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Assholes: A Theory
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Assholes: A Theory

3.21 of 5 stars 3.21  ·  rating details  ·  906 ratings  ·  142 reviews
In the spirit of the mega-selling On Bullshit, philosopher Aaron James presents a theory of the asshole that is both intellectually provocative and existentially necessary.

What does it mean for someone to be an asshole? The answer is not obvious, despite the fact that we are often personally stuck dealing with people for whom there is no better name. Try as we might to avo...more
ebook, 240 pages
Published October 30th 2012 by Anchor (first published 2012)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Joi Reece
I must admit that this is another book that caught my eye simply due to the title. Be warned- it is what it appears to be- a book about assholes, so the title can be taken literally. If you are an asshole or have ever been called one- to your face or behind your back- you may or may not be ready for this book. For those who know an asshole or two, after reading this book, the list will grow. Either way, keep reading my review.

Up until reading this book, I don’t think I completely understood the...more
Ben Labe
While the title might mislead prospective readers to assume that "Assholes: A Theory" offers either a lighthearted assortment of anti-asshole yet thoroughly assholish quips or an amoral guidebook in the manner of Machiavelli's "The Prince," what this book really delivers is a complete account of the psychology, morality, and social bearing of the common asshole.

James is a serious philosopher, and "Assholes" is a serious piece of ethics. James handles the asshole phenomenon from every angle. The...more
Bill  Kerwin

I should have listened to my Goodreads friend Jon, who told me that this book was not nearly as funny or entertaining as it promised to be.

It is difficult at times to tell if "Assholes" is a parody of a dry, prolix, academic treatise, or just a treatise about assholes written in a dry, prolix, academic style. The final result is much the same. I won't deny there are a few worthwhile pages here--the definition of "asshole," for example, is a precise one that articulates the distinction between bo...more
2.5 stars.

The description of this book is a bit misleading. I was expecting a lighter yet informative read. There were some moments where I enjoyed it and chuckled quite a bit, but I wish there was more material to relate to for myself.

I liked the descriptions of the types of assholes. While reading it, I found myself thinking of all of the ones in my life, appropriately categorizing them along the way.

The book would break off into a lot of lengthy political tangents, which I didn't really car...more
This was very much a book by a writer who's fairly sure he's funny. It's actually pretty dry.

The opening chapters, developing a taxonomy of assholes, are occasionally amusing. I blew air out of my nose slightly harder than normal a few times, I think I smirked once or twice. His general conception of the asshole is one who, against all logic and reason, considers themselves entitled to more than everyone else. Let me cut in; let me have that parking space; let me have control over the board; don...more
Should I be concerned that one of my favorite staff members at my local library grabbed me and said, "Judy, we just got in a book that I think you should read."? Fingers crossed that she wasn't making a value judgment or statement. I think that she thought I would be interested. And I was. Aaron James received his PhD from Harvard and is a professor of philosophy at the University of California--Irvine and he takes a philosophical approach in dealing with the subject of assholes. James points ou...more
I wanted to like this book, since I certainly agree with it; and my wife read it ahead of me, laughing long and often. I found it a good deal less funny, but I appreciated what I thought was a pretense of serious philosophical discussion ironically applied to a relatively trivial subject. But it turned out not to be a pretense, nor was it ironic. It was a careful (far too careful for me) analysis of exactly what an asshole is, how he (almost always a he) came to be what he is, what he does to so...more
Timothy McNeil
Dec 04, 2012 Timothy McNeil rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Timothy by:
While Aaron James' Assholes: A Theory may be (to use his own terminology) "pop philosophy", it is not an unserious work. There is an assumption that the reader has some familiarity with moral theories, but James does what he can to address less introductory matters -- such as the argument against the possibility of 'free will' (and now suffering through Tamler Sommers' A Very Bad Wizard has paid off) -- in a manner that allows the average reader to follow the tract of the book.

It is not meant...more
Lisa Roney
I found this book helpful in my continuing effort to understand why my place of employment is so rife with a-holes. But, as several other reviewers point out, there are a couple of problems with the book. First, James feels the need to do the philosopher thing (no surprise--he's a philosopher), that is, he focuses on logical nuances and possible counter-arguments and counter-explanations, which can get tedious at times. Also, as James notes, the book is not a practical advice book about how to d...more
Christie Bane
Whew! I am so glad I finally finished this book.

