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The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  1,527 ratings  ·  161 reviews
When The Culture of Narcissism was first published, it was clear that Christopher Lasch had identified something important: what was happening to American society in the wake of the decline of the family over the last century.

The book quickly became a bestseller. This edition includes a new afterword, "The Culture of Narcissism Revisited."
Paperback, 249 pages
Published 1991 by Norton (first published 1978)
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Thomas Fortenberry
Apr 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
I would give this book five stars but there was not enough about me in it.
Szplug
Oct 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
I read this book and thought This is a good book.
I read this book and thought I've learned from this book.
I read this book and thought Kit Lasch is the bomb.
I read this book and thought Man can be as slippery as Saturday's soap.
I read this book and thought Man can be as silly as Bugsy Malone.
I read this book and thought This is a serious book, with serious thoughts, and serious insights, and here I am chewing gum and popping bubbles.
I read this book and thought I really like this book. It's
...more
Justin Evans
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-etc
Lasch, on the evidence of this book, is the American Adorno. He writes in a similar style; each sentence is perfectly formed, but often not so well connected to the preceding and following sentences. He has no patience for the conservative/progressive distinction, and would rather discuss the effects of an idea or practice rather than immediately laud or damn it (so, for instance, 'feminism' isn't abruptly praised or scornfully ignored; rather, the difficulties of putting feminist doctrine into ...more
Bettie
Feb 23, 2017 marked it as wish-list
Description from Robert Reich:
In 1979, when 33-year-old Donald Trump was building Trump Tower -- his first big narcissistic project -- sociologist Christopher Lasch published “The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations.”

In his book, Lasch argued that a host of economic factors, especially rampant consumerism, had made people self-obsessed, hyper-competitive, cut off from reality, erratic, unempathetic, angry, and vindictive. As a result, he wrote, “truth has
...more
Steve Stein
Aug 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Now this is fun. Published in 1979, this is a classic "curmudgeon book". Lasch excoriates everything about modern life in an innovative way, combining a conservative respect for traditional life and morality with Freudian and to a lesser extent Marxist perspectives.

The main argument: we are all narcissists. We have deep issues with self-esteem, are consumed with appearance instead of character, and are constantly in need of approval. Due to the demands of business, people are alienated from
...more
Murtaza
Mar 06, 2018 rated it liked it
I was surprisingly a little underwhelmed by this book, not because its insights and criticisms didn't ring true but rather because they all seemed quite familiar already. This could probably be attributable to the fact that it was written several decades ago and the arguments have already been internalized by the broader culture (even if changes haven't really been effectuated). After reading Patrick Deneen's "Why Liberalism Failed," this book seemed like a more granular retread of some of the ...more
Bon Tom
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: normal-sized, docu
During reading, I was completely unaware how old this book was. Because it all felt so fresh, relevant, current and actual. All the time the author was talking about narcissistic preoccupations with ephemeral aspects of one's all too important self and celebrities, I imagined, for sure, it was all the physically impossible buttocks on Instagram and 50 year old dudes that look like 20 yo girls he had in mind. Turns out, the author died at least 20 years before this Gomora of new milenium stepped ...more
John David
Oct 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism” was originally published in 1979, and has been a major cynosure of cultural and social criticism ever since. English literary critic Frank Kermode called it, not inaccurately, a “hellfire sermon.” It is a wholesale indictment of contemporary American culture. It also happens to fall into a group of other books which share the same body of concerns that I have been working my way through, or around, in recent months: Daniel Boorstin’s “The Image: A ...more
Kate Hoffman
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who understand large vocabulary words and like to read text books
This hyper-technical book about the psychology of the current state of the Selfish Union has been really, really hard for me to get into. But I'm wading along, hopefully learning something about you, me and everyone we know.

**Update: May, 2012**
Jesus, I'm STILL not done with this book. :) But it is thoroughly fascinating, and worth the time it is taking me to fully digest what is being discussed. I often find I really have to re-read entire pages a few times for it all to sink in. I also am so
...more
Austin Burbridge
Jun 09, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: power
A bore. Reader, pass by! This farrago of ludicrous banalities could have been a good book: interesting, informative, critical. Instead, the author has squandered the opportunity —and the reader's time —with two hundred and sixty-eight dull pages of pompous, pious, neo-conservative cant. It's barber-shop talk —Sunday-school self-righteousness — gussied up in the pretentious, pseudo-academic argot of the chattering classes of New York City, circa 1979, with a liberal garnish of end notes ...more
Jayesh
Jun 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Important read for me personally. Forced me to rethink about a lot of my beliefs. Quite surprisingly, despite being originally published in 1979, little of this thoughtful analysis of American culture has dated. It's kind of eerie, honestly, to see all the current artifacts, from Trump to MRA to identity politics.


