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The Lonely Crowd, Revised edition: A Study of the Changing American Character Paperback – March 1, 2001


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Product Details

  • Series: Yale Nota Bene
  • Paperback: 315 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300088655
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300088656
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"After half a century, this book has lost none of its capacity to make sense of how we live." -- Todd Gitlin

[T]he best-selling book by a professional sociologist in American history . . . [with] the widest influence on the nation at large. -- Orlando Patterson, New York Times

About the Author

David Riesman is Henry Ford II Professor of Social Sciences Emeritus at Harvard University. Nathan Glazer is emeritus professor of education and sociology structure at Harvard University. Reuel Denney was emeritus professor of English at the University of Hawaii. Todd Gitlin is professor of culture, journalism, and sociology at New York University and the author of The Sixties, The Twilight of Common Dreams, and two novels, most recently Sacrifice.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on April 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
A classic of American sociology, Riesman's book still rings true to a great extent in its preternatural sense of the (then) coming break between the modern and post-modern era. These days Reisman's characterological framework of social personality types -- tradition oriented, inner-directed, other-directed -- seems too pat, too simplistic, too culturally bound. Nevertheless, whether one believes in it or not, the framework remains so compelling that the reader begins to group all one's friends and acquaintances in one or another of the categories. It's the power of imaginative writing that holds our attention in spite of the too neat framework, proving once again that fiction is always more compelling than sociology. Crisp and evocative metaphors work every time! Two memorable metaphors -- the inner-directed person has a "gryoscope" implanted in him by his parents and his society, while the later other-directed personality is equipped with radar to seek out social cues, are deservedly famous. So are his distinctions between the way these different cultures control their members through negative self-assesment: tradition-oriented = shame; inner-directed = guilt; other-directed = anxiety.
To his credit, Riesman bends over backwards to say that people can belong to all categories at once through various manifestations of their characters. Nevertheless, the categories are so simple, and feel so descriptively true, that the tendency to believe in the categories and Riesman's historical sketch of how each comes about almost our overwhelms skepticism. Almost.
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36 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a superb book, a masterpiece of American sociology. Riesman's eye for detail and his capacity for historical sweep are prodigious. This is not a dry book, though it is probably more academic than your average customer can stomach; but Lonely Crowd stands with the work of Dwight MacDonald, C. Wright Mills, Daniel Bell as a vade mecum to the character of our country. Don't be fooled by this other review --Riesman added to the language with his descriptors "inner" and "outer" directed; if you are raising children, fending off Disney and Time Warner, these are critical weapons in your arsenal.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Valjean on July 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
For good or ill a great many books from several decades ago wouldn't be published -- or probably even written -- today. In most cases, the reasons for this state of affairs can be fairly guessed, e.g., historical racism and sexism, advances in technology and language, and lessons learned from recent history. With this as a preamble, I earnestly believe `The Lonely Crowd' would also not find a publisher in 2009 -- but for an especially curious reason: it had the gall to name and examine the "social character" of an entire society. Mr. Riesman's ambition alone would doom this work to a graduate school thesis -- and even then I doubt it'd pass muster.

To be sure, a few other reasons might damage its cause: namely, some truly impenetrable jargon and an occasional tendency to confuse correlation with causation. This latter is really only inexcusable due to the breadth of the subject: since the author attempted to explain -- in my opinion, successfully -- the fundamental nature of how individuals relate to others in society he clearly needed to toe a rigorous scientific line. But he slips in a particularly important area: naming an underlying cause for how social character shifts in a society from "inner-directed" (receiving unchanging values at a young age, typically from parents, and applying them consistently throughout life) to "other-directed" (being socialized by schools, peer groups and the media to orienting your ethical world around direction from others): Riesman curiously links this change to a population curve, deriving different social characters for traditional societies (little population growth), those in transition (rapidly growing) and post-industrial (leveled off) to fixed, inner-directed, and outer-directed behaviors, respectively.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
I first read The Lonely Crowd in the `60's. It was not an assignment, which is almost certainly a strong plus for enjoying a book. In fact, I've never had a sociology course in my life, and therefore have avoided the opacity of the field's jargon and the efforts to "harden" its scientific credentials by constructing equally opaque mathematical formulas that "model" human behavior. David Riesman says in the introduction that he only expected a few thousand copies would sell, and was astonished by its much wider reception. Indeed, if more sociology books were written in Riesman's style, that is, with carefully selected instructive anecdotes, coupled with incisive observations on human interactions, and then placed in a meaningful overall framework, the valid work in the field would reach a much wider audience. I was duly impressed with his observations, style and formulations the first time; on the re-read none have lost their power, but in addition, his prescient insights into the workings of American society are as topical as today's headlines on our economic situation.

My copy of the book was first written in 1947, and it was updated, with an introduction, in 1960. Riesman admits in the 1960 introduction that he was wrong about a key aspect of his social character paradigms. He postulated three principal character types: tradition directed; inner directed; other directed. The types correspond roughly to how an individual derives his / her values. In traditional societies they are instilled in a relatively unchanging environment, in which roles are easily understood. The inner directed personality is installed in one's youth, and Riesman uses the metaphor of a gyroscope that a person must relay on in a changing environment.
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