With the title it has, and with its small size and large print, this book should have taken me a couple hours. But, because it was so boring, it took me four days instead!

I was looking for funny and useful suggestions for dealing with assholes, and instead I got a boring academic discussion on the various aspects of assholery. Chapters on "asshole management", which should have been fun to read, were dull and tedious. At times this guy's assessmen...more
This is a tongue and cheek philosophical theory of what makes someone an asshole. James comes up with irritating traits of assholes such as “not hearing someone out” and “reflecting ignorance of crucial facts or lack of concern with what is reasonably acceptable from everyone’s point of view and actively reasoning from his sense of entitlement rather than from an independent understanding of what the moral law requires”. After defining an asshole he creates categories such as the Boorish Asshole...more
Sean Watson
Went from a taxonomy, to a social commentary against conservative America and capitalism, and then somewhat of a self-help book, then finally finished off nicely with societal implications and philosophical relevance. I thought the book lacked specific examples to validate specific concepts, but was stylish. Nearly everything written in parentheses is A-hole-ish, appearing more like the individuals James speaks against. The content at the end made up for earlier arguments that the difference bet...more
I wish everyone would read this book.

It's funny that other reviewers seem equally sure this book is either funny or serious, pop culture or academic. I would say it is quite serious, and we laugh in recognition because the examples are so true.

I studied Ethics in college and this book raises some legitimate philosophical points.
Ken Dowell
Runs the gamut: smug assholes, delusional assholes, corporate assholes, presidential assholes, boorish assholes, etc. The author provides lots of real-life contemporary examples like Donald Trump, Jerry Falwell, Silvio Berlusconi, Keith Olbermann, and Dick Cheney as well as historical assholes like Henry VIII and Pablo Picasso. James' theory is that what distinguishes the true asshole from the mere jerk, schmuck or douche bag is a sense of self entitlement. This sense of self-entitlement blinds...more
Christopher Litsinger
This is an academic philosophy text written and footnoted with scholarly rigor wrapped up in a funny looking package.
As an academic philosophy text, it is (so far as I am capable of judging) quite good. It offers almost nothing in the way of practical advice. I suppose this is more of a marketing problem than a problem with the book itself, but I suspect that most readers will pick this up looking for solutions and be disappointed.
I especially enjoyed the breakdown of the differences between as...more
Leanne Ellis
This book first caught my eye for its humorous title, but don't be misled. This is no light read. Quoting from Socrates to Kant to Rousseau, this is an exploration of how we as individuals and as a collective society deal with those people who have an "entrenched sense of self entitlement" when it comes to their social dealings with others. I really enjoyed it. There were some useful discussions of how to deal with these people in your own life as well as societal questions: do certain societies...more
K. DrEsparza
... I think I was the only one who knew this was a psych/soc/theory book when I bought it.
This was just horrible. It started off good...but like most academic ventures that try to appeal to a wide audience and be completely failed. I couldn't determine if the author was being serious in his philosophic defining of an asshole or if he was being sarcastic throughout...whatever it sucked. It got so longwinded and completely off point that I couldn't even make it through a paragraph without skimming. The main point of this book from my standpoint: this asshole loves t...more
Read this book and I promise you will think he knows someone in your life (in my case, my asshole boss). It's gratifying to know you are not alone in your outrage and frustration and that the assholatry is beyond your control.
A parte il titolo, che bhé non é proprio il massimo, ma non si poteva fare altrimenti, il testo é interessante, offre un'analisi precisa dei personaggi in questione, quelli che decisamente si, si a volte picchieresti a sangue, purtroppo non si può fare, e allora diamoci alla lettura, alcuni consigli sul da farsi quando ci si trova confrontati con loro ci sono.
Se conosci meglio il nemico, forse, riesci anche ad evitarlo, o almeno ad evitare un travaso di bile ogni volta, o che la pressione ti sa...more
Nik Johnson
I think it was a pretty quick read, although repetitive in spots. During the process of reading the book, I found the author in an AMA on reddit which provided additional insight into his theories.

