The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations
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The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  645 ratings  ·  72 reviews
When The Culture of Narcissism was first published, it was clear that Christopher Lasch had identified something important: what was happening to American society in the wake of the decline of the family over the last century.

The book quickly became a bestseller. This edition includes a new afterword, "The Culture of Narcissism Revisited."
Paperback, 249 pages
Published May 17th 1991 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1978)
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Szplug
I read this book and thought This is a good book.
I read this book and thought I've learned from this book.
I read this book and thought Kit Lasch is the bomb.
I read this book and thought Man can be as slippery as Saturday's soap.
I read this book and thought Man can be as silly as Bugsy Malone.
I read this book and thought This is a serious book, with serious thoughts, and serious insights, and here I am chewing gum and popping bubbles.
I read this book and thought I really like this book. It's aces...more
Justin Evans
Lasch, on the evidence of this book, is the American Adorno. He writes in a similar style; each sentence is perfectly formed, but often not so well connected to the preceding and following sentences. He has no patience for the conservative/progressive distinction, and would rather discuss the effects of an idea or practice rather than immediately laud or damn it (so, for instance, 'feminism' isn't abruptly praised or scornfully ignored; rather, the difficulties of putting feminist doctrine into...more
Sean O'Neil
I bought this book as a used hardbound at a musty converted industrial space in Morristown NJ some time around 1996. I tried to start reading it then, found it annoying, put it down. Three months ago, about 13 years later, I picked it up again and found it fascinating. What had changed in the meantime? I'd quit working in a big law firm. I'd read a lot on human psychology and narcissism particularly. I'd spent a lot more time thinking about the problems of American culture. And I'd become much m...more
Steve Stein
Now this is fun. Published in 1979, this is a classic "curmudgeon book". Lasch excoriates everything about modern life in an innovative way, combining a conservative respect for traditional life and morality with Freudian and to a lesser extent Marxist perspectives.

The main argument: we are all narcissists. We have deep issues with self-esteem, are consumed with appearance instead of character, and are constantly in need of approval. Due to the demands of business, people are alienated from the...more
John David
Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism” was originally published in 1979, and has been a major cynosure of cultural and social criticism ever since. English literary critic Frank Kermode called it, not inaccurately, a “hellfire sermon.” It is a wholesale indictment of contemporary American culture. It also happens to fall into a group of other books which share the same body of concerns that I have been working my way through, or around, in recent months: Daniel Boorstin’s “The Image: A...more
Kate Hoffman
May 20, 2012 Kate Hoffman rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who understand large vocabulary words and like to read text books
This hyper-technical book about the psychology of the current state of the Selfish Union has been really, really hard for me to get into. But I'm wading along, hopefully learning something about you, me and everyone we know.

**Update: May, 2012**
Jesus, I'm STILL not done with this book. :) But it is thoroughly fascinating, and worth the time it is taking me to fully digest what is being discussed. I often find I really have to re-read entire pages a few times for it all to sink in. I also am so i...more
Thomas Fortenberry
I would give this book five stars but there was not enough about me in it.
Austin Burbridge
A bore. Reader, pass by! This farrago of ludicrous banalities could have been a good book: interesting, informative, critical. Instead, the author has squandered the opportunity —and the reader's time —with two hundred and sixty-eight dull pages of pompous, pious, neo-conservative cant. It's barber-shop talk —Sunday-school self-righteousness — gussied up in the pretentious, pseudo-academic argot of the chattering classes of New York City, circa 1979, with a liberal garnish of end notes masquerad...more
Beatrix
This is what I live in. (Even if I don't live in the US.) (Or perhaps this is what we all live in, but I'd rather just speak for myself.)

And this is an excellent book.

