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The Theory of the Leisure Class

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  1,863 ratings  ·  95 reviews
Classic of economic and social theory offers a satiric examination of the hollowness and falsity suggested by the term "conspicuous consumption," exposing the emptiness of many cherished standards of taste, education, dress, and culture. Since first appearing in 1899, it has become a classic of social theory that has contributed to the modernization of economic policy.
Paperback, 244 pages
Published May 20th 1994 by Dover Publications (first published December 1st 1944)
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Mark Russell
A dry and difficult read as one must hack one's way through the arcane language and outmoded concepts, but once one does, one discovers a truly interesting approach to economics.

It must have seemed odd to an economist of the early 20th century, at least one capable of transcending the views of his times, that while economics and human prosperity values certain activities (i.e. labor, investment, trade and construction), human society seems to value other activities, most of which are downright
Sidharth Vardhan
This is too big a review for my own liking, I shall perfectly understand if you chose to drop off or fall asleep in mid way. I have rambled on way too much -that is just how much I loved this book.


"For the last half of my life I've learnt to say 'sir'. Its word you use when you've come down in the world."
- From Brother Karamnazov

There were times in my early teens when I was confounded when I was called by such titles like 'sir' by some manual-laborer, some tourist guide or like, a person much o
Everybody knows conspicuous consumption, but that is not the idea from this book that should have survived. Sign me up for pecuniary decency any day -- or rather don't, since it is far more insidious and its explanatory value far better.

Our old friend conspicuous consumption appeals to us, taken out of its context, of course, because it looks so much like an individual decision that we can avoid. You add the complete lack of context to the fact that talking about structural issues rather than i
Woody Guthrie observed, "Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen." Bob Dylan quoted these lyrics and added, "Didn't take too long to find out, just what he was talking about." Thorstein Veblen, who found this situation to be bemusing if absurd, undertook to explain the social conventions and values that lead people to tolerate it. He presented a picture of society in which routine, casual, legally sanctioned predation is the object of honor and adulation.

His explanation i
So most of the time, he's kind of riffing, but Veblen does his best writing not when he's theorizing about the nature of the leisure class-- after all, his ideas have become so sublimated into social perception at this point, which I guess speaks to their power-- but when he's going into specifics and demonstrating how they correlate to the broader theory. And when his talking points get Victorian (believing in intrinsic and universal aesthetic values, referring to the savage mind), it seems lik ...more
Erik Graff
Jan 20, 2015 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: John Dos Passos
The first thing I ever read of any substance about Veblen was his brief biography in Dos Passos' USA trilogy (The Great American Novel!). It was highly complimentary and its subject was Norwegian and neglected just like me.

I actually got around to reading The Theory of the Leisure Class some time after Dave Schweickart's courses in political economy got me interested in the subject and the reading of Kapital and re-reading of On the Wealth of Nations got me less intimidated by the subject area.

John Hively
This is a great read if you have a dictionary handy. Microeconomics is the study of why people purchase stuff. This is the best micro-economic book ever written. I studied micro-economics in college, both on the undergraduate and graduate levels. The theories I studied were stupid, generic marginal utility theories. Those theories told you nothing of why people do things. Veblen's classic was published 111 years ago and it's still light years ahead of the valueless micro-economics being produced ...more
David Finch
Few books will make you rethink and reorder entire categories of your experience. This is one of them.

The book does suffer from certain limitations: many people will find it difficult to read because the language is antiquated and the argument is at times quite convoluted and repetitive; Veblen's theory is based on observation and logic and does not provide any numerical data to reinforce his claims; he sometimes tries to explain too much and overextends his argument, applying it with a heavy ha
I read this on the plane coming down from Portland, sitting beside a couple of software developers discussing their overseas properties- both apparently had second homes outside the US, one in Tuscany (ooh, too outre-cliche!) one in Spain. Both happened to be interested in viticulture and considered themselves amateur vintners. I heard a lot of inside talk (such as I hadn't been exposed to for some twenty years when I was working myself as an interviewing plebe for a high tech market research fi ...more
Bob Nichols
As opposed to an economic theory of the leisure class (non-productive leisure and consumption), Veblen's book might more potently be a theory of human nature. Veblen writes about rank in today's "predatory" culture where those of means display their superior status by not having to perform manual work or any work at all (hence, leisure), by the accumulation of wealth and the honor it brings, and by conspicuous consumption and waste that displays one's status. There is an elaborate system of "ran ...more
Justin Cormack
David Mamet once said that this was the sort of book that you would use on a film set to indicate that someone likes to be thought of as intellectual. Or something like that. Curiously, as I have a degree in economics but had accidentally not finished reading it I acquired another copy. I still havent read it all though, I mislaid it somewhere and it only turned up, reeking of pseudointellectualism and room decoration recently. Should I finish it I wonder? What would that mean?
Gary Mesick
I'm a sucker for anything that attempts to explain why people act the way they do. This book set an early standard for such studies. We buy things to show off. Imagine!
Nick Klagge
Reading this book was one of those interesting experiences in which the author's arguments seem obvious, but only because they were so insightful that they have become commonplaces. Veblen originated the concept of "conspicuous consumption" in this book, that is, consumption that is at least partially oriented not toward the direct utility generated by the act of consumption, but toward the status associations generated by the act of consumption. Flashy cars, etc.

