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The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity Paperback – August 4, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Trade; Reprint edition (August 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594483841
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594483844
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"There is a sweet memoir embedded in this book of cultural criticism, into which Mr. Todd has deftly wrangled the whole gang, from Jean Baudrillard to Lionel Trilling."
-The New York Times

"An arch and eloquent meditation."
-O, the Oprah magazine

"Dazzling, beautifully crafted...A small masterpiece- and 'small' only because of its brevity, not its scope."
-Chicago Tribune

"Provocative and oddly comforting...Refreshing."
-The Arizona Republic

"A fully realized, brave, and movingly honest memoir...[Todd] makes a figure in which to contemplate ourselves."

"A splendid book, brimming with wit and original insights...Most pertinent to the way we live now."
-Ward Just, author of Forgetfulness

About the Author

Richard Todd has spent many years as a magazine and book editor at The Atlantic, New England Monthly, and Houghton Mifflin. His essays and cultural reportage have appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New York Times, Worth, and numerous other magazines. A member of the MFA faculty at Goucher College, he lives in Western Massachusetts. 

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth West on August 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book and want to read it again. When I first read it, alone in my living room, I nodded, grunted, and laughed out loud. A few sections made my eyes fill with tears. I kept thinking, "I've got to buy a copy of this for so-and-so."

Todd begins with an anecdote about buying a lovely antique. When this item turns out to be a fake, Todd wonders why this should even matter. After all, the object is still beautiful; it hasn't changed. He then goes on to explore both the nature of authenticity and the history of our yearning for it.

He follows a meandering path, which is a large part of the book's charm. I loved the asides and byways, many of which left me with a desire to travel further along them. I also loved the details contained in these asides. I'm grateful, too, for the specific titles that Todd mentions. Most of all, though, I loved the tone: kind, thoughtful, inclusive, and deeply human. Todd does not make this an abstract discussion. He personalizes it in ways that will help every reader know just what he means.

I read this quickly so I could pass on my copy to my brother. Now I need more copies to give as gifts. I guess the first person to get one will be me.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Peter Coyote on August 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I am the brother who received the gift of Mr. Todd's book . Its excellence and wit has produced within me, among flushes of admiration and enjoyment, a few ominous polyps of envy; the sneaking suspicion that Mr. Todd is simply "better" than I am. Because my sister and I are both writers, "better" in this case, maps not only the geography of witty and elegant prose; but also a writer's envy of ideas so admirably turned as to make one suspect that Mr Todd possesses the sole example a lathe designed to express them as perfectly appropriately as the leg of a fine Queen Anne chair. An idea appears, is isolated for examination, and then twirled and turned around and upside down, until every perspective and permutation has been considered. Other readers, like myself, undoubtedly hold opinions about kitsch, Disneyland, authenticity, antique fairs, Yuppie suburban interlopers, wilderness, personal failings and cultural collapse, but I'll wager that by the end of this book those opinions will have been revised and certainly better articulated. Mr. Todd's genius is that he can make you laugh while he forces you do this. I'll think better of myself because I have bought and shared copies of this book with friends and resisted the temptation of inserting his observations into conversations as my own. Yet having admitted that, I can see that even this dishonorable impulse, is part of the terrain this wonderful book maps.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Diamond on October 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The prevailing style in these reviews seems to be personal confession. So here's mine. Dick Todd is a friend of mine too. Not a good one, mind you. What is it Gore Vidal used to say when good fortune befell another writer? "Whenever a friend succeeds a little something in me dies." However, I was so excited to see Dick's book make it into print (finally) that I literally jumped up and down and gave the author a huge embrace. To say Dick is not a man prone to hugging other men is like saying the nation is experiencing a little bit of a credit situation. (I should add that in his self effacing manner Dick always finds a way to make clear that the awkwardness is all his.) Dick eschews such reckless acts of sentimentality. We would expect nothing less from the man who just wrote the book on authenticity. Nevertheless, ignoring Dick's obvious discomfort, that's exactly what I did. I hugged him. What's more, I didn't let go. "Okay, okay, that's nice. Thank you. Alright, I appreciate that. Truly," said Dick tapping me on the back and looking at his wife with a desperate expression on his face--the way you might look if a friend excited about showing you his pet Boa constrictor, suddenly turned and threw the reptile into your unsuspecting arms and said, "Here, you take a turn!" But what Dick didn't realize is that I wasn't so much hugging him as trying to hold onto him. Because when Dick Todd goes (and I hope that doesn't happen anytime soon), we will be losing one of the best American writers and thinkers in a generation.

I read THE THING ITSELF (for the first time) while on vacation with several other families. Eleven of us packed into these tiny decaying bungalows on a pond in the woods. Dick's book was passed around from reader to reader.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Maria A. Lernerman on December 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Background: I am neither a writer nor a philosophy student so I'm in no way qualified to judge whether the analysis and conclusions are novel or unique. That out of the way I really enjoyed the book. With a kaleidoscope of loosely connected chapters it does a great job exploring concepts of authenticity, reality, self, society, and values in a creative, relevant, and enticing way. It certainly made me stop and think. The book is at its best when the author's humility, inquiry, and sprit of curiosity shine through. It is a fast read, which is good all the way to the end (actually I think it picks up intensity mid-way through). I can see myself coming back to re-read it. I recommend it!
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