I've got this theory that the best non-fiction books are the ones that don't tell me anything I don't already know, but they are great because they can explain what I already know and what I experience everyday, while I can't do this. I can only express my dissatisfaction and the constant feeling of "what the hell is going on?" in...more
Liam
"The romantic cult of sincerity and authenticity tore away the masks that people once had worn in public and eroded the boundary between public and private life. As the public world came to be seen as a mirror of the self, people lost the capacity for detachment and hence for playful encounter, which presupposes a certain distance from the self. In our won time, according to Sennett, relations in public, conceived as a form of self-revelation, have become deadly serious. Conversation takes on th...more
Emily
May 13, 2008 Emily rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: generation X and Y
Sometimes I felt the author was trying too hard to write complex words, but nonetheless, the meaning behind his writing was enlightening. Some of the comments Lasch writes, I do not agree with and find them a far stretch to explain the complexity of our generation or even human nature.

I always thought the definition of narcissism was simply "someone who is self-absorbed." This book explains the more complex meaning of a narcissist. Almost makes a person want to diagnose themselves as such.

If y...more
Bob
I suspect the first book on the decline of American civilization was published the day after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Christopher Lasch's 1979 "The Culture of Narcissism" is firmly in that tradition, its title a reference to the popular characterization of the 1970s as "the Me decade".
The examination, by a lefty, of how the good intentions of the progressive era have led to a nanny state is perhaps not unique; the overlay of Freudian psychology gives this book its particular...more
Greg
This book is referred to a lot, so I decided to check it out. It is an insightful look into American culture and, I think, ahead of its time. (1973) Most books like this lose relevancy as soon as the age passes in which they were written. For the most part, this has not. It's Freudian presuppositions are annoying, but I still appreciated some of its insights.

Narcissism is not selfishness, but is defining yourself by how the world sees you. One of the tools he uses to identify our culture is to...more
Adam
Probably Lasch's most famous work, this is also, I think, the most easily misunderstood. The titular "narcissism" is decidedly not vanity; Narcissus's fatal weakness was not the admiration of his reflection, but his inability to tell where his reflection ended and his face started. The Minimal Self (the third book in Lasch's trilogy, which began with Haven in a Heartless World) contains a more mature and, in my opinion, more precise formulation of the critique of the self found in Culture. Cultu...more
Alicia Fox
"We demand too much of life, too little of ourselves."

I absolutely loved this book. It's not an easy read; Lasch presupposes the reader will have some familiarity with philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, and economics. Apart from boring me a bit with Freudian stuff, it's a fascinating book.

There's no easily recognizable political spin here. One minute, it's, "OMG ultra-conservative," and the next minute, "OMG Marxist." Lasch isn't promoting any particular established agenda. He fully des...more
Joe
What a pity that a book about a very fascinating concept should turn out so awful; readers, be sure you have your PhDs in sociology, psychology, and vocabulary before embarking on this journey. The book is more dense than a black hole. I couldn't tell what the author was trying to say at all, his arguments are not easy to follow, etc. I feel like the author used this book as an ostentatious display of his own intelligence instead of a means of explaining his ideas.
Oliver Bateman
A bit dated, sure, but: SO. FREAKING. GREAT. Outrage without solutions? Check. Thoroughgoing critique of modern life without praising the past or providing any optimism about the future whatsoever? Check. Leftist writing so moralistic and judgmental that it's essentially paleoconservatism? Check and MATE, brahski. Read this one. It's fun, fun, fun. We're all doomed, but hey, we never had a chance in the first place. Vitam continet una dies (lawlz).
Jimmy
This book was a amazing view into the american psyche! And thereby INTO MY OWN! It shocked me and I have been humbled. It is one thing to know the amazing times we live in, it is even greater to be humbled by society as a whole moreover than anything one man has done. So we must live live toward a future that does not contain us, a utopia. One certainty remained after reading this book, we are on the opposite path!!!
Ben Labe
The best criticism gives breath to certain arguments that hitherto only resided on the tip of the reader's tongue or the outskirts of his conscious mind. It is the highest praise to be able to say that "The Culture of Narcissism" does just that.

"The Culture of Narcissism" is the kind of book that helps to ground a person's entire intellectual outlook. As an exercise of cultural criticism, it furnishes the reader with a new language that can be deputized to promote a better understanding of all...more
Martin Pujdak
My preliminary review.

