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The Theory of the Leisure Class

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3.92  ·  Rating details ·  2,854 ratings  ·  163 reviews
Almost a century after its original publication, Thorstein Veblen's work is as fresh and relevant as ever. Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class is in the tradition of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan, yet it provides a surprisingly contemporary look at American economics and society. Establishing such terms as "conspicuous consumption" a ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 13th 2001 by Modern Library (first published April 1st 1899)
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3.92  · 
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 ·  2,854 ratings  ·  163 reviews


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Edward
Introduction
Note on the Text
Select Bibliography
A Chronology of Thorstein Bunde Veblen


--The Theory of the Leisure Class

Explanatory Notes
Mark Russell
Mar 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Trevor
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I recently read Mills’ ‘White Collar’ and couldn’t get over how often he referred to this book. All the same, I hesitated before reading it, not least since my concern that Mills’ book was ‘a bit old’ was obviously multiplied by the age of this one. But this is brilliant. Now, you know when people tell you that you should read a book because it is ‘a classic’ you are likely to think – yeah, that just means you’ve read it and so either want to just show off or you think that ‘if I’ve put myself t ...more
Nicole
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Jan-Maat
Polysyllabic.

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.
Tony
Feb 21, 2012 rated it did not like it
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.
Will
Apr 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Andrew
Aug 14, 2010 added it
Shelves: sociology
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
Bill FromPA
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
...more
Erik Graff
Sep 08, 2009 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.

B
...more
John Hively
May 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Mark
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sotiris Makrygiannis
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
D Finch
Jan 07, 2013 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
...more
Miquixote
Difficult language but very interesting. It needs to be understood as satirical, and it is therefore quite complicated to get the real drift but definitely worth the effort. We are left to ponder some riddles, like if it is only a joke when Veblen states 'if something is more expensive, it is because it less useful'. It leaves a lot of conclusions open, and I tend to think he is mocking the leisure class. It is humorous with complicated yet interesting language. All this in an economics-oriented ...more
Richard Thompson
Apr 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Bob Nichols
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
Olivier Lepetit
Jul 24, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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 midway. 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 learned 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
...more
Robert Jerome
May 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was ok
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?
Gary Mesick
Oct 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 14, 2010 rated it liked it
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.
Kerem
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Though the language is often quite heavy (and the amazon edition squeezing this book into about 100 pages with its microscopic print isn't helping!!), the book is an interesting query into the so-called 'leisure class'. Basically the book is around the idea of the richer or higher class someone is, the more wasteful and useless things they will do in their lives, in particular in more industrialized nations. There are a good number of gems spread throughout the book, and there are also interesti ...more
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
Trond
A not entirely wasteful read.
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
...more
Nick Klagge
Aug 08, 2013 rated it liked it
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
...more
Edward
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Greyson
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
...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
“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.” 6 likes
“Athletics have an obvious advantage over the classics for the purpose of leisure-class learning, since success as an athlete presumes, not only a waste of time, but also a waste of money, as well as the possession of certain highly unindustrial archaic traits of character and temperament.” 2 likes
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