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

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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."
-Ploughshares

"A splendid book, brimming with wit and original insights...Most pertinent to the way we live now."
-Ward Just, author of Forgetfulness --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (August 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594483841
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594483844
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 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: #500,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 39 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 r on April 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very thought provoking exploration of what is authentic and what is false masquerading as real. Todd's style is engaging, scholarly, humorous at times and always compelling. In a society mesmerized by celebrity and preoccupied with money and status, it's a good book to read in this time of economic readjustment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By G. Belsky on August 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Two years after reading this book (I'm here because I'm buying it, again, as a gift) I can recall more than a few things I took from it. That's saying something. It's a little loose at times, but more than worth the occasional digression for its takeaway value.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Ashe on July 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Richard Todd's THE THING ITSELF presented itself as instructing through example. It is a series of personal essays that, as the subtitle says, are "on the search for authenticity. Yet this book's strengths as a prose work have made it difficult to analyze or distill into creative non-fiction "lessons learned". Unlike the children's vitamin that, on television, "build healthy bodies 12 ways", Todd may not provide a similarly well-defined tonic for would-be writers of creative non-fiction, but the book is a compelling vision of the personal vision between covers.

The book is a collection of interlinked essays on the theme of authenticity. It is a personal vision and the author presents it throughout. The author's tone and point of view is also that suited to the essay format. This is the personal vision on a limited subject, not a speech to the public but an after dinner talk or one delivered across the seminar table to a select few.

Authenticity as described in the book includes not only life choices and art, but also writing. The author directly addresses euthenics in nonfiction writing and the pitfalls and limitations inherent in the decisions an author must make of how to participate in, shape or appear in their own work. He is explicit on the difficulty to achieve veracity, let alone authenticity, in first person writing. "No word in English is more likely than "I" to precede a lie, and if the subject is complicated at all, the pronoun must almost without fail precede a half-truth". (p. 206)

Todd's summation of the dilemma the writer has to deal with a result of this reality, that "all memoir is at its heart fictive" (p.
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