Best way to review a book is to include some of the key quotes:

1. "This book, however, describes a way of life that is dying - the culture of competitive individualism, which in its decadence has carried the logic of individualism to the extreme of a war of all against all, the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of a narcissistic preoccupation with the self. Strategies of narcissistic
survival now present themselves as emancipation from the repressive conditions of the pas...more
Joan Dawson
I read this when it was assigned for a for a sociology class at the University of Washington. As I got into it I started to feel like a child, as everything he chose to include was news to me.

I had no understanding of the culture really. Dumb as dirt. This guy carefully made the nature of things quite clear to me.

I couldn't put it down. A class assigned textbook, and I'm flipping the pages with gusto, reading it in the tub. Talk about the scales falling from my eyes.

This happened a long time ago...more
Llew
Ahh...the social sciences and what grandiose, presumptuous statements they can get away with. Good title though.
Peter Kay
And I thought I was a pessimist.....
Sean Chick
A stunning work, written by a man who defies our current definitions of conservative and liberal, which were born in the 1960s. The issues Lasch raises still plague us today because we have elevated capitalism to a religion and the baby boomers, who Lasch consistently blasts, are now in full control. If this book were written in 2012 it would still make sense.

None of this means the book is perfect. Lasch discusses obscure thinkers without describing their ideas. He is too Freudian and his afterw...more
Ryan Smedberg
Christopher Lasch serves as an impassioned and unprecedented (considering Culture of Narcissism was published before even the Reagan/Bush administration) social examiner. His prose, for the grandiosity of his topic, remain stable and entertaining with a certain artistry that can be appreciated. The entire book covers a broad array of topics, concerns, and impending social maladies, all of which are contained within just over 250 pages, so each subject receives a brief discussion rather than a pr...more
Rebecca
Oct 01, 2010 Rebecca marked it as to-read
I'm not sure whether I actually want to read this book, but I wanted a permanent record for myself of a quote someone else gave from this book (at least, I'm willing to bet it's this book, I can't actually be sure yet, as I haven't read the book, and the quoter only gave the author, not the full source... anyway.... moot point I guess...), in a comment in response to Jessica's amazing review of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.

Susan Sontag, noting that "people take the news of their d...more
En
I'll give this book four stars for being the book best suited for me to read at the current time.
1. The arguments
Not completely persuasive, and sometimes hard to divine. He gives his chapters funny names, too. His exploration of narcissism expands far beyond just personality, but rather his conception of how culture has influenced it in the past (and the present, the 70s, which sometimes I forget because not too much has changed). Again, not very persuasive, but his analysis required me to reall...more
Davee
After reading A Conscious Life written I was starving for more information on this concept of social evolution in the U.S. as described by the Fran an Louis Cox. I began to search for something that would describe the rise and methodology involved with this new form of social engineering that was predictably dictating behaviors not only on the macro level, such as our behavior as an electorate, or as employees and employers, consumers or citizens, but how we interact on the micro level such as h...more
John
Lasch pins the death throes of western culture on many factors, but three stand out: we have lost our sense of historical continuity, we have become dependent on corporate and government experts just to live, and women have been emancipated.

As for the first reason, it shows up in a devaluing of the past combined with a hopelessness for the future, both evidenced by our fear of aging and our desire to forestall childbearing.

As for the second, we have been reduced to near infancy in our dependenc...more
Simon
This is one of those books that are often mentioned but seldom read, though that might change as the political populism it defends is enjoying an all-time high level of prominence since the decade it was published in. Its central thesis is that modernity undermining people's confidence in traditional authorities and social institutions has largely been for the worse and resulted in a neurotic inwards-looking people incapable of having a psychologically healthy relationship with any kind of autho...more
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“We demand too much of life, too little of ourselves.” 1 likes
“Much of what is euphemistically known as the middle class, merely because it dresses up to go to work, is now reduced to proletarian conditions of existence. Many white-collar jobs require no more skill and pay even less than blue-collar jobs, conferring little status or security.” 0 likes
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