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The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations Paperback – May 17, 1991

4.3 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Formidable intellectual grasp and the kind of moral conviction rarely found in contemporary, value-neutral history and sociology. . . . Lasch is on to something quite real. (Time)

His vigorous appraisal of contemporary American life is to be admired as much for the perspicacity of his observations as for the contancy of this argument and the scope of his supporting references. . . . Few write with his penetration, intelligence, and historical expertise. (Kirkus Reviews)

Christopher Lasch has gone to the heart of our culture. The insights into personality and its social context are stunning. This is a courageous, important book. (Michael Rogin, University of California, Berkeley)

Cultural history at its best. . . . Provokes, startles, and keeps the reader arguing with himself as well as with the writer. . . . A book of fundamental importance. (Bruce Mazlish, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

About the Author

Christopher Lasch (1932–1994) was also the author of The True and Only Heaven, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, and other books.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Revised edition (May 17, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393307387
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393307382
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,346 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book very throught-provoking, in the boldness and bleakness of its basic thesis (that narcissism is really about fear [and is not simply about vanity]; and that America is a culture that suffers from [and promotes] fear [of nothingness, of "no exit"]). Due to this narcissistic fear, Lasch believes that Americans lack a purpose, an "end-point," and that this anomie, coupled with gross cultural overloads (the failure of the family, the intrusion of the state into the family, the substitution of state paternalism for individual self-initiative, the erosion of authority, the "therapeutic culture," and so forth) gives rise to "the spectacle" designed to distract America from the fear of being nothing and its inner rage (whew! that was a sentence!).

It takes some effort to grasp Lasch's thesis, and I found some of the commentary dated (as one might expect from a book published in 1979), but the writing is very polished and thoughtfully provocative.

All of the "problems" I encountered with the book were those of trying to understand, think through, "test" and consider Lasch's ideas--which, to me, are all marks a good book. I can find fault with specifics in Lasch's ideas, but overall, this was a persuasive, interesting, and compelling union of cultural and individual analysis, centered on the psychoanalytic concept of narcissism and America's unique history.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In his 1990 afterword to The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch explains his purposes in his original book. The common cliché is that the 60's are the decade of social consciousness and cultural revolution, the 70's the decade of me-ism and political apathy. The Culture of Narcissism was thus seen as a 1970's jeremiad against a culture of self-regarding selfishness.

Not so. The book grew out of an earlier study of the family (Haven in a Heartless World) and is concerned with far larger cultural patterns than the transient decade-by-decade changes of the late 20th century. Lasch is concerned with the bureaucratization of both business and life, the surrendering of parental authority to `professionals' who are anxious to justify their existence and reap the benefits of a general cultural and personal dependency. We emerge from the womb too early, our primal feelings being those of loss (of our previous blissful state) and the painful realization of our utter dependency. This leads to both systems of thought and political/cultural programs designed to capitalize on those psychological realities. Rather than come to terms with our limitations and constraints we strive to regain our bliss by indulging our dependency and many stand by to help us with that doomed quest.

From that point, Lasch explores multiple aspects of our society, from higher education to sport to paternalism in its many forms, to sex, politics and popular culture. The result is a masterpiece of cultural history and analysis. In the course of the book Lasch is forced to struggle with multiple difficulties. First, cultural history is endlessly complicated and does not yield answers easily.
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Format: Paperback
Lasch has touched a very sensistive social nerve in his book "The Culture Of Narcissism." He gives the reader the awareness of living in a society that has become increasingly self-absorbed, out of touch with its past and future, and totally focused on the moment where everyone is seeking decadence and immediate self-gratification. I strongly believe that the narcissism in our culture is the direct result of the combination of consumerism and individualism that are both advocated for by the corporate elite and the politicians. The end result is profits !!! Lasch's book is a powerful and accurate portrayal of an ailing society heading toward disaster....
I would highly recommend this book for every American that is interested in comprehending himself and his society. It will surely provide the reader with an educational experience and an electrifying reading!
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While I have always felt that Lasch, in general, relied too heavily on Freudian theory in his arguments (which is a shame, given his outstanding knowledge of both history and sociology), the specific portrait he draws of the modern american personality is both accurate and damning - this is Freud that works! There should be a new popularity for this several-years-old book since it is, however unintentionally, the psycho-biography of William Jefferson Clinton. If you ever wondered why the most powerful man on earth risked all to dally with a 21 year-old intern or what made a former peacenik into the Bomber of the Balkans, you must read this book. The real answers are there. Additionally, the late Prof. Lasch was an excellent stylist... if only other academics wrote half as well.
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