I can understand that it can come across as an old man curmudgeonly ranting at the world and the Freudian psychobabble doesn't help. But if you ignore that [*], it's probably the best
...more
Michael Perkins
Feb 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Although the author did not position his book as such, it's turned out to be an extremely prescient book about my Boomer generation. I'm a mid-Boomer, born in 1955. When the author wrote the book, many of the front-end Boomers had already entered their 30's. The Yippies had become Yuppies. The common thread of self-indulgence and narcissism was intact and would remain for many until this day. We now live an era, a new Gilded Age, where some Boomers have become extremely wealthy. But many more ...more
Sean Chick
Jul 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A stunning work, written by a man who defies our current definitions of conservative and liberal, which were born in the 1960s. The issues Lasch raises still plague us today because we have elevated capitalism to a religion and the baby boomers, who Lasch consistently blasts, are now in full control. If this book were written in 2012 it would still make sense.

None of this means the book is perfect. Lasch discusses obscure thinkers without describing their ideas. He is too Freudian and his
...more
Beatrix
Oct 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
This is what I live in. (Even if I don't live in the US.) (Or perhaps this is what we all live in, but I'd rather just speak for myself.)

And this is an excellent book.

I've got this theory that the best non-fiction books are the ones that don't tell me anything I don't already know, but they are great because they can explain what I already know and what I experience everyday, while I can't do this. I can only express my dissatisfaction and the constant feeling of "what the hell is going on?" in
...more
Nathan Duffy
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Chock full of trenchant insights about what forms and constitutes our cultural narcissism. A tad too much Freud and Marx for my taste, but even those frameworks are utilized deftly.
Alex Stroshine
Feb 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociocultural
Christopher Lasch unleashes a brisk polemic against the proliferation of narcissism in American culture. Lasch examines how pathological narcissism has affected labour, sport, sex and especially the family (no wonder he was so admired by conservative Christians; although not a believer himself, his analysis of the foibles of liberal permissiveness are exceptional). Although virtually all the individuals Lasch mentions and engages with have passed from the limelight, the tendencies and ideologies ...more
Adam
Jan 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Probably Lasch's most famous work, this is also, I think, the most easily misunderstood. The titular "narcissism" is decidedly not vanity; Narcissus's fatal weakness was not the admiration of his reflection, but his inability to tell where his reflection ended and his face started. The Minimal Self (the third book in Lasch's trilogy, which began with Haven in a Heartless World) contains a more mature and, in my opinion, more precise formulation of the critique of the self found in Culture. ...more
mark
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: serious readers, critical thinkers
Can I give this six stars? I highly recommend this book for all serious, critical thinkers – now more than ever – even after forty years. The “culture of narcissism” in America has exploded beyond anyone’s imagination, would anyone disagree? But beware – this critique isn’t about the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, he was just getting started when the book was written, no it’s about you. Yes, you can recognize elements of Trump’s personality here, but as I’ve written about elsewhere, Trump is a ...more
Cary
A couple times I almost tossed this aside, but then I rather liked it in the end.

At times it seemed ranty and overly focused on the 70s. At others, and sometimes simultaneously, it seemed like it could've been written last year and was a cogent criticism of modern society--in some ways worse in the exact ways the author criticized forty years ago.

Lasch deploys liberal and conservative criticism alike -- sounding almost Marxian in his criticisms of capitalism at times and Reaganesque in his
...more
Franklin Beale
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lasch unrepentantly explores multiple facets of modern consumer life infected with a detached narcissism whereby the individual perceives the world as a reflection of themselves. Sometimes appearing unnecessarily contrarian, Lasch's analyses convert seemingly well-meaning liberal and conservative perspectives on modern life in order to expose the reactionary sentiments hidden beneath.

