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Generation of Vipers Paperback – September 1, 1996

4.3 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Originally published in 1943, novelist Wylie's jeremiad attacks the complacencies of the American way of life.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this 1942 volume, Wylie, one of the founders of The New Yorker, attacks everything imaginable, from politics to religion to mothers. He could give H.L Mencken a run for his money as the most opinionated person of the 20th century. Considering the world hasn't improved much in the last 50 years, much of what he says has great relevance today.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 331 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; 2nd edition (September 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564781461
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564781468
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #915,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stephen A. Newton on May 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
Back in 1968, I read Vipers and was blown away. I wrote Mr. Wylie a letter about how much I liked the book and how my own life was moving toward rebellion. I never expected to hear from the author, but I did. He wrote back saying that the publication of Vipers had ruined his life and his family's, especially his daughter's. He disavowed his insights and told me to forget trying to buck "the system."

Nevertheless, it took courage for him to express his views and despite his warning, I followed his lead.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book when published in 1942, and it became a major source of inspiration for me. Despite its stinging vitriol, Wylie often hit the nail on the head in his appraisal of the dismal state of politics, humanity, and interpersonal relationships in America. His early-on presentation of a future reviewer of our culture is both hilarious and frightfully true. Our idea of prizefighting as something satisfying to orgiastic crowds of onlookers (and radio listeners) as these men wrapped their fists in cloths and pummeled each other into insensibility has lasted with me my whole life. His chapter on the medical mess in our society is as true today as it was then--his call for universal medical care as vain then as it seems now when we lag so far behind other countries. And of course his attack on momism and the whole Cinderella story gained him the vitriol of most women readers who failed to recognize themselves in his mirror. Can one ever forget his observation that he detected envy amongst some of the blue star mothers (during WWII folks displayed one or more blue stars in their windows for sons overseas), envy of gold star mothers (yes, those who had lost one or more sons)? To re-read it now is to recognize Wylie's genius, and to wish this book was indeed on high school or college reading lists for all it still has to say. Curmudgeonly? You bet, but after all, at my advanced age, I know I can admit that curmudgeons help us to understand our errors. Unfortunately the more recent generations prove to have been never-learning generations of vipers as well.
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Format: Paperback
Reviewing the events of the day as I lay my disturbed head on my pillow, for some reason, "The Generation of Vipers," came to mind. I recalled this book when it was first published, and how impressed I was all those years ago with the courage and insight of Mr.Philip Wylie. I recalled the attacks on so many segments of our society that in my youth I felt were justified.

I immediately searched my collection to see if I still had that book. Strangely, among all the books I have, I immediatly located the book, and in the morning checked it out with the great website, "Amazon.com." from whom I order various books over time.

I know that in re-reading this book, I will not be disappointed and in fact, that the status quo will be equally appropriate as was the state of affairs all those years ago.

I noted at the time that the book was published in 1942, while the country was at War which took an enormous amount of courage. In my edition, there is a forward by Mr. Wylie, dated December 7, 1954, which is very interesting. Informatively, I had first read the 1942 publication, and later aquired the 1955 publicaton.

Since Mr. Wylie has passed away, I must confess that I am tempted at the age of 84, to dissect our status quo as bravely as Mr. Wylie.

There is so much to rip apart, so to speak. Our entire political sysem, how we elect a President, which is highly suspect in these times, elevating a mere politician to "Emperor Status," with perks, such as a flying palace, which in fact is a pink elephant, which is paid for by untold amount of taxpayers. Cunning advisors, speech writers, state of the art teleprompters, spokespersons, etc., to just list a few.
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"Generation of Vipers" apparently caused quite a stir when it was published in 1942, and it remains a jarring read even in the new century.

The chapter on sexual mores, "A Specimen American Attitude", in which he seems to favor more loose standards, is a pillar-to-post embarrassment. Christians also cannot embrace Wylie's views of Christ and Christianity set out in the chapter "The Man on the Cross".

That being said, in other chapters, Wylie makes some unbelievably frank and insightful observations about some other aspects of American life. A reviewer below notes that Wylie's life was destroyed by the publication of the book. At age 40, did Wylie think that he'd be feted with champagne and caviar for making many of the observations he made? Apparently, he needed to be reminded of the old saw that, while you can certainly get in trouble in this world by telling lies, you often get into far more trouble by telling impolitic truths.

Wylie's central message is that people should use their short time on this earth putting the moral ahead of the material, trying to become better people instead of only thinking about their bank balance. I was blown away that the book was published over 60 years ago but still, in most places, seems so fresh today. Barring the unforeseen, sadly, "Generation of Vipers" will be just as topical in 2050 or 2100 as it is today or it was back in 1942 when the book was published.

This book is well worth your time if you can separate the wheat from the chaff, ignoring the places where the author is off base, but noting the other places where he is right on target.
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