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The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy
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The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  1,080 ratings  ·  126 reviews
Ina wry take on how contemporary culture is antithetical to happiness, Michael Foley paints a philosophical but hugely entertaining portrait ofthe cultural landscape—and comes up smiling

The good news is that the great thinkers from history have proposed the same strategies for happiness and fulfillment—the bad news is that these turn out to be the very things most discoura
Paperback, 240 pages
Published February 17th 2011 by Simon & Schuster UK (first published 2010)
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Hugh Howey
I picked this one up in the American Bookstore in Amsterdam to read while on some work travels. I've never laughed out loud like this while reading a book of philosophy. I also have rarely been so moved by the prose of a work of non-fiction.

Foley takes a tour of the things that make us unhappy, shows why we spend much of our time doing the opposite of what might make us happy, and gives a few hints regarding new paths to take if we want to improve our outlook on life and ourselves. It's not a se
This is about 50% of the greatest self-help book ever written. Only '50%' becaise while Foley is able to nail down - with the support of many a Stoic, Buddhist and psychologist - precisely what makes people unhappy, he stumbles significantly when musing on how to overcome those things.
In short, everything which western civilisation is striving towards is precisely what's making us all so miserable. Americans are apparently the most likely people to suffer from depression, little wonder in a land
Jan 21, 2012 Bataviaan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Adolescents, existentially burdened people
Shelves: interesting
Highly valuable book, with very wise insights, spot-on analyses and laughing out loud humor. A feast of recognition that provides a much needed mirror and suggestions for living better.

Long lasting happiness is elusive and hard to attain. Even more so in our affluent culture where the focus seems to be on the external at the cost of inner emptiness.

I am very happy to have read this book. The author's honest realism helps to reflect on the things that are happening before our eyes everyday. The t
Gerard M.
This is a sharp, witty, highly intelligent and really quite brilliant book. Foley reminds us that our yearning for authenticity is not found only in novelty—a new place, a new lover, a new job: “More effective is to see the familiar with new eyes . . . to smash the crust of habit and see life anew.” He exhorts us to “begin a new job in your current post, enjoy a holiday where you actually live, and most thrillingly, plunge into a tumultuous affair with your own spouse.” (139)

The book is full of
I agree with Chris in that some people wouldnt read this book because it would actually expose their own limitations and people dont like to hear that their belief system is rather vapid. There are some great insights in this book and the moments of mocking are delivered with great aplomb. One of my favourite lines in this book is when he is talking about 2nd Life "2nd life is the only place where 2 heterosexual men can have a lesbian affair".

He also shares my views that "difficulty is crucial,
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 27, 2012 Eric added it
Good, but not great. Worth reading, but meh :-)

I don't know. On the one hand, Blessed are the Grumpy. It's nice to see somebody shaking a curmudgeonly fist at society and with a bit of style. And it's nice to see a book and ties together a lot of different sources of ideas from Buddhism, literature, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, etc; especially if you have exposure to a subset of the stuff (for example Buddhism and some of the pop psych stuff like the “hedonic treadmill“ from the Paradox
Russell Blake
A fascinating, erudite, compelling exploration of the philosophy and science of happiness - whether it's achievable as a sustained state, what brain chemistry tells us about love and infatuation, our biological drive for transcendent states and why they are essentially unsustainable, why variety may be wildly overrated and misunderstood, why the great philosophers all seem to arrive at the same conclusions about man's search for meaning...

I've recommended this book to at least a dozen friends. I
Mark Love
The fact that modern life can make it hard to be happy is undoubtedly true. And nostalgia isn't what it used to be either. Michael Foley has clearly been brooding for some time over the cause(s) of his dissatisfaction with the world, and has produced a comprehensive, convincing, and enjoyably readable, analysis of why he feels it is so.

This is a "practical philosophy" book akin to any one of Alain de Botton's, with almost as many references to Proust, though slightly less pretentious and with ma
When I surf the net and read the blogs ..I have the impression that a lot of sites are dedicated to the pursuit of happiness. You can achieve happiness with meditation, diet or sports, by becoming a digital nomad, by keeping your possessions under 50 items, by living smaller, by becoming your own boss etc...the list goes on and on. Never have we been more unhappy in a more affluent society. Michael Foley does a good job in going for the roots and causes of this very difficult and possibly very t ...more
This is a terribly annoying book to read. The first part resembles what I imagine it feels like to have a truck load of quotes dumped on your head. Confusing, painful, but every now and then a useful thought hits you. Is all the namedropping of famous philosophers supposed to cover up that the author has no actual research to back up his assertions?

