would still tacitly adhere to a kind of Judeo-Christian value system. Interestingly for someone so interested in religion, Bell ignores the contradiction in the "bourgeois establishment's" emphasis on religion--with its concern for the poor, the needy, and the spiritual realm--with our culture's obsession with the rich, the beautiful, and the profane. Would have made for an interesting discussion.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By magellan HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
Classic study by an outstanding scholar covering many interesting topics and issues in modern American society. As Bell has noted, America is a country where seemingly paradoxical cultural traits often find happy marriages, and to some extent, even happier divorces. He doesn't mention this, but Japan is an example of another country where this often occurs. Although the U.S. and Japan are very different, they share a common ability to incorporate useful and pragmatic cultural ideas and traits even if they are in conflict with the dominant ideology. We Americans are a practical people, after all. :-) Bell's knowledge of many important sociologists and other thinkers is deep, and he is able to use their insights in novel and creative ways. I also found his discussion of The Young Intellectuals at Harvard, such as Van Wyck Brooks, and their criticisms of middle American culture, such as the boring mediocrity of "Bourgeois sex," to be quite entertaining. My only fault with the book is Bell's style may be a little bit forbidding for some people, but a little patience here is more than rewarded. Qualitative sociology doesn't get any better than this.
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28 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Defenestrate on December 21, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Daniel Bell argues that modernism has reached a point of crisis, and that the values that supported capitalism are going to disappear.

I don't like his argument. He uses a concept of "culture" that is foreign to me-- high art, music, and so forth. His concept of culture is not "the common way of life of a people" or the shared systems of meaning that people have developed. His cultural conservatism and Chicken-little end-of-days hectoring are not convincing. After all, he, if I recall correctly, says that the Beatles are "degenerate." There probably has been some sort of change in the human experience due to rapid cultural change since the industrial revolution, but I don't think he captures it.

But even if I loved his argument, I would hate the ponderous, slow, meandering way that he wrote this work. It does not flow together like a straightforward essay; in fact, the chapters are sort of a pastiche. I suspect that the later chapters were published elsewhere in a different form, and then pasted into the book hastily. In general, he uses language as a weapon to bludgeon the reader instead of to help him or her. I should have to jump from a very tall building were I to find myself writing in his style.

It's an important work, I suppose, to be aware of, for how often it's been cited, but there's little pleasure to be gained from the words and the argument. Contemporary academic reviewers of Bell's work had the same opinion; perhaps someone who likes Dr. Bell's work should write a six-hundred page essay explaining how the negative reviews show the collapse of human morality. Except for such fans, I think few of us would profit from reading this work.
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24 of 42 people found the following review helpful By "javierhidalgo" on February 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a interesting book, but has a few major flaws that detract from the book as a whole. Among other things, the language is a problem. Bell disguises a few relatively simple ideas in superfluous and ambiguous language. I would sometimes read a paragraph and then translated it into simple English and would find that the idea behind all that tortured prose was actually quite simple. I have many other problems with this book, but they may just be a difference of opinion. Though, I would sometimes feel that Daniel Bell was just missing the point and his conclusions were consequently unrealistic. On the whole however, this is a very thought provoking book that attempts to trace the subterranean trends in modern society.
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