Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society
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Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  207 ratings  ·  22 reviews
Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd was a runaway best seller when it was first published in 1960, and it became one of the defining texts of the New Left. Goodman was a writer and thinker who broke every mold and did it brilliantly—he was a novelist, poet, and a social theorist, among a host of other things—and the book’s surprise success established him as one of America’s...more
ebook, 312 pages
Published December 13th 2011 by NYRB Classics (first published 1960)
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I never read the artist's aim so clearly (and, in my mind, accurately) stated:

"All men are creative but few are artists. Art making requires a peculiar psychotic disposition. Let me formulate the artistic disposition as follows: it is reacting with one's ideal to the flaw in oneself and in the world, and somehow making that reaction formation solid enough in the medium so that it indeed becomes an improved bit of real world for others. This is an unusual combination of psychological machinery an...more
This is a book that helped galvanize a lot of the 60s youth movement in the states and probably galvanized a lot of other people around the world also. Goodman essentially talks about how to try to solve the problem of youth as it was in use 60s. I thought this was excellent and tied into some of the things skinner had written in walden 2. The books talks about class structure, the aptitude of youth, use of leisure, capitalism, growing up of course, society, the labour market, city lifer vs coun...more
Jesse Cohn
Parts of this are still compelling -- and still apply! -- but other bits are really marred by Goodman's major blind spot, his sexism. Nonetheless -- as an interpretation of why America is such a weird, sad, difficult place to grow up, sometimes, despite all the good things we have going for us, this is worth reading.
Full Stop

Review by Michael Fisher

“In every day’s newspaper there are stories about the two subjects I have brought together in this book, the disgrace of the Organized System of semimonopolies, government, advertisers, etc., and the disaffection of the growing generation.” So begins Growing up Absurd, Paul Goodman’s massively influential 1960 report on “the problems of youth in the Organized Society.” Polemics often don’t age gracefully, and there are certainly som...more
Arguably the pivotal text from "the 1950s" to "the Sixties," Goodman's book is the ultimate reasoned rant against the painful consequences of the postwar repressive society of what he intentionally reifies as "the Organized System" of "the Man." He takes the Beats as both symptomatic of what's wrong with the system, and possessed of some seeds of future healthier social alternatives. As Nelson's new introduction points out, it is of a piece with other radical critiques that remain rooted in hope...more
On the whole, the argument is annoyingly reactionary, but Goodman makes a number of critical points about the repressive nature of mass culture in America. Despite the, at the core of it, weirdly conservative origins, there was enough truth and valid commentary to keep me wrapped up, and indeed entertained over the course of the book.
Jeff Hamilton
Re-reading this now a fourth time [1987, 1989, 2004 -- I also remember reading it on a plane in some year I don't now recall, could be one of these three] in this new edition, Growing Up Absurd has been a constant resource for me, and one of my favorite books. I read it in the new light of Jonathan Lee's excellent documentary Paul Goodman Changed My Life, which was particularly revelatory for me on the whole question of Goodman's second marriage and sexuality; essentially, Lee shows us a man loc...more
Nicholas During
I found this book to be very powerful. In it, Goodman lays out his argument explaining youth delinquency as a direct product of society's "organized" control of the individual's life. Rather than rejecting society, however, Goodman thinks that really the juvenile delinquent is calling out for inclusion. The destruction, violence, unconventional behavior is really a call for attention and demand to be included in society and given valuable opportunities. Goodman then goes on to list the problems...more
Even though it was written over 50 years ago, it still feels like there are topics that maintain relevance today with today's youth. A worthwhile read for anyone trying to piece together the lack of progress in American society and education in developing it's young boys into proper men. This book offers the reader a set of patterns from the history that we still have not fully overcome as a collective and may well help to properly inform from where modern society has developed.

Maybe I just wasn't in the mood. Or maybe the argument is obvious and/or dated. Undoubtedly, and sadly still relevant (this was written in 1959-60), but the Occupy movement has trumpeted so many of these ideas, that the book seems less essential now. Or maybe it's more essential, I don't know....But I ended up skimming a good deal and will probably come back to this again some day.
Erik Graff
Jul 24, 2010 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sixties fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
This book was a big deal by the time I entered high school, but I only got around to it while visiting an older friend in Chicago during the senior year. I read his copy while staying at his apartment and wasn't much impressed as Goodman seemed to be stating the obvious with a rather condescending attitude.
Even in the late 90s/early 00s this book helped me make sense of my relation to (and at odds with) the larger world. I wanted to give this book to everyone I cared about, and copied long passages of it out in a notebook so that I could better remember the things I had leaned. A tremendous book.
Apr 08, 2008 Ethan marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Maybe high school isn't all it's cracked up to be. In fact, maybe it's a travesty. A book that doesn't seem, from what I know of it, to have lost any of its relevance over time.
Possibly the first significant non-fiction book I read. Goodman's question, "What's worth doing?" became a lifelong association ...
This book is as relevant now as it was when it was originally published. An important read to understand the need for social change.
sexist, but informative and fresh.
plan on rereading sometime soon.
A very thought-provoking and lively read.
bleeding left boys book. A little dated in parts.
Suggests reasons why men are not men.
Aug 03, 2013 Velvetink marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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Paul Goodman (9/9/11–8/2/72) was an American sociologist, poet, writer, anarchist, public intellectual & gay-rights activist. He's now mainly remembered as the author of Growing Up Absurd & as an activist on the pacifist Left in the '60s & an inspiration to that era's student movement. He's less remembered as a cofounder of Gestalt Therapy in the '40s & '50s.
In the mid-40s, togeth...more
More about Paul Goodman...
Compulsory Mis-education/The Community of Scholars Communitas: Means of Livelihood & Ways of Life Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals Drawing the Line Once Again: Paul Goodman's Anarchist Writings The Empire City: A Novel of New York City

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“Wrong' training can be a very innocent thing. Consider a father who allows his child to read good books. That child may soon cease to watch television or go to the movies, nor will he eventually read Book-of-the-Month Club selections, because they are ludicrous and dull. As a young man, then, he will effectually be excluded from all of Madison Avenue and Hollywood and most of publishing, because what moves him or what he creates is quite irrelevant to what is going on: it is too fine. His father has brought him up as a dodo.” 10 likes
“I often ask, "What do you want to work at? If you have the chance. When you get out of school, college, the service, etc."

Some answer right off and tell their definite plans and projects, highly approved by Papa. I'm pleased for them* but it's a bit boring, because they are such squares.

Quite a few will, with prompting, come out with astounding stereotyped, conceited fantasies, such as becoming a movie actor when they are "discovered" "like Marlon Brando, but in my own way."

Very rarely somebody will, maybe defiantly and defensively, maybe diffidently but proudly, make you know that he knows very well what he is going to do; it is something great; and he is indeed already doing it, which is the real test.

The usual answer, perhaps the normal answer, is "I don't know," meaning, "I'm looking; I haven't found the right thing; it's discouraging but not hopeless."

But the terrible answer is, "Nothing." The young man doesn't want to do anything.

I remember talking to half a dozen young fellows at Van Wagner's Beach outside of Hamilton, Ontario; and all of them had this one thing to say: "Nothing." They didn't believe that what to work at was the kind of thing one wanted. They rather expected that two or three of them would work for the electric company in town, but they couldn't care less, I turned away from the conversation abruptly because of the uncontrollable burning tears in my eyes and constriction in my chest. Not feeling sorry for them, but tears of frank dismay for the waste of our humanity (they were nice kids). And it is out of that incident that many years later I am writing this book.”
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