From the second part on the book gets better. A lot of what is said is thought-provoking, if not right. However, the air with which it is said annoys
I'm afraid I found this a bit of a grumblefest.

It might be because I spotted this in the bookshop of the Whitechapel Gallery that I expected more about art. I thought I was going to learn about Kierkegaard, Kafka, and Camus, and their relation to the modern age. All that is mentioned, but for the most part this book concentrates on a detail of the things which make us unhappy.

Not that he doesn’t do a good job of explaining the difficulties in finding happiness. Just sometimes it felt like it was
Any passionate writer taking on the "This is what's wrong with the world today" project is doomed to polarize his readers. Most can agree that every generation sees new trends, beliefs and technologies that are taken too far, but few can agree on the exact point at which "too far" occurs. Bearing that in mind, I was not surprised to find many of Foley's arguments to be absolutely spot-on, while others were too broad-sweeping.

Let's start with his mistakes. Steeped in his own social privilege, he
Tariq Mahmood
This is my second reading of this great critique of modernity. I love the length and breadth of the extensive critique on offer in this book, ranging from love to corporate cultures. Where the narrative drifts is the author's insistence on value of detachment in this very open and crowded modern life of ours. If detachment was so important to human survival than why has its use receded? For I believe that Human beings are only looking to survive in this world in the best possible manner and evol ...more
Raymond Liu
Human beings understand more about the world than ever before, but as we confront our insignificance in the scale of the universe, most of us have actually become more and more egotistical. We demand instant gratification in every arena, from work to love to being entertained. Without pointing his finger at any particular cause, Foley does suggest a unitary solution, which is to enjoy the inherent meaninglessness and Kafka-esque futility of existence. Foley ends the book by summarising the Myth ...more
Denis Vukosav
Michael Foley with ‘The Age of Absurdity’ will make you sit down and look at the world around you more closely. Or will put you under the cold shower while you will be reading about how the satisfaction and well-being are constantly undermined by modern lifestyles. The author explores the unattainable state of happiness, confirming his allegations with examples in philosophy, modern psychology, science, religious teachings and everyday life.

No, this is not about self-help literature. Self-help l
Leo Africanus
A wonderfully witty debunking of the false claims of modern life. Foley reasons beautifully for a little more detachment and difficulty in our lives to counter our innate sense of entitlement (itself a logical continuation of the battle for rights in the 1970s and subsequent eschewing of duties). He also outlines the importance of the dying art of gratitude and questions the conformity and passivity induced by organised religion - characterising both Jesus and the Bhudha as activists.
A book you must read.
Paul Degrande
"We weten allebei dat ieder van ons in staat is om vrolijk te glimlachen en te praten terwijl we ondertussen ons eigen sterven aan het plannen zijn. Wie te ver is gezwommen, is bezig tegelijkertijd te wuiven en te verdrinken!"

Fascinerend denkwerk(je) geschreven door een filosoof op vrije voeten. Over hoe geluk zich - soms - in een klein hoekje verschuilt, maar welk we tevergeefs in het vizier krijgen. - Dit gezien onze breedhoekvisie -kijkgewoonte- op de wereld.
Over hoe meer belang er wordt geh
This book is more opinion than fact, and that opinion is that of a grumpy old man.
For a book that ultimately wants to promote happiness, the tone is frighteningly negative.
The few interesting original insights in the book get buried under shallow rants. The author takes his high-brow academic lifestyle as the benchmark for how we all should live and in doing so he judges everyone who has different tastes: e.g. reality TV is both cause and consequence for what's wrong in the world and if we all
Kyle West
Fairly good book that mostly serves as a reminder that the greatest satisfactions in life come from the struggle of making something for ourselves and finding our meaning. There are no end points, just a constant slogging up a hill that can sometimes feel pointless. The only solution is to love the journey, because there is no such thing as a "destination" soon as we find that elusive thing that makes us "happy," it isn't long before we set our sights on something else.

