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The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy Paperback – February 4, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Delivers well-judged wisdom."  —Oliver James, author, They F*** You Up

"Achingly funny and wise . . . vastly entertaining."  —Daily Mail

"Michael Foley's entertaining, intelligent book may just help you get over yourself. . . . Absurdly readable."  —Observer

"Bound to be compared to the works of Patrick McCabe and Roddy Doyle, Foley's novel is stingingly funny, ruefully perceptive and anything but unremarkable."  —Publishers Weekly on Getting Used to Not Being Remarkable
--This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

About the Author

Michael Foley was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, but since 1972 he has lived in London, working as a Lecturer in Information Technology. He has published four novels, four collections of poetry and a collection of translations from French poetry, which have earned impressive reviews from The Guardian, New Statesman and New York Times. The Age of Absurdity is his first non-fiction book.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd (February 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847375243
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847375247
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,626,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Everyone who owns a Smartphone, enjoys shopping, loves travel, or gets high on work might find this book horrifying or enlightening, depending on how much we would prefer status quo or change. Technology was meant to give us more leisure time, after all, life was meant to be enjoyed, leisurely; but technology nowadays finds hype as its sister and they ruin our lives ever so insiduously. Life in the 21st century has allowed technology and modern life-style gurus and advertisers to embrace it with a python's grip, and we suffocate blithely thinking we are ascending heaven. Foley has written a comically serious book about how modern amenities and goals keep us from finding happiness. It is more than just a book recounting all the useless things we do everyday and the advertisements that fool us into believing how necessary they are, it is also inspirational in giving the time-honoured axioms that modern living rubs away. Foley draws upon the philosophy of the stoics, Schopenhauer, Camus, and Buddha to lead us to the forgotten paths to happiness. He describes the absurdities of what we do in love, at work, and in age. What we need, he thinks, is a dash of stoicism, Buddha-like insight, and a Camus-inspired acceptance of the absurdity of life. "Worrying about tomorrow, we lose today." Hence, he concludes with the chapter on the "Happiness of Absurdity". If you enjoy this book, you might like Andrew Keen's "The Cult of the Amateur", and vice versa.
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Format: Paperback
This book is not if you want to find a quick-fix to becoming happier. Or maybe it is. Maybe this is the cold shower you then need. Foley assembles intelligence about happiness from Buddha to modern psychology, mixing science and humanism and serving you with a strenuous journey. But maybe that is what you need.

Happiness is not a state but a process, a continuous striving, as Foley writes: "An emotion ceases to be a passion as soon as we form a clear idea of it". And that striving might be they key as Psychologist Daniel Nettle says "the purpose of the happiness programme in the human mind is not increase human happiness; it is to keep us striving". At the same time Foley reminds of Kant's view that "the pursuit of happiness is itself the main cause for unhappiness". In this manner the book takes the reader through the different views of happiness and how to achieve it, often without giving any real answers. Maybe because there aren't any five bullet recipes of happiness, except as Flaubert is quoted "Stupidity, selfishness and good health are the three prerequisites for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking the other two are useless".

But Foley gives us a couple of things to keep in mind. The first is to see ourselves as the roadblock or path to happiness, to take full responsibility and not to find reasons for failure or shortage of luck in others or externally. As Sartre said: "Man is fully responsible for his nature and his choices". Happiness might be a choice - "pain is inevitable, suffering optional". So stopping the blame on genes, upbringing and context, might be a first step. And reminding yourself of what Katrine Hepburn says in The African Queen: "Nature, Mr Allnut, is what we are put into this world to rise above".
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is a sharp, witty, highly intelligent and really quite brilliant book. Foley reminds us that
our yearning for authenticity is not found only in novelty--a new place, a new lover, a new job: "More effective is to see the familiar with new eyes . . . to smash the crust of habit and see life anew." He exhorts us to "begin a new job in your current post, enjoy a holiday where you actually live, and most thrillingly, plunge into a tumultuous affair with your own spouse." (139) The book is full of nuggets of learned information and wonderful quotes such as "understanding is itself transformation" (24). It is packed with impressive research into psychology and a review of the broad sweep of philosophy from the Stoics to Rousseau with Camus and the Buddha in between and beyond. The style is easy flowing, lucid and full of distilled and simple but profound wisdom. Ideal for scholars, searchers and interested readers this will become a classic.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A fascinating, erudite, compelling exploration of the philosophy and science of happiness - whether it's achievable as a sustained state, what brain chemistry tells us about love and infatuation, our biological drive for transcendent states and why they are essentially unsustainable, why variety may be wildly overrated and misunderstood, why the great philosophers all seem to arrive at the same conclusions about man's search for meaning...

I've recommended this book to at least a dozen friends. It's that good. And as with some books, it has you thinking long after you've turned the final page.

Modern consumer society has become a race to reward ourselves with ever greater or more varied experiences, which we basically tell ourselves we deserve by virtue of being, well, us. The problem being that like a hit of heroin, that which might make us feel good in the short term requires larger and larger hits to get a smaller and smaller high, until eventually we've trained ourselves to have to be mainlining just to feel somewhat normal. It's great if you're in the biz of selling heroin, not so great if you're in the biz of trying to live a self-actualized, relevant, relatively happy life.

What a wonderful book. Not often you hear me say that...

Will it give you a series of easy-to-follow steps on how to wind up happy? No. Because there is no such bromide. Will it give you enough food for thought to give you a running chance at living as full a life as possible?


Best $10 you'll ever spend, and a joy to read.
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