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Graceful Simplicity: The Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream 0th Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520236004
ISBN-10: 0520236009
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Editorial Reviews


"Segal's thought-provoking and energizing manifesto is partly a call to live a balanced life unyokedfrom the never-ending pursuit of money, partly a homily against material greed, and partly a utopian economic blueprint for reordering society."--"Publishers Weekly"

From the Inside Flap

"Graceful Simplicity is a marvelously textured analysis of the elusive ideal of simple living. For those eager to find a way to get off the 'more is better' treadmill, Jerome Segal offers insight and hope…. A must read."—David Shi, author of The Simple Life

"Segal articulates a message that is both revolutionary and just plain sensible—consume less and take time to enjoy life more. He rescues us from a consumerism gone haywire without advocating isolationism. In a new and better way we are still our brother's keeper."—Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work

"Segal wants a political movement to create a functioning public sector, complete with universal health insurance and a sturdy safety net. Numerous and powerful interest groups will fight such reforms with bitter determination. But what could provide a better source of drama and adventure than the struggle to make the simpler life a viable option for all?"—Barbara Ehrenreich, Civilization

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 289 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520236009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520236004
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,084,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By sasha_ on January 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is excellent for what it is: a treatment of the politics and philosophy of simplicity. Segal writes well, beginning with Aristotle's Politics, and on to the Quaker Woolman, Benjamin Franklin, and Thoreau. He then proceeds with a salient critique of some of the more facile branches of the simplicity movement. His basic statement here is one which I haven't come across in print before: No, it's not that easy to reduce our lifestyles. There are still a great number of Americans who have trouble making ends meet. This recognition that a middle and lower class poverty exists alongside conspicuous consumption has been long in coming. He also places emphasis on the importance of aesthetics and well being. And he continues to write well, considering economics, politics, history, and philosophy.
But in total, Segal sees the trees better than the forest. This book contains a great deal of interesting information, but although he often states that simplicity begins with the individual, little of this information is useful for the individual. Part I is focused on the need for a politics of simplicity, which is asserted repeatedly, but even here there is little practical information. Part II is centered on philosophy, with some interesting chapters on important personages such as Epicurus, and some facile topics such as "The Value of Things That Typically Have No Price". That's the sort of thing that may be news to one's materialist uncle, but if one picked up the book in the first place, one is probably already familiar with the idea.
In sum: I think this book is quite good and is worth reading. It has a new, informed, and valuable perspective for the simplicity movement, and it is likely to fill out the thinking of someone interested in simplicity. Segal's thinking is quite clear and is gimmick free. But do not expect actual guidance from this particular book, if that's what you're looking for.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book goes beyond the traditional rhetoric on simplicity such as reducing clutter, cutting excess consumption, increasing leisure time, etc. to discuss the heart of the problem: why simplicity is so difficult to achieve in our age and culture. Segal shows how today most people pay the majority of their income on basic necessities such as housing, transportation, healthcare and security. Many can barely afford those. We have had a government that pays little attention to social services that could reduce the cost of living for all such as public transportation, good public schools, universal healthcare and social security benefits. Segal criticizes modern American culture that emphasizes economic growth at the expense of real indicators of well-being, such as health, social relationships, leisure time and equity. Instead we have a proliferation of ills such as environmental degradation, aesthetic impoverishment, large gap between the rich and poor, crime and social disintegration.

This book inspired me in several ways. First, I'm inspired to make graceful simplicity a way of life by reducing consumption, increasing my leisure time, developing relationships and doing work that is fulfilling. Second, I'm inspired to help create a society where genuine progress can be made and where government policies enable people to live a better lives.

Economist John Maynard Keyes predicted in 1900 that eventually society will overcome the problem of having to get a living. Economic growth will no longer be necessary. Instead, we could focus on the primary problem of humanity, how to live better more virtuous lives. Shouldn't we be using our wealth towards better ends than simply creating more wealth?
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Format: Paperback
Another reviewer wrote the ideas presented/suggested in "Graceful Simplicity are "impractical" and under current system of cut-throat exploitation and speed up can never have reasonable chance at being implemented, or even considered. Sadly, while the ideals of graceful simplicity have been around literally since time immemorial, there never was a particularly propitious time for them to be put into practice. In the earlier times it was pressure of bare survival of the toiling and sweating masses that made leasure time an inaccessible luxury for most of them. [You do need time that is yours to live simple and gracefully.]

And, it was not always just "objective material conditions" of "struggling survival": often those conditions were deliberately imposed by the ruling class. Take the situation in England after enclosures (forceful exapropriation of the many by the few): not only were most people robbed by the few of their property ("commons" passed into private hands and fences ["enclosures"] were put up), they were also robbed of their free time. Instead of [having a chance at] living "gracefully" for themselves [even] in their reduced material conditions they were forced into penal labor for the [new selfdeclared arogant] propertyholder. Whoever would not submit to the imposition of the disciplinary system would go to asylum. [Jobless and homeless were put together with mad and locked away, right or wrong regardless.] We are speaking or the greed of the few who make the hell out of life for many. Indeed, the situation has not changed a bit since enclosures, even with back then unimaginable advancement of material conditions of labor that by now should allow for virtually hassle-free life of graceful simplicity FOR ALL.
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