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The Theory of the Leisure Class

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  2,412 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
"The most impressive satirist of his day." — Time Magazine

With devastating satiric wit, this book examines the hollowness and falsity suggested by the term "conspicuous consumption" (coined by Veblen) and exposes the emptiness of many cherished standards of taste, education, dress, and culture. Since its original publication in 1899, the work has become a classic of social
Paperback, 244 pages
Published May 20th 1994 by Dover Publications (first published April 1st 1899)
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Note on the Text
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A Chronology of Thorstein Bunde Veblen

--The Theory of the Leisure Class

Explanatory Notes
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
Apr 06, 2015 Nicole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 08, 2012 Will rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Bill FromPA
Nov 27, 2015 Bill FromPA rated it liked it
Shelves: classics, non-fiction
Conspicuous Leisure
This is the book that coined the term "conspicuous consumption". My own stance in regard to this practice is demonstrated in the fact that I read this book in a "Dover Thrift Edition"; so, I started reading the book with the expectation of it explaining other people's behavior. However, before getting to conspicuous consumption, Veblen describes what he calls "conspicuous leisure"; this is significant time spent in ways which are not aimed a earning money, either immediately o
Erik Graff
Sep 08, 2009 Erik Graff rated it it was amazing  ·  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.

Sotiris Makrygiannis
Apr 19, 2017 Sotiris Makrygiannis rated it really liked it
I give 4 stars because of what I read in wikipedia about the subject not because I understood the text of this book. The only thing that I remember is that Old man get woman as trophies because that what we have been doing for 1000s of years. I marked the book as re read, so I can go line by line and translate to modern English and learn new words. If your English are not on the level of Oxford professor dont get the unabridged version. If you want to challenge yourself with this version, you ha ...more
John Hively
May 04, 2011 John Hively rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 25, 2011 Mark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, economics
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

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.
David Finch
Jan 07, 2013 David Finch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
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
Feb 21, 2012 Tony rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is the only book I have ever read in which every single solitary sentence absolutely baffles the hell out of me. I made myself finish it, but I was on autopilot most of the time, just looking at the words rather than reading them. And I've now seen the word "invidious" enough times to last a lifetime.
Bob Nichols
Apr 17, 2012 Bob Nichols rated it liked it
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
Robert Jerome
May 15, 2016 Robert Jerome rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this book is classified as being in the field of economics just because the author was teaching economics, not because of its content. The famous biography style intro to economics book "The Worldly Philosophers" puts Veblen in line with the great economists probably more because of his entertaining life story than because of continued citation in the field. I think this book is best classified as turn of the century reductivism. Freud thought everything broke down to sexual instincts, M ...more
Justin Cormack
Jun 09, 2008 Justin Cormack rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
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?
Olivier Lepetit
Jul 24, 2011 Olivier Lepetit rated it did not like it
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.
Gary Mesick
Oct 21, 2009 Gary Mesick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Ola 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.
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 upon being called by such titles like 'sir' by some manual-laborer, some tourist guide or like, a person m
Neil Collins
The book had some really great insights into certain aspects of our socioeconomic hierarchy and a larger general historical perspective on the topic. However I felt that the author had an impressive ability at using an excess of words to say a simple thing, stretching sentences and repeating himself in various unnecessary combinations of said words; not that the words used were so long or archaic but just that there was over and over too many of them. Ironically this problem of intellectual and ...more
Gary Bruff
Veblen writes about class, not from the perspective of exploited producers, but from the standpoint of the consumer (and the consumer's ideology). Theory of the Leisure Class [1899] outlines the practices and presuppositions which would underlie the use and abuse of wealth in mass consumer societies like twentieth century America.

People with the means to do so participate in something like a sporting match--or to Veblen's anthropological imaginary, a substitute for war and violence--when they tr
Feb 24, 2017 Saeed rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A lot of interesting — and probably accurate — observations, but a two star penalty for being prolix.

در واقع کار و فعالیت صنعتی و تولیدی است که ارزشمند است و در دنیا به ارزش آفرینی می پردازد ولی
اصل مطلب این کتاب این است که تورستن وبلن یک تئوری جالب را بیان می کند که انسان ها انجام کار تولیدی را پست می دانند. به این صورت که در جامعه طبقه ای به اسم لیژر کلاس وجود دارد که به تن آسایی می پردازد و در واقع این تن آسایی است که ارزشمند است نه کار تولیدی

به این صورت که ارزش یک خانواده به این است که مرد خا
Nick Klagge
Aug 08, 2013 Nick Klagge rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
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
Apr 17, 2016 Rdt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Veblen's basic concepts are beyond brilliant. According to Veblen, the upper classes must engage in conspicuously unproductive activities to show that they do not have to work in order to distinguish themselves from the masses and one another, and since great wealth cannot be productively consumed, they must engage in unproductive consumption to show that they can. It isn't enough for the rich man to do these things on his own; he must engage in vicarious leisure through the unproductive activit ...more
Jan 12, 2016 Edward rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting and often brutal takedown of the wealthy elite in our society, from the perspective of a non-Marxist, 19th-century economist. While some of his critiques verge on the tongue-in-cheek (sports are "predatory emulation"), many are still relevant today. Veblen's scorn for the wasteful arrogance of the rich is almost Swiftian at times.

Even if you feel like such condemnation is too harsh, it's a worthwhile experience reading this book as a form of self-examination. Like anything else in
May 17, 2011 Soren rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Took almost two months to read, just reading on and off during less busy periods. Overall I'm glad to have read it, but his emphasis on obsolescence and archaic traits reeks of social Darwinism. It's also obvious he was a product of his time.

It can be a slog, but it's entirely worth it for passages like this one:

"It is contended, in substance, that a punctilious use of ancient and accredited locutions will serve to convey thought more adequately and more precisely than would the straightforward
Jun 29, 2014 B rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, westend
Duncan: "People regularly reference Veblen, but too often fail to mention that one reason to read him is that he's very funny."

This is a strange book. Veblen takes msot of a person's experience and society and criticizes it in a very removed and scholarly tone. It is kind of like that infamous "Nacirema" essay in a different tone. When Veblen lobs one of these disguised bombs at a group or activity you dislike, it's enjoyable like a slow-ticking Don Rickel
Nov 29, 2014 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Thorstein (born 'Torsten') Bunde Veblen was a Norwegian-American economist and sociologist. He was famous as a witty critic of capitalism.

Veblen is famous for the idea of "conspicuous consumption". Conspicuous consumption, along with "conspicuous leisure", is performed to demonstrate wealth or mark social status. Veblen explains the concept in his best-known book, The Theory of the Leisure Class (
More about Thorstein Veblen...

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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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