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The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  281 ratings  ·  53 reviews
In provocative detail with more than one hundred illustrations, critically acclaimed author Virginia Postrel separates glamour from glitz, revealing what qualities make a person, an object, a setting, or an experience glamorous.

What is it that creates that pleasurable pang of desire—the feeling of “if only”? If only I could wear those clothes, belong to that group, drive t
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 5th 2013 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 1st 2013)
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Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: art

Let's say that this book is Ms. Glamour herself and this is the one chance we've had to interview her. What is she like? How beautiful is she inside? Well it's a little difficult to tell.

It doesn't help that this look at glamour comes from an unlikely position. The motive of libertarians is to gain freedom, to keep government out of our lives. Postrel gives the same cold shoulder treatment to analysis here. Like loudmouths at a Tea Party rally she keeps hammering away at a definition.

It's a sh
Feb 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a really fascinating book. As Virginia Postrel works through her definition of glamour--which she defines as something very similar to CS Lewis's sehnsucht or Sweet Desire, a longing for something beyond the world (“a promise of escape and transformation; grace; and mystery”)--you come to an odd realisation. Call it the only book you'll ever read which does nothing much beyond explain to you in detail why you wanted to read it.

There's a lot of insight here. Postrel unerringly puts her f
Aaron Arnold
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Before I read this, I had thought of glamour as being essentially synonymous with glitz; some showy display designed for and appreciated by shallow people. Not "serious"; not for me. Postrel did a phenomenal job of showing me how wrong I was, articulating how universal the concept of glamour is and how it works, and really putting the lie to the idea that you can be somehow "above" fashion, style, or trends. She manages the neat trick of posing questions of taste without imposing questionable ta ...more
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
This was generated from a TED talk. A fact I didn't know till I read the afterward. It's really a fascinating book on how the world works in regard to the recognition of desirable beauty, mystery, and longing.

Why are some things glamorous? What is recognition of glamour tapping into in our psyche? This was one I read with a pen in hand to mark the page near thoughts that were resonant or that I wanted to come back to later.

One example (of many): "Whether achieved through misdirection or editin
Randall Wallace
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I loved the example of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers bloodying many pairs of shoes to perfect a dance sequence where a floor kept immaculate between takes helps create the illusion of effortlessness and glamour during the dance. Glamour involves channeling desire through imagery after the removing of tedium, effort and difficulties to achieve escape and transformation through mystery and grace. Thus Obama’s glamour died when his mystery died and his policies appeared to more and more Americans ...more
Jul 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Had some interesting perspectives and photos. Overall, however, it was very disjointed and the author's ideas were all over the place. Halfway through I gave up on the book. It was too frustrated jumping from one unrelated idea to another. ...more
Nov 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Glamour is one of the unique word that is spelt with ‘our’ even in American English (unlike armor and humor). Postrel has done a great job describing it.

So glamour is the aura that evoke a kind of longing that is known to be false but felt to be true. It is best felt from far away. Glamorous people would maintain their distance and silence on purpose, and glamorous photos were usually simplistic, allowing the audience to project their own imagination onto them. Glamour is apparently effortless
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
We are hypnotized by the glamour of the world much more than we consciously realize. Many great insights are found here in this analysis of how advertising and the like have a way of tapping into our deepest longings, tapping into our dreams - tapping into the greatest terrain of the human imagination. Some information also on how these glamorous campaigns leave out the 'details.' For example, how the woman who bought the dreamy shoes in the magazine ends up with bloodied feet while running to c ...more
Jo Berry ☀️
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent and insightful book. It really gets to grips with what we mean by glamour - a subject that feels so hard to define and yet this books seems to have managed it. Very well illustrated, with plenty of references to support all the points made. It’s also clearly written and, frankly, a pleasure to read. More than just a coffee table book, it hides the knowledge of a textbook in its pages, while still managing to feel light and enjoyable. It offers plenty of food for thought and is a gre ...more
May 07, 2022 rated it really liked it
An entertaining look at the idea of glamour. Glamour - the mysterious and elusive phenomenon that makes you long and yearn and dream of a better life - is an overwhelming force in our culture, the author argues. I liked the sections where she meditates on the glamour of a particular theme, like aviators or Gibson Girls. This book invites the reader to examine the roll of fantasy and longing in her own life. Glamour always dissolves into real life in the end, but does its pursuit leave us better ...more
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful book in every sense of the word. Virginia Postrel has me thinking about the mystery, the power, the persuasion of "glamour," those "illusions" that can reveal desire. Having read the book, I am much more aware of and intrigued by how my identity is tied to what I "want." From President Obama to my morning cup of coffee, commerce and culture and connected to glamour. ...more
Mar 07, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fashion
A bit of a think-piece, but it did philosophy right in its evaluation of how humanity gives value to the enigma that is "glamour". It became repetitive at times, but I powered through it during an overnight shift. My library copy is full of little metal booktabs for parts which I want to save for future contemplation. ...more
Beth Adams
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Insanely intelligent look at the topic of Glamour. Once you settle in after the first chapter, it's mind-blowing what Virginia has to say. Quoting her in my thesis a bit too much?
Can't wait to read her next book!
Matt Starr
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very thoughtful journey through the idea of “glamour” and cultural advertising. I would recommend this to anyone curious about the nature of escapism or anyone who wants to understand the psychological interplay of advertisements.
Jan 13, 2022 rated it really liked it
Intellectual but still readable, Postrel develops an understanding of glamour that transcends time or place. Well-chosen illustrations communicate her ideas. Extensive footnotes show a path to deeper study.
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
made me feel insane and/or psychopathic
and like i should be reading more berger and didion
Catherine Holloway
Oct 20, 2021 rated it it was ok
I was expecting something more technical, like her book Fabric of Civilization.
Mar 08, 2021 rated it liked it
Just not that into it.
Jeb Kinnison
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of the duties of our public intellectuals is to mine the culture for fresh new ways of seeing and describing the world, bringing together seemingly disparate examples and finding regularities and order in what had only been vaguely understood before. Virginia Postrel has been at this for years, and her latest work is a wonderful read that will help anyone in design, advertising, photography, publicity, or any of the arts of persuasion understand at a deeper level how this dream-making works. ...more
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
When I bought this book at an event featuring the author Virginia Postrel, I asked her whether she had referenced the scene in The Iliad where Helen appears on the ramparts of Troy to watch the battle between her two husbands, Paris (her current spouse) and Menelaus (her once and future spouse).

