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The Theory of the Leisure Class

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  3,273 ratings  ·  213 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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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
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
E. G.
Note on the Text
Select Bibliography
A Chronology of Thorstein Bunde Veblen

--The Theory of the Leisure Class

Explanatory Notes
Roy Lotz
… it is only necessary that the scholar should be able to put in evidence some learning which is conventionally recognized as evidence of wasted time; and the classics lend themselves with great facility to this use.

This is a difficult book to evaluate, since Veblen simultaneously gets so much right and so much wrong.

Everyone is already familiar with the book’s central concept, conspicuous consumption: the spending of money on useless goods and services in order to enhance one’s social stand
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

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.
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
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 baffled 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. ...more
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
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
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
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.

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
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
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
Erica Clou
An important economic classic for bringing a new perspective to the cultural value of the consumption of items, but also of conspicuous leisure. Definitely interesting but very academic in tone.
Davia Finch
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
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
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A book I had long been wanting to read and I was not disappointed! A slamming critique of 19/20th century habits of production and waste which are equally as poignant in today’s world. A sometimes difficult and heavy read Veblen more than makes up for this with his fascinating analysis of the strategies of business and it’s link to ‘barbaric’ social behaviour. There were some incredibly interesting chapters on the division of labour between men and women, fashion, sports etc.

The link between the
Jan 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
“The abjectly poor, and all those persons whose energies are entirely absorbed by the struggle for their daily sustenance, are conservative because they cannot afford the effort of taking thought for the day after tomorrow; just as the highly prosperous are conservative because they have small occasion to be discontented with the situation as it stands today.”

At times I almost could not believe this book was first published in 1899 because so many things still apply to this day. It's funny how
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.
A not entirely wasteful read.
Stefan Schubert
Feb 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Obviously a classic and it has merits, but at the same time it's a bit annoying. Veblen sees everything through a cynical, moralising lens. Often, it's unclear whether his analyses are indeed correct, but very little evidence is given. After a while I grew tired of his style, and stopped reading. ...more
Oct 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Veblen offers a fun language with which to mock elites and snobs. Unfortunately he thinks it’s social science and his prose is correspondingly turgid.
Nancy Mills
Nov 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Fascinating hypotheses presented in the most tedious way imaginable. Worth reading, but not fun reading.
Paul Bard
Jun 28, 2019 rated it did not like it
Evolution of class and property signals via pride, envy, prestige, vacuous imitation of upper classes, and wasteful spending:- that is the topic.

This Machiavelli of the market, like Marx, writes an ostentatious stylish display of a book about the futility of ostentatious stylish displays. Left wing folk seem to enjoy the book's "critique of capitalism" but I would be embarrassed to be caught praising it.

Like Pascal's Pensees and Kafka's novels, Veblen's is a fake great book. By no means does V
Hesamul Haque
Jan 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The Theory of the Leisure Class is difficult to read at least for folks who have not had good experience with classy non fictions. Initially, it was challenging to cope up with the words and phrases but when you start making sense you won't feel like stopping. As the name suggests, the author is trying to give its readers the idea how humans spend their time.. Why they do what they do.. This book will give enough idea to go back and understand based on how we have come so far and how things are ...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
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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 (

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“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.” 8 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.” 6 likes
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