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Against Everything: Essays

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  1,794 ratings  ·  207 reviews
In Against Everything, Mark Greif makes us rethink the ordinary, taking our own lives seriously, exploring how we might live an honest life in these dishonest times. In a series of coruscating set pieces, Greif asks why we put ourselves through the pains of exercise, what shopping in organic supermarkets does for our sense of self-worth, what the political identity of the ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 6th 2016 by Pantheon Books
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 ·  1,794 ratings  ·  207 reviews

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James Murphy
Nov 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
I got the impression from the title that Mark Greif tries to be curmudgeonly. A couple of the early essays support that impression, an essay calling physical exercise a tyranny and one in which he writes about the constant bombardment by media of the values of nutrition and eating healthily. Rather than grumble, though, most of these essays can perhaps be best seen as providing new and insightful perspectives on the cultural facets of our lives.

Pornography is an early subject, and so is in vitro
Oct 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a hit or miss collection, as should be expected I suppose for a set of wildly disparate essays by a pretty young person. Overall I thought they were very good: basically, I see Greif as a sort of David Foster Wallace type of essayist, albeit more of a "classic" intellectual, more invested in retrieving a kind of New York-Cambridge intellectual scene that never much interested Wallace (he comes to mind because Greif too at least affects a familiarity with American pop culture, reality TV, ...more
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
pros: a solid writer who approaches topics without a lot of impenetrable critical jargon. the cover art is beautiful. some pieces relating to topics such as ongoing war and the purpose of the police are worthwhile reads if not essential. i disagree on some of his points relating to exercise and it’s relation to mental health but the essay is well written enough to take in as a (somewhat dramatic) counter-viewpoint. a fast read (for me personally).

cons: i never need to hear another white guy’s op
Conor Ahern
Apr 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Mark Greif, founder of n+1 and professional intellectual holds forth on topics as disparate as Radiohead, modern warfare, and Thoreau in this highly intelligent but dry collectanea. I'm not a reader of n+1, but a "certain" type of friend is, and suffice it to say I've never been drawn to it.

Greif has an admirable ability to form complex, richly coherent thoughts from mundane observations. His mind is clearly formidable, and at times this was funny and clever. But for every feat of pure cerebral
Brendan Sudol
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
i can understand nine words in this book
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have been reading a lot of magazine articles online. Short, long, but mostly long. This was a nice cleanse. In a way it was The longest of long reads.

But it was also a reminder that being glued to what is unfolding in this moment blocks one from reflecting deeply. That the constant stream of news and analysis does miss important structural truths, insights, dynamics. These essays have lasting value.

In 2017, after the election of this 45th President, the essay on reality TV holds new importance
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Mark Greif is smart, opinionated, tragically close-minded, and obviously doesn't exercise, or know what food is. If you want armchair criticism of garbage topics, he's your mainsplainer. Put Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs on Mensa and it's still daft. Why would a man so conspicuously smart go on and on about reality TV? Or hipsters? Good grief. ...more
David M
If Benjamin Kunkel is an authentic class traitor, Mark Greif is still entirely too caught up in petit bourgeois hand-wringing. Which is to say, Quit wallowing in how guilty you are for existing and get to the point.

Still, some interesting pieces here. I really (non-ironically) appreciate his reflections on the Kardashians. He’s at his best, I think, when writing about the absolute dregs of pop culture. Without having any illusions as to its value, he’s curiously sympathetic and able to show why
Zuzana Reveszova
"I mistrust any authority that is happy with this world as it is. I understand delight, and being moved by the things of this world. I understand feeling stron on oneself because of one's capabilities. I know what mania is, the lust for powers not of the ordinary run. I sympathize with gratitude for the presence of other people, and for plenty and splendor. But I cannot understand the failure to be disappointed with our experiences of our collective world, in their difference from our imaginatio ...more
Athan Tolis
Feb 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
I got two thirds of the way through this remarkable set of essays before I started thinking Mark Greif might actually be “for” something, rather than simply “against everything,” as he claims.

Even at that point I was far from disappointed, because he is a formidable author. I’ve read a lot in my years and English prose like his I’ve only ever read in translation from German, if I’m honest. That’s how complex it is, and yet it’s sharp. And witty and dark.

Probably because of his youth, he’s rather
Feb 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
I tried really hard to get through this collection of essays; however, it wasn't for me. It is clear that mark Grief is well educated as his writing comes across extremely professorial. Sometimes, though, I think that writing this way takes away from the point the author is trying to make. What's the goal of writing if your point is difficult to grasp? Nevertheless, there was some beautiful writing. My favorite line was: "I identify with my mother, as she was then, an adult, who knows that many ...more
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm glad I took my time with this.

Some of the essays were absolutely phenomenal, in fact, most of the essays were absolutely phenomenal, in fact, all but one* of the essays was absolutely phenomenal, and for that reason I award this collection the golden sky.


