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The Idea of Culture 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0631219668
ISBN-10: 0631219668
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It is a little disconcerting, after reading the elegant and precise first chapter of Eagleton's overview of political, social and cultural concepts of culture, to find him stating at the outset of the second one: "[I]t is hard to resist the conclusion that the word 'culture' is both too broad and too narrow to be greatly useful." But his evaluation proves accurate. Drawing upon a wide range of sources, theories and disciplines--from Raymond Williams's Marxist criticism to Ruskin's aesthetic theories, Richard Rorty's pragmatic political philosophy and Althusser's political commentary--Eagleton (Literary Theory; Myths of Power; etc.) surveys the far-ranging and often conflicting ways "culture" might be defined and used to interpret or interact with the material world. In the first two chapters, Eagleton delivers a clear but essentially academic pr?cis of a complicated concept. Yet in his later chapters--on the culture wars, the tension between nature and culture and the possibilities for creating a common culture--he breaks out of a purely descriptive mode and into a provocative, entertaining one, noting, for example, that Americans use the word "America" far more than Danes use the word "Denmark," commenting, "this is what happens when your view of other countries is for the most part through a camera lens or from a bomber." In this brief volume, Eagleton has produced both a thoughtful analysis of cultural theories as well as a shrewd, liberal dissection of current social and political trends. (Mar.) FYI: This is the first book in the Blackwell Manifestos series.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Eagleton's latest book promises to be an important addition to the field of cultural studies. A prominent literary critic and Marxist theorist, Eagleton writes in a style that is somewhat rambling but always colorful and lively. Placing the notion of culture in historical, philosophical, and political context, Eagleton describes the emergence of today's mass culture, with its perceived threat to traditional values. To illustrate the changing meaning of culture, he notes the views of such thinkers as Nietzsche, T.S. Eliot, and Matthew Arnold. He also quotes liberally from the works of his former teacher and mentor, Raymond Williams (Culture and Society, 1780-1950). The initial offering in Blackwell's new "Manifestos" series, this book is recommended for advanced undergraduate collections.
-Ellen Sullivan, Ferguson Lib., Stamford, CT
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (May 18, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631219668
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631219668
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Terry Eagleton is John Edward Taylor Professor of English Literature at the University of Manchester. His numerous books include The Meaning of Life, How to Read a Poem, and After Theory.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By not a natural on October 17, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Terry Eagleton has a gift for making complex and esoteric material accessible to a broad and interested range of readers. I was especially impressed with his efforts to make dizzyingly new and abstruse material readily available to non-specialist readers of his books Literary Theory and After Theory. Both were a pleasure to read and opened me to more of Eagleton's work. They also helped me avoid being too quick to dismiss those whose writings have a similar substance but a less readable style.

However, for whatever reasons, in his brief book titled The Idea of Culture, Eagleton makes no discernible effort to pitch it to the cheap seats, occupied by readers who are intelligent, engaged, and generally well educated. The intended audience for The Idea of Culture seems clearly to be people like Eagleton himself who have read and remembered everything of importance ever written in cultural studies and the humanities, broadly construed. Given that, his failure to refer to philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer's book Truth and Method and its pertinent and instructive treatment of the concept tradition seems a mistake, though there are so many references in this book that I suppose this sort of oversight was inevitable.

Oddly, moreover, with the exception of Marx and a few anthropologists, references to the social sciences are notable by their absence in a book whose substance would seem to scream for their inclusion. This, it seems to me, is a costly failing, one that makes Eagleton's job much more difficult.
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I think Terry Eagleton is a very good writer, and for the most part, he has made many seemingly-difficult concepts accessible to larger audiences. And this book is another example of that. His discussion of the culture vs. nurture debate, the tracing of the idea of culture historically, and his reflections of Culture vs. culture are lively and interesting - and one does not need to be a critic of culture to understand Eagleton. However, I do feel, not unlike some other reviewers here, that this book sometimes takes on some asides that are either meant to be funny, or incredibly witty, but that nevertheless have very little to do with the subject at hand, or at least, take very long and provide very little to his discussions. Many a time I believe Eagleton gives in to comedic, or tongue-in-cheek characterizations or commentary that seem irrelevant or contradictory to his overall argument about the intricacies of the understanding of culture. Although I am very close to U.S. American culture, and this clearly creates a bias that I'd like to make evident, the book goes off, at some points, rampantly against U.S. Americans and their culture, utilizing generalizations about their poor nutrition ("If people of truly surreal fatness complacently patrol its streets, it is partly because they have no idea that this is not happening everywhere else") or linguistic incapability ("A statement like 'He rejected my proposal, and even though I kept insisting he was adament in his refusal', becomes in some youthful American-English 'Like he was all "uh-uh" and I was like kinda "hey!" but he was like "no way" or whatever"). These detractions from his argument are somewhat comedic, but really unhelpful.Read more ›
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Tyler Davis on January 31, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Frankly, this is one of the worst books I have ever read. My ultimate displeasure with this book is not due to the ideas espoused, but to the almost incomprehensible nature of the author's writing. I simply could not find one strand of sustainable, coherent argumention in the entire book. I don't believe I have ever encountered a book wherein the authors says so many things but, in the end, says nothing at all. If you are looking for a good book on the nature and philosphy of culture, please, take my advice and look elsewhere.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By truthbealiar on March 10, 2013
Format: Paperback
If you can't handle criticism of America without getting all butthurt about it, I don't think you're really thinking critically about your own culture.
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6 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Mel on January 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
I came across this book in a library. I've always been interested in culture and identity, however I am by no means an expert, so I was interested in reading up a bit more on these topics.

As I read through the book, one point became overwhelmingly clear--the author, Terry Eagleton--has a huge bone to pick with the United States. I live abroad in Europe, and so I am fairly used to the negative and comically narrow minded view people have of Americans, however I had yet to encounter it in something touted as academic material.

He attacks pretty much everything about American culture, grossly generalizing about American's treatment of everything from the body, religion, intellect, speech and even their sense of identity.

A few quotes: "If people of truly surreal fatness complacently patrol its streets, it is partly because they have no idea that this is not happening everywhere else. Americans use the word 'America' much more frequently than Danes use the word 'Denmark' or Malaysians use the word 'Malaysia'. No doubt this is what happens when your view of other countries is for the most part through a camera lens or from a bomber". (pg 91).

Really? What does the author base his assertation that "Americans use the word 'America' much more frequently" on? He doesn't cite any sources, just makes an unfounded claim which he uses to segue into his next gem that our view of other countries is for the most part "through a camera lens or from a bomber." That's right, Mr. Eagleton, no one in the US travels and everyone agrees with war! How simple!
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