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Status Anxiety Paperback – May 10, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
This sophisticated gazebo of a book is the latest dispatch from the Swiss-born, London-based author of the influential handbook How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel (1997). Promising to teach us how to duck the "brutal epithet of 'loser' or 'nobody,' " de Botton notes that status has often been conflated with honor and that the number of men slain while dueling has amounted, over the centuries, to the hundreds of thousands. That conflation is a trap from which de Botton suggests a number of escape routes. We could try philosophy, the "intelligent misanthropy" of Schopenhauer, for who cares what others think if they're all a pack of ninnies anyhow? Art, too, has its consolations, as Marcel found out in Remembrance of Things Past. A novelist such as Jane Austen, with her little painted squares of ivory, can reimagine the world we live in so that we see fully how virtue is actually "distributed without regard to material wealth." De Botton also discusses bohemia, the reaction to status and the attack on bourgeois values, wisely linking this movement to dadaism, whose founder, Tristan Tzara, called for the "idiotic." The phenomenon known as "keeping up with the Joneses" is nothing new, and not much has changed in the 45 years since the late Vance Packard, in The Status Seekers, wrote the definitive analysis of consumer culture and its discontents. But even at the peak of his influence, Packard was never half as suave as de Botton. (A three-part TV documentary, to be shown in the U.K. and in Australia, and hosted by de Botton, has been commissioned to promote the book.) Lively and provocative, de Botton proves once again that originality isn't necessary when one has that continental flair we call "style."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
From the creator of the “literary self-help” genre comes a new volume of social criticism and lively anecdotes for The New Yorker set. De Botton’s trademark erudition is the foundation for his road map, and he spares no literary reference towards the goal of enlightening his audience. Like his previous books, How Proust Can Change Your Life and The Art of Travel, Status Anxiety is well written, and makes a convincing argument for our current malaise. The author’s decided lack of personal reflection sounds a false note for some critics; his personal experiences are few and far between. Still, with the exception of the Rocky Mountain News, the critics considered Status Anxiety an otherwise insightful work.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I thought this was enjoyable summer reading, though not profound or complete by any means - although it was not meant to be. Also, some of AdB's other books are slightly better, so if this is the first book by AdB you want to read, I'd recommend "How Proust can Change your Life" first. But if the topic intrigues you, as it did me, then by all means give this book a try.
A summary of the topics covered is below:
First, AdB begins by claiming that it's human nature that we want to be a "somebody" rather than a "nobody," and to rise rather than fall or remain at too modest a rung on the social latter. This hunger for status can indeed drive us to achieve - but it also leads to a kind of restlessness characteristic of free, meritocratic societies. In contrast, there was no such anxiety in the Medieval caste system, because ones social status was fixed for life.
One root cause of our anxiety, AdB claims, is that our egos are forever leaky balloons forever requiring helium of recognition and love, but always vulnerable to pinpricks. The prescription: Don't take others evaluation too seriously - after all, "does an emerald become worse if it isn't praised?" Also, remember that the views of the masses are often perforated with confusion and error, relying on intuition, emotion, and custom rather than rationality. As Voltaire says, "the earth swarms with people who are not worth talking to"
Also, one must realize that the determinants of high status continually shift. For example, Spartans prized aggressive warriors; the Cubeo tribe in the Amazon prized those who killed jaguars. In contrast, peaceful saints were idolized in Medieval Europe, as were "gentlemen" in industrial England. Today, commercial success is our measuring stick - money signals success. But that definition also ties us to some new and unpredictable forces, such as our employer's success, flux in the global economy, and. technological change.
By using money as today's yardstick, we have sorely forgotten that cash and material goods are not the sole measure of a person's worth. In contrast, Bohemians, who devoted themselves to art and the intellect rather than material success, thought that those who achieved material success in society were those who pandered most effectively to the flawed values of their audiences. AdB also quotes Montaigne to remind us that we must evaluate people through a different lens: "A man may have a great suite of attendants, a beautiful palace, great influence, and a large income. All that may surround him, but it is not *in* him...What sort of soul does he have?"
Another cause of our status anxiety is our own high expectations. Wealth is relative to desire, and in an age of seemingly limitless expectations and material goods, we are weighed down by the limits of economics and reality, which yields permanent distress. We are also quietly influenced by our peers, advertising, and other outside forces that shape our desires rather than listening to our own souls. We also "mis-want" - that is, we think new products will make us happier than they actually will. The prescription is that if we must continue to long for things, we must take care to long for the right things, and tune into our own true desires.
Finally, envy can be cured by realizing that anyone's achievements seem insignificant in the context of the millennia and the expansive wonders of nature. Also, we should always keep in mind that at the end of one's days, the value of love, true friends, and charity will outweigh the quest for power, wealth, status and glory.
De Botton looks back at a time long ago when peasants led a far harsher existence in material terms, but rarely worried that their difficulties were "their own fault." Thus had God made the world, and such were the affairs of men supposed to be. When we could not improve our social rank or material worth, there was no tendency to confuse riches with saintliness.
Starting from that idealized Rousseau-esque time, the author follows changing ideas about personal rights and responsibilities and finds a distinct downside to the whole concept of Western meritocracy. If we can be anything we want to be, our current relative lack of wealth, power, beauty and fame must be our own fault. No longer able to blame God, bad luck or the stars for misfortune, we see the world split into winners (virtuous, hard-working and strong) and losers (evil, lazy and weak). Where we once understood the complexity and frailty of human existence, we now see the world in terms of newspaper headlines: "Oedipus the King: Royal in Incest Shocker."
Finally, "Status Anxiety" looks at some of the ways that modern humans have tried to escape this social trap. It considers both bohemian and Christian philosophies and finds merits in both, if notably fewer in bohemianism. Ultimately, the book concludes, if our current set of values offers true happiness and contentment to only an elite minority, the democratic solution is to change those values. De Botton's contribution to that end is this book.
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it change my thought little bit