* I refuse to name the 'bad' essay, instead challenge you to guess (should you wish to [you probably don't {that's fine}]).
Nov 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: junk
Self-indulging ramblings about the surrounding shiny things or facts.
Clint Morin
Apr 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
Good Greif.
Matt Dowdy
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Apr 27, 2017 rated it liked it
As an essayist, Greif is at his absolute weakest whenever he leverages himself as superior to his subject, which in his early writing is often. He improves over the ten year period of writing that Against Everything collects at roughly the midway point of the book. But he never seems to come down from his perch and question his own assumptions. I can't help but feel that all his arguments are stemming from his own first impressions of whatever subject he is writing about. I think he trusts his g ...more
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book challenges convention in every essay, and really draws you in. It is worth the effort and will make you reflect... a lot.

First essay, "Against Exercise". "Our practices are turning is inside out. Our hidden flesh becomes our public front. An era of exercise has brought more obsession and self-hatred rather than less."

Food - "we have no language but health. It is our model of all things invisible and unfelt. If in this day and age we rejected the need to live longer, what would rich We
Jonathan Norton
Nov 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Greif's greatest hits from the first decade or so of n+1 magazine. We see here all the topics a young litty academic should be bothered about: Iraq, reality TV, the financial crash, the state of pop music. There are also items on exercise and childrearing, getting nearer to the domestic concerns of the Harvard grad who doesn't want to fall too far behind the lifestyle of his peers, regardless of how unconventional his career may be.

The musings about classical philosophy and the concepts of "exp
Aug 28, 2016 marked it as to-read
From the New York Times Book Review: In our dumbed-down, social-media-driven age, Against Everything embodies a return to the pleasures of critical discourse at its most cerebral and personable. . . Greif suggests it is possible to write about the culture with a reverence for language and passion for what has come before. I would read anything he writes, anywhere.

He's also the founder of n+1, which I never quite managed to get into, but this sounds pretty terrific?
The sort of modern-day intellectually grappling I'd like to see more of even if I don't fully agree with everything and some of it gets a bit precious and/or opaque.
Peter Harrison
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
I was disappointed by this book. Greif is clearly a very intelligent and well educated person. His written style is slick, occasionally too slick and bordering on style over substance. It often feels like there is little depth in his argument, despite a superficial veneer of intellectualism.

As a cultural critic, Greif simply doesn't have the depth and philosophical underpinning of someone like Zizek. His perspective is remorselessly liberal, left-leaning, middle class American and brings with it
Garrett Peace
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read a lot of Thoreau and Emerson last year, practically immersed myself in their work. I picked this up on the basis of several people's recommendation, not knowing it would be the perfect follow-up to my reading last year. I have complicated feelings about Greif and where he's coming from, but I can't deny that every single essay in here is thought-provoking and, for the most part, thorough in its working through an argument. Greif straddles the line between academic and mainstream writing, ...more
Christopher McQuain
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
****1/2, probably.

The word I can think of that applies to these essays -- "lovable" -- seems wrong due to that word's misuse as an anodyne, cuddly descriptor. What I mean in this case is that whether or not the book has some flaws and weak spots (it does), or whether or not one's own life experiences or aesthetics overlap much with those of the author (mine don't, generally; I don't personally find Radiohead or Kanye West as monumental as does he), the genuine humaneness and commitment (both per
Jun 02, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5. Loved some of this and found it insightful, other things just didn't land at all and failed to make their point, and admittedly some of it went clear over my head. His final essay about Zuccotti Park was probably the most relevant (even being from 2012), though some of the other essays, even the more recent ones, seemed really out of date... and I'm quite sure I didn't understand what the Octomom had to do with anything. Still, his is an interesting, irreverent mind, and I enjoyed his mostl ...more
Ryan Ard
Against Everything is an interesting and thought-provoking book. Greif ponders many different subjects that we presume as normal and turns them on their heads. He reasons going to the gym is a sign that humans miss factory work. He surmises reality TV shows are based on invisible social facts and sites Storage Wars as his example (During the recession many people stopped paying rent on their storage rentals and decided it was not even worth investigating what "junk" was even in their rented spac ...more
Fred Ayres
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: 2020-reads
Should've checked the average rating on Goodreads before losing over a week of my life to Against Everything. If Greif's arguments were made a touch more cogent and the ersatz erudition he attempts to present were excised, I might come to come similar conclusions about exercise, dieting, traveling, the modern-day Hipster, and American foreign policy. The ideas in this text are not at all inchoate! Greif's presentation of them, unfortunately, ruins any chance of them being widely understood or ac ...more
David Manley
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent, and thoughtful collection of essays, full of astute observations and insights. I found the early essays to be a bit of a slog, but that may say more about my shortcomings as a reader than it does about the essays themselves.
Continued to reflect on this one well after I finished it. Falls somewhere between Sontag and Tolentino which is a healthy balance. Must come back to the essay on experience vs aestheticism vs perfectionism.
Gabriel Congdon
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent! Woofdah, supra-supreme. One of the best contemporary philosophy books I've ere read.
I'd recommend this to all my goodreads chums.
Apr 08, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Man, fuck this guy.

It's 2020. I do not have a single solitary more second to commit to some comfortable white dude telling the rest of us what he thinks of our lives. He idolises Henry Thoreau, and yes, that means EXACTLY what you think it means.
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Mark Greif is a founder and Editor of the journal n+1 . He lives and works in New York, where he is Associate Professor of Literary Studies at the New School. He is the highly acclaimed author of The Age of the Crisis of Man, and his criticism and journalism have appeared in publications including the London Review of Books, Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, and New Statesman.

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