At times it can come
An enjoyable rant at the state of modern life but like a good cranky dinner party. Drawing heavily on his favourite books (Satre, Joyce, Nietzsche) and on much anecdotal evidence, Foley jumps from topic to topic about the absurdness of modern life. Which would be great at a dinner party but after the first chapter is a bit tiring in a book. Smile or Die by Barbara Ehrenreich is a more analytical look at a similar issue.
I may not agree with Mr Foley on everything (I have my doubts about the existence of free will, something that in the books is regarded nearly as an act of faith), but I agree, wholeheartedly, with most of what he criticises in this book. Like the uncommited, inconsistent approach to relationships that is becoming the norm in our society, something that Bauman also criticised with far less conscision and humour.
This i s a treasure of a book. Foley approaches all lifes traps and pitfalls and systematically attacks them.

This book shines a light of skewed or faulty thinking, WHY people think such things and believe other things and gives starling ideas on how to improve ones self without the pat crassness of self help books by using psychology to understand ones nature and philosophy to understand general nature.
Neema Araka
A good read. I took issue with some of it but generally, splendidly impressed. It is both refreshing and entertaining. Worth reading a second time or even third... If you have wondered why happiness seems like an 'almost' feeling that you've never been able to hold in your hands then Michael explains it 'absurdly' as it "being a foreign state to us, either because it went unrecognised when we could have enjoyed it or it had been lost when we could have known it." And as you go through the remain ...more
Koen Maegherman
A great collection of insights and thoughts, accessible and still scientific with amongst others many quotes of and references to great philosophers (Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Kant, Nietzsche, Arendt,...) and authors (Proust, Joyce, Rilke,...)
Nathalie De neve
Grappig, herkenbaar en gevat. Weet de toonaard van onze maatschappij zeer goed te beschrijven en doorprikt in één beweging de schijnheiligheid ervan.
Daniel Glass
Very insightful commentary on the age we live in and how as understanding of human psychology developed, so did the exploitation of the all too knowing corporate 'powers that be'. As well as pointing fingers at the absurdity and wrong doings of modern western culture, he offers strategies and seeks to provide understanding, so the reader may tread more wisely with this knowledge. Foley often references past and contemporary literature which speak his ideas with clarity. I like this because it ca ...more
I wouldn't say that I agree with the whole content of the book. It's witty and at times challenging, as it sends you back a not so glossy and glamorous image of yourself. The author introduces himself as a non-believer but seems biased towards Buddhism which he appears to consider a pretty positive religion compared to the nonsense other religions are. As far as I'm concerned, they are all based of bs, and you shouldn't consider one above the other if you haven't studied each one profoundly.

"Het is choquerend en buitengewoon betreurenswaardig, maar kennelijk begint de verkoop van sinaasappels geleidelijk te dalen omdat mensen er geen zin meer in hebben om ze te pellen. Zodra ik dat las, begon ik vaker sinaasappels te kopen en ze met meer plezier te eten." (p.145) Hij zou het misschien over vijgen gehad hebben, maar het zou zowaar een zin van Aristoteles kunnen zijn als hij zich vandaag gewaagd zou hebben aan een geupdate versie van zijn Nicomachische Ethiek. Met een breed uitgesmee ...more
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The Age Of Absurdity: 1 14 Oct 09, 2013 11:35AM  
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Originally from Killavullen, Co Cork, Michael Foley has written Kings of September, winner of the 2007 BoyleSports Irish Sportsbook of the year. He also ghostwrote Harte: Presence Is the Only Thing, the autobiography of Tyrone gaelic football manager Mickey Harte, shortlisted for the 2009 William Hill Irish Sportsbook of the Year.

Winner of the GAA’s McNamee Award in 2008 and shortlisted for Sports
More about Michael Foley...
Embracing the Ordinary: Lessons From the Champions of Everyday Life Life Lessons from Bergson The Bloodied Field Kings of September: The Day Offaly Denied Kerry Five in a Row Getting Used to Not Being Remarkable

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“The talent for self-justification is surely the finest flower of human evolution, the greatest achievement of the human brain. When it comes to justifying actions, every human being acquires the intelligence of an Einstein, the imagination of a Shakespeare, and the subtlety of a Jesuit.” 23 likes
“To learn to die is to learn to live. Death is the giver of life.” 7 likes
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