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Assholes: A Theory

3.13  ·  Rating details ·  3,555 ratings  ·  553 reviews
Don't take this personally*, but assholes seem to be everywhere lately, and we need a rigorous theory to account for and deal with them. In the spirit of the mega-selling On Bullshit, philosopher Aaron James has done just that, providing us all** (in Aristotelian terms) with some much-needed catharsis.

*Unless you happen to be Donald Trump or Kanye West or Dick
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published December 4th 2012 by Doubleday
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Pam Susi It describes general approaches - resistance or resignation and more or less how to choose your battles. Generally speaking, the author says assholes…moreIt describes general approaches - resistance or resignation and more or less how to choose your battles. Generally speaking, the author says assholes don't often change their behavior, so it's frustrating and futile to expect otherwise regardless of our response. At the same time, it's important at times to not allow them to treat you with disrespect (mostly to preserve your own self respect regardless how it impacts their behavior or attitudes). But in the end, an asshole is an asshole is an.... so don't take it personally.(less)
Brendan It suggests that one cannot really change behavior. But for your sake, the author posits generally such people are not able to recognize that one is…moreIt suggests that one cannot really change behavior. But for your sake, the author posits generally such people are not able to recognize that one is one.(less)

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Bill Kerwin
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was ok

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 dry, prolix, academic treatises, 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 b
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Assholes, A theory was published by Aaron James, a Harvard educated philosopher and surfer, in 2012.

I have to admit that when I picked up the book, I was amused by the title and considered that it might be a one trick pony, sort of like a Saturday Night Live skit stretched out into a book, funny at the beginning and then petered out towards the end.

I was pleasantly surprised and more than amused, I was engrossed by the author’s well thought out and intelligent ideas.

First, James defines what it means to be an asshole.
Joi Reece
Dec 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
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
Aug 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'm glad I went into this with eyes wide opened as to the widespread prevalence and ubiquitous presence of assholes.

I mean, honestly, we all know one, or two, or sometimes a full office full of them. And even if we don't have many real life line-cutters, traffic-weavers, or conversation killers in our lives, at least we have Trump. And high-level bankers. And Rush. And practically the entire existing vocal portion of the political process in America. We have lots and lots and lots of
Ben Labe
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 16, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Christie Bane
Feb 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: arc, edelweiss
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'
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics, economics
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 th
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
Mar 30, 2013 rated it liked it
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
jv poore
Jul 11, 2016 marked it as to-read
Shelves: non-fiction, own-it, dnf
I've decided to re-shelve this, I know it is me, not the author; but for reasons I do not understand, I just can't seem to focus on this book. I'm going to pick it up again in the fall, when my own mind is a bit quieter.
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I saw this book opened up in front of someone and I couldn't resist asking about it---the title demands it---turns out a mom and her teen-aged daughter were both reading the book, passing it back an
Scott Rhee
Jan 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“If justice goes, there is no longer any value in human beings’ living on the earth.”---Immanuel Kant

Assholes are everywhere. We work with them. We shop with them. We drive on the same roads with them. We have them in our own family. We even have one currently as our President of the United States. Assholes are a fact of life. They have always been with us, and they always will. But that doesn’t mean we have to turn the other cheek, back down, curl up, and take their shit.

Am thinking that this might’ve made a really snappy essay. Author notes Harry Frankfurt’s text On Bullshit and identifies his own argument as lying “within this distinguished line of research” (9), which demonstrates a reasonable sense of humor.

The basic definition of the term is a person who “allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically,” “out of an entrenched sense of entitlement,” and “is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people
Sep 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
(Loaner from Dan)

Amusing, but goes on for a bit longer than it needs to. First half of the book is the best.
“If one is special on one’s birthday, the asshole’s birthday comes every day.”

As one might expect, James begins by defining the term asshole. What is an asshole? According to James, it is someone who has an “entrenched sense of entitlement.” This someone believes himself entitled to special privileges ALL of the time as opposed to the rest of us who only believe ourselves to be entitled to special privileges SOME of the time.

