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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
This is a book which must be read attentively in its entirety, and I indeed found it hard to put down, but perhaps I can still highlight some key points to give a feel for the subject matter:
- Because we judge ourselves according to how others judge us, one of our basic needs is the love of the world. This is despite the fact that the judgments of others are frequently shallow and misguided, and the criteria for judgment have varied across cultures and history.
- We take our social status as an indicator of how much we're loved, or can expect to be loved, by others.
- We determine our status by comparison with a reference group of other people, not in absolute terms. That means that progress of our reference group doesn't necessarily improve our individual status, and may even diminish it.
- Unlike the days when status was largely inherited, the meritocratic notion that anyone can achieve anything, and the related assumption of social mobility, gives hope to those who wish to rise in status, but it also results in self-blame when we fail. This is despite the fact that achievement is greatly influenced by factors outside our control (ie, luck).
- Our self-esteem is also affected by our achievement relative to our own expectations. This implies that, if we can't achieve more, it may make sense to lower our expectations (however outlandish that may sound). Likewise, if we're inspired by the success stories of others, but we fail, those stories may worsen our self-esteem. And of course the mass media exacerbates these problems by constantly encouraging us to "aim high" and throwing rags-to-riches success stories in our faces.
- The poor were once honored as an integral and productive part of society, or at least they weren't viewed negatively. This changed with the rise of meritocracy, with material wealth becoming the primary measure of merit/status, and with the poor thus being considered deserving of low status and snobbish derision. Social Darwinism took this attitude further with the view that the poor deserve to be weeded out of society.
- We're often uncertain or mistaken about what will make us happy. For example, the pleasure provided by material acquisitions is usually fleeting, whereas we expected it to be sustained or even permanent. Likewise, in envisioning careers, we often make the mistake of focusing on the positives while downplaying the negatives.
- We can at least partly control status anxiety by learning to become our own judges, being attentive to how art subverts prevailing status norms, seeing our fallible shared humanity through art which depicts tragedy, using comedy to underminine pretensions, remaining aware of our individual and collective mortality, focusing on collective rather than individual success, and orienting ourselves towards nonmaterialistic values which lead to richer and more balanced lives. These are generally difficult things to do, and only partly effective even in combination, but better to make the effort rather than just muddle along with the herd.
I very highly recommend this book, especially to people who detect a tradeoff in their lives between seeking/maintaining status versus being generally fulfilled, and are troubled by that predicament. This book provides an elegantly multifaceted exploration of this terrain, and it's especially rewarding to readers who are themselves erudite enough to be familiar with the diverse spectrum of examples from social and intellectual history which de Botton references. As some reviewers have noted, de Botton could have expanded the book, such as by drawing more on non-Western perspectives, but it makes more sense to attend to what the book offers rather than lament about what it leaves out -- and it offers plenty.
All that said, this is a great book to read.
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it change my thought little bit