In that scene, all eyes turned to the legendary beauty. Such was her glamour that the assembled men forgot the war to gaze in awe at this image of feminine perfection.

Postrel, however, said that while she
Nov 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
I received a review copy of Virginia Postrel's latest book, The Power of Glamour and read it in one sitting. At first, I didn't know what to make of it. But, over a matter of days, I found myself going back and rereading sections, Googling some of her references, and then cogitating about it some more.

Her central thesis is that glamour is a form of visual rhetoric and should be treated as a subject as worthy of deeper analysis as verbal rhetoric. Then she gives a historical tour of glamour throu
Jens Fiederer
Dec 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I probably would not have read this book if I didn't already like the seemed pretty far from my area of interest. Surprisingly, it was not. It isn't some vapid picture book of fashion (although the gorgeous images included might make you want to have a printed version for your coffee table rather than the Kindle edition I got), it is an exploration of the whole CONCEPT of glamour, defining it, tracking it through history, and analyzing the ramifications to the lives of those controll ...more
Paul Sand
Sep 29, 2020 rated it really liked it

[Imported automatically from my blog. Some formatting there may not have translated here.]

I've been a Virginia Postrel fanboy ever since she was editor of Reason (1989-2000). But even I was worried I'd be less than interested by her latest book, The Power of Glamour. What possible interest would I, with about as much glamour as an urban pigeon, have in reading a whole book about the topic?

So I cheated, managing to convince the University Near Here's sainted Dimond Library to buy a copy. And (

Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
How does glamour differ from luxury or charisma? Virginia Postrel analyzes ideas, visuals, and other elements to answer this question in this cultural analysis that could very well double as a coffee table book. In multitudes of examples with accompanying illustrations and photographs, she puts forth a coherent theory of the essential components of glamour.

This book is not a how-to manual as the title might suggest, though with all the ideas in this book I suppose it is possible to construct one
Sep 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: friday-reads
When I started reading The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion, my view of what constituted “glamour” was pretty narrow. Postrel quickly dissuaded me of this misconception: “…glamour is not the same as beauty, stylishness, luxury, celebrity, or sex appeal. It is not limited to fashion or film, nor is it intrinsically feminine.” Instead, Postrel defines glamour as a “form of nonverbal rhetoric” that simultaneously generates desire, longing, and pleasure within a projected v ...more
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book provides a compelling argument about the role that glamour plays in our daily life. It is a strong argument, well articulated and ably assisted by a number of photographs and images. I found the argument convincing, and I would say that it gave me a fun new paradigm with which to view the world. Many of my life decisions -- wanting to be a baseball player as a child, moving to Paris, attending law school, moving to Cote d'Ivoire -- were at least partially inspired by glamorized visions ...more
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
I received "The Power of Glamour" as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

In "The Power of Glamour," Postrel explores visual culture as expressed in (and by) advertising, art, fashion, graphic design, film, status symbols, and celebrities. The presence and development of writing systems are what distinguishes "prehistory" from "history," but Postrel makes a compelling case that what we see--across time and place--can tell us just as much, if not more, than the written record. As a history buff, I loved
Incredibly insightful look into the ways that longing and rhetoric combine to form a pervasive, complicated, and largely unseen attempt by humans to interact with civilization. I really enjoyed both her theoretical and critical parsing of what glamour is and does and here copious illustration and photo examples of glamour. Up to date and historically informed, this book captures in detail and nuance the influence that longing and its consummation can have on the way we think about everything. If ...more
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
Never have I been so thoughtful to the idea of "glamour" that pervades our entire society. Virginia Postrel's book "The Power of Glamour" offers a complete and comprehensive answer to the question "what is glamour?" This book is great for sociologists studying the American culture, or anyone who wonders why a car ad makes you yearn to be someone that you aren't. I came into this book expecting it to be mainly pictures of glamorous people with a vapid account of why beautiful people are best kind ...more
Dec 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Virginia Postrel defines "glamour" as a form of visual persuasion that we "know to be false, but feel to be true." She shows us what it looks like when people use glamour to sell to other people--and to sell themselves on a particular course of action.

This book will be extremely useful to marketers, but it will be just as helpful for people who want a way to sketch out their own life goals, keeping themselves pointed toward a real oasis . . . even if they must do it by mapping a course to a usef
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