Lasch decries the incremental devaluation of the family unit, invaded by bureaucratisation in the name of
...more
Kathleen
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“My own view of the past is just the opposite of David Donald’s. Far from regarding it as a useless encumbrance, I see the past as a political and psychological treasury from which we draw the reserves (not necessarily in the form of ‘lessons’) that we need to cope with the future. Our culture’s indifference to the past—which easily shades over into active hostility and rejection—furnishes the most telling proof of that culture’s bankruptcy. The prevailing attitude, so cheerful and ...more
Liam
May 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"The romantic cult of sincerity and authenticity tore away the masks that people once had worn in public and eroded the boundary between public and private life. As the public world came to be seen as a mirror of the self, people lost the capacity for detachment and hence for playful encounter, which presupposes a certain distance from the self. In our won time, according to Sennett, relations in public, conceived as a form of self-revelation, have become deadly serious. Conversation takes on ...more
Emily
Dec 23, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: generation X and Y
Sometimes I felt the author was trying too hard to write complex words, but nonetheless, the meaning behind his writing was enlightening. Some of the comments Lasch writes, I do not agree with and find them a far stretch to explain the complexity of our generation or even human nature.

I always thought the definition of narcissism was simply "someone who is self-absorbed." This book explains the more complex meaning of a narcissist. Almost makes a person want to diagnose themselves as such.

If
...more
Sarah
Aug 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2018
I'm so conflicted...

Christopher Lasch put forth the most cohesive explanation I've seen for the surreal nightmare we're living in 2018...in 1978.

"Narcissism," in this context, isn't merely a reference to selfishness or vanity. Indeed, it's nothing short of existential crisis. To be seen is to be humiliated; To be unseen is death. We save face by wearing masks of ironic detachment. Alienated from tradition and terrified of myth, we find ourselves driven farther and farther inward. This endless
...more
Stephen Hicks
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written in 1978, Culture of Narcissism is as pertinent, prophetic, and poignant as ever it seems. And while that is a credit to Mr. Lasch, it is a warning to American society. I can't even begin to outline specific sections that were especially cogent and acerbic, but the chapters on education, sports, and reproduction left deep impressions on my understanding of the current ailments wreaking havoc on modern America.

This book is strikingly apolitical as well. It does not point to the Left or
...more
Chris J
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have read a decent number of cultural studies and critiques, but none as clinical nor focused on the psyche of the modern American. Its novelty in that regard, as well as its genius, make it required reading for any student of American culture. While it has its share of challenging sections, I found that it was largely accessible to a layman like myself, suitable for the intellectual undergrad and beyond.

I feel Lasch would be fine with me combining his words to define narcissism as "An
...more
Oliver Bateman
Jun 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A bit dated, sure, but: SO. FREAKING. GREAT. Outrage without solutions? Check. Thoroughgoing critique of modern life without praising the past or providing any optimism about the future whatsoever? Check. Leftist writing so moralistic and judgmental that it's essentially paleoconservatism? Check and MATE, brahski. Read this one. It's fun, fun, fun. We're all doomed, but hey, we never had a chance in the first place. Vitam continet una dies (lawlz).
Joe
Oct 17, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: sociology, psychology
What a pity that a book about a very fascinating concept should turn out so awful; readers, be sure you have your PhDs in sociology, psychology, and vocabulary before embarking on this journey. The book is more dense than a black hole. I couldn't tell what the author was trying to say at all, his arguments are not easy to follow, etc. I feel like the author used this book as an ostentatious display of his own intelligence instead of a means of explaining his ideas.
Peter
Jan 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
And I thought I was a pessimist.....
Brandy
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
It’s rare that I find myself simultaneously in such deep agreement and disagreement with an author. How I wish Lasch had been writing today; I would love to read his takes on our current leadership and bizarre cults of personality. His insights into public egos are many, and he has a certain approach to discussions of politics and social capital which I enjoy deeply. But there is also a strange thread of nostalgia for some “golden age” of the past at times that strikes me as both odd and out of ...more
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Christopher "Kit" Lasch (June 1, 1932 – February 14, 1994) was an American historian, moralist, and social critic who was a history professor at the University of Rochester.

Lasch sought to use history as a tool to awaken American society to the pervasiveness with which major institutions, public and private, were eroding the competence and independence of families and communities. He strove to
...more
“We demand too much of life, too little of ourselves.” 37 likes
“Our growing dependence on technologies no one seems to understand or control has given rise to feelings of powerlessness and victimization. We find it more and more difficult to achieve a sense of continuity, permanence, or connection with the world around us. Relationships with others are notably fragile; goods are made to be used up and discarded; reality is experienced as an unstable environment of flickering images. Everything conspires to encourage escapist solutions to the psychological problems of dependence, separation, and individuation, and to discourage the moral realism that makes it possible for human beings to come to terms with existential constraints on their power and freedom.” 19 likes
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