He's a philosopher, so his approach is from the field of philosophy and as we know, it's not a finite science, just like the word asshole isn't a finite term - it can be replaced by many others to generically describe the same type of person.

The author indicates that asshole generally applies, by defi...more
Cynthianna /Celine Chatillon
Philosopher Aaron James discusses the phenomenon of the asshole—a person with an entrenched sense of entitlement and feeling of superiority—and gives us, the more cooperative members of society, some hints at identifying and dealing with those who routinely inconvenience us while rarely giving us a second thought.

Has American culture with its emphasis on individualism produced an upsurge in assholes? James would argue that it certainly hasn’t helped. The “dampening effects” of family, religion,...more
Trey Nowell
Ideally, I'd like to give this book 3.5 stars, but I went ahead and rounded to 4. Excellent title and subject sure to intrigue people, Aaron James has a modern day spin on a subject that has continued to haunt humanity for quite sometime. Not sure why people expected it to be a comedy revitalization, however I did enjoy a lot of it. Great discussion on how they attempt to damage our society, morally and economically. Like the name dropping and categorization (although sure some will defend Richa...more
Ginny Corrigan
Interesting premise; a philosophical,well-researched treatise on assholes. I found the beginning of the book very entertaining as James defines, with footnotes, what constitutes an asshole (and what doesn't). He gives real person examples, with accompanying explanations. Quite instructive.

However, James gets a bit repetitive, in my opinion, when he starts trying to solve what he admits is an insolvable problem. Towards the end of the book he reverts to complex reasoning about the implications of...more
Ok, but ultimately unsatisfying. About halfway through, I started thinking about an article I encountered back in the mid-80s called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" by the late Carlo Cipolla. That article took on a similar theme, but from an economic perspective. I would argue that Cipolla's much shorter essay was better presented (James' book should have been an article), and stronger in that it avoids then entire murky ground of morality: in Cipolla's formulation, James' asshole occupies t...more
While there is plenty of evidence in the book that Aaron James is a very able philosopher, I don't think the concept of asshole is sufficiently deep or important enough to be the subject of either a theory or a book (although it might merit an article or two), and I think that the attempt to bring clarity to the term 'asshole' only created further confusion.

James so often lets putative assholes off the hook (Stanley McChrystal for having a distinguished career in public service and Amy Chua beca...more
Seth Kramer
When I picked up this book I turned to the introduction and read a bit. I was entertained and slightly intrigued. Thinking the title was perhaps the selection of a particularly cheeky publisher hoping to juice sales with an eye-catching cover I took a risk and bought it. This was an error; I should have read further. The central premise is to undertake a study in the variety, cause, and implications of a very specifically defined social deviant (the titular assholes). However it is neither funny...more
I just couldn't get into this book. I was hoping for the asshole management adivce that was promised on the back of the book. Instead endless pages of what an asshole is, the levels of asshole-ness, different types of assholes, who the author thinks is an asshole. I'm really not interested in his opinion of who in pop culture and politics this guy thinks is an asshole. Personally I didn't agree with all the people who are "assholes" he listed and found it to be a turn off. I wasn't looking for a...more
Disclaimer: While I aim to be unbiased, I received a copy of this for free to review.

I’m in two minds about this one – I’ll admit that I gained a sort of perverse pleasure when I was reading this, but I’m still not convinced that the book needed to be written at all. Let’s face it, we all know an asshole when we see one – James’ attempts to classify the essence of an asshole, while fairly successful, feel occasionally forced and often pointless, and it’s often a little too philosophical for my l...more
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“To summarize, then, our three requirements for a good theory of assholes are as follows. We are looking for (1) a stable trait of character, (2) that leads a person to impose only small or moderate material costs upon others, (3) but that nevertheless qualifies the person as morally repugnant.” 2 likes
“of view, may show that he is not getting the respect he deserves. Although our theory is a definition of the term “asshole,” we should emphasize that it is not necessarily a dictionary definition. It is not necessarily a claim about how the word “asshole” 0 likes
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