James works his way through this theory with qu
Jul 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Timothy McNeil
Dec 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 mean
May 10, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
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
Kent Winward
Aug 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Obviously, given the current asshole proliferation, not enough people have read James' discourse and dissection of assholery.
Jan 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Assholes: A Theory, is actually a rather remarkable book, more for the feat it manages to pull off than its actual content, which is also pretty fine.

Here's the premise, and one with which we are all familiar: there are assholes in the world, and they are deeply annoying. Not the least of their negative qualities is that they don't particularly care if they are classified as such, so our criticism of them most often falls on deaf ears and elicits condescending responses.

Aug 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Assholes: A Theory?
Call me when it’s a Theorem!

2.5 stars
[To appreciate the effort, I chose 3 stars, instead of 2]

I really wanted to like this book. I picked this one because of the interesting title, but this is not as funny as I thought it would be. The first part is good, there is humor, and his commentaries made some sense, but in the second part, humor goes a little dry and makes the reader feels like it is a bit longer than it needs to.
I thought there's going t/>
Jun 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Aaron James attempts to define "assholes" as an initial step towards successfully interacting with them. According to James, an asshole is a person who "allows himself to enjoy special advantages in social relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people." Assholes take advantage of cooperation among people to derive extra personal benefits, beyond their apportioned share, and they usually have what sounds like a moral argument to back ...more
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
This seems to be an interesting article that swelled unhelpfully into a book. "Assholes" does a good job of defining a particular kind of social misbehaviour: the arrogating of undeserved privilege to oneself, while expecting others to behave morally, due to an unjustifiable sense of specialness that, in one's view, warrants such extraordinary behaviour. The asshole is thus usefully distinguished from the sociopath.

The book also shows why dealing with such people is so difficult: rem
Kyle Ryan
Dec 06, 2014 rated it did not like it

The problem with “Assholes – A Theory,” by Aaron James is that it’s too dumb to be smart and too academic to be funny. I came into the book with high expectations, mainly based on the title. The thought process went something like “I dislike assholes, but assholes can be funny! A whole book that explains (and presumably lightheartedly pokes fun at) assholes will be a nice holiday read as I sip on eggnog and enjoy a light buzz!” Instead, I plodded through about 200 pages of philosophy-ese to take

Although James can be very repetitive and prone to beanplating terms & situations in the manner of many philosophically inclined folk, there are some things I enjoyed about this book.

First, his definition of what it is to be an asshole (as opposed to an assclown or a buffoon, for example) is delightfully precise: an asshole believes systematically that he is entitled to special privileges, has an entrenched sense of entitlement, and doesn't hear other people's complaints about him because h
Roxanne Russell
Apr 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ha. No really- I couldn't put it down and read it in one day. Very satisfying to cross-reference my experiences with assholes with this author's impressive grasp of moral philosophy and where assholes fit into that continuum. Mostly I feel validated that my personal asshole management strategies square with his advice.
As far as his more sweeping cultural, political and economic generalizations, I shrug at such broad strokes.
Jan 26, 2013 rated it did not like it
YUCK! I couldn't make it past the first chapter. Don't waste your time, not funny.
Andrew Leon
Mar 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
Assholes, by Aaron James, is a difficult book to walk past and not pick up. With a title like that, it's hard to resist. And I'm sure that it's the title that has made the book a New York Times bestseller. Probably bought as gifts, because, when you see a book called Assholes, you're bound to immediately think of someone who ought to have that book no matter what the book is ultimately about. For me, that person was myself. I mean, here was a book that promised to tell me where assholes come fro ...more
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was walking through a bookstore one day, looking for the correct aisle to find a book I wanted. En route, this book jumped off the shelf and into the front of my reading queue. I expected it to be funny, and it was, but the little "A Theory" carried far more weight than I thought it would. Upon looking at the credentials of the author, it all made sense. This was not the book I purchased, it was much better - it was a philosophical romp through a world with assholes - what makes them assholes, ...more
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Around the Year i...: Assholes: A Theory, by Aaron James 1 10 Feb 01, 2018 09:42AM  

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“Our theory is simply this: a person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.” 8 likes
“Assholes are a given fact of life. They are a fact of life we must somehow make peace with if we are to be at peace with life itself.” 5 likes
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