I am glad to have read this book
Pat Beck
His anthropological insights are the foundation for this work and are grounded in a good amount of truth. This piece is very convincing, albeit very sexist and elitist, yet Veblen fails to properly recognize his own position in a socio-historic time and place. Aside from a directionally dynamic movement of society, he sees the advancement of civilization upon a favorable path whereas coercion by means of wealth is a system superior to one which relies upon direct physical intimidation or violenc ...more
A lot of interesting — and probably accurate — observations, but in typical Victorian fashion the observations rely on generalizations and a few anecdotes rather than clear definitions and solid data. Also in typical Victorian fashion, the book is cluttered with repeated arguments, backtracking, overanalyzed tangents, and unnecessary examples: illustrating conspicuous consumption by discussing a $20 silver spoon versus a 20¢ aluminum spoon is fine, but then piling on examples with farm animals v ...more
Amusingly dated in some respects and disturbingly relevant in others, this book is full of engaging ideas and dry humor. So I am at a loss to explain why I could rarely make it through more than five pages at a time without starting to fall asleep. I think that the lack of a scholarly apparatus, rather than making the writing more accessible, actually made it more monotonous to me. It's a nice addition to the intellectual toolkit, and I don't regret reading it, but I plan to make my next read so ...more
A mix of economics and sociology at the end of the 19th century. Veblen has an evolutionary view of history that sees the wealthy (pecuniary or leisure) classes retaining earlier tendencies of violence and display (conspicuous consumption) that are not as easily retained among what he terms the industrial classes of more modern periods. His history is intriguing (like ownership of women becoming the origins of private property), his prose thick but full of witticisms and sly subversions, and he ...more
Difficult language but very interesting. It needs to be understood as satirical, and it is therefore quite complicated to get the real drift but definitely worth the effort. We are left to ponder some riddles, like if it is only a joke when Veblen states 'if something is more expensive, it is because it less useful'. It leaves a lot of conclusions open, and I tend to think he is mocking the leisure class. It is humorous with complicated yet interesting language. All this in an economics-oriented ...more
Way too academic for my current tastes...

If you've read Marx and were bored to hell- here's more interesting version of economics ("institutional") that will make you question all kinds of social conventions (and economic systems).

Veblen coined the term "conspicuous consumption" in this book and you'll learn all why golf and table manners are important if you want to be "upper class".

If you're looking to start a revolution- this might be a good read.

Ida Rand
eh, a little too pedantic for todays reader. i like all of the books that have come out since then but i suppose this is a prerequisite for understanding why poor people love their cell phones. he just wasn't able to predict the rise of the electronic ego so i probably shouldn't fault him for it. i must not have understood the book completely or i would have purchased it instead of getting it from the library like a common chump.
Gregory's Lament
The version I actually read was called The Veblen Reader, which contained excerpts from Leisure Class. I actually read more of the introduction than any of Veblen's writing, but it was quite a nice introduction. Unfortuantely, this was a while ago, and I remember little about any of it. I do remember that Veblen had a cool mustache.

Veblen was the stand out interesting figure for me from reading "The Worldly Philosophers" having read that I was led to read "Theory of the Leisure Class". After that I read "The Spirit Level" and you can see ideas like the invidious comparison borne out in some of the findings discussed in that book.
I read this as a History major. Great book! Eye-opening.
Olivier Lepetit
Illegible - I have been through 2 months and 100 pages, and could not finish it. The theories proposed by the author are interesting, the form is simply off-putting. Kudos to readers who managed to finish it.
Alexandra Loobeensky
I find Veblen's theories interesting indeed but the language of this book seems very... repetitious. Some sentences goes over and over. Maybe it's because of the polish translation I own.
The laugh-out-loud funniest piece of serious economics/sociology ever. It is impossible to understand politics, economics, or society in general without these insights.
Jack Granath
Brilliant ideas (this is where we get "conspicuous consumption") trapped and bleeding in a bramble of unreadable prose.
This was a dense read. But with the right amount of quiet and caffeine, a very enlightening read.
Great book. This should be required reading for every human being.
Boy bring this book up and middle class snivelers go nuts.
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“The ceremonial differentiation of the dietary is best seen in the use of intoxicating beverages and narcotics. If these articles of consumption are costly, they are felt to be noble and honorific. Therefore the base classes, primarily the women, practice an enforced continence with respect to these stimulants, except in countries where they are obtainable at a very low cost. From archaic times down through all the length of the patriarchal regime it has been the office of the women to prepare and administer these luxuries, and it has been the perquisite of the men of gentle birth and breeding to consume them. Drunkenness and the other pathological consequences of the free use of stimulants therefore tend in their turn to become honorific, as being a mark, at the second remove, of the superior status of those who are able to afford the indulgence. Infirmities induced by over-indulgence are among some peoples freely recognised as manly attributes. It has even happened that the name for certain diseased conditions of the body arising from such an origin has passed into everyday speech as a synonym for "noble" or "gentle". It is only at a relatively early stage of culture that the symptoms of expensive vice are conventionally accepted as marks of a superior status, and so tend to become virtues and command the deference of the community; but the reputability that attaches to certain expensive vices long retains so much of its force as to appreciably lesson the disapprobation visited upon the men of the wealthy or noble class for any excessive indulgence. The same invidious distinction adds force to the current disapproval of any indulgence of this kind on the part of women, minors, and inferiors. This invidious traditional distinction has not lost its force even among the more advanced peoples of today. Where the example set by the leisure class retains its imperative force in the regulation of the conventionalities, it is observable that the women still in great measure practise the same traditional continence with regard to stimulants.” 5 likes
“She lives with man on terms of equality, knows nothing of that relation of status which is the ancient basis of all distinctions of worth, honor, and repute, and she does not lend herself with facility to an invidious comparison between her owner and his neighbors.” 1 likes
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