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Asking for a Friend: Three Centuries of Advice on Life, Love, Money, and Other Burning Questions from a Nation Obsessed

by
3.57  ·  Rating details ·  155 ratings  ·  35 reviews
A delightful history of Americans' obsession with advice--from Poor Richard to Dr. Spock to Miss Manners
Americans, for all our talk of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, obsessively seek advice on matters large and small. Perhaps precisely because we believe in bettering ourselves and our circumstances in life, we ask for guidance constantly. And this has been true si
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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 3rd 2018 by Bold Type Books
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thefourthvine
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I love advice columns — I read them, I consider them, and sometimes I shriek with my friends on Twitter about the best/worst of them. I’ve learned that 50% of advice column letters boil down to, “I have the best relationship with my partner except for this one thing where he is an eagle who pecks out my liver. How do I make him not an eagle, or at least not a liver-eater?” I’ve learned that there are the “please give me permission to do the thing I shouldn’t do” letters and the “please give me t ...more
Janet
I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher -
A delightful history of American's obsession with advice and--from Poor Richard to Dr. Spock to Miss Manners
Americans, for all our talk of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, obsessively seek advice on matters large and small. Perhaps precisely because we believe in bettering ourselves and our circumstances in life, we ask for guidance constantly. And this
...more
Alexandra
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Asking for a Friend is a thoughtful exploration of advice givers and their 'advice literature' in American history. I loved the chapter on Joan Quigley, an astrologer who advised the Reagans throughout their presidency. It's a completely brilliant way to rethink American history, by tracing the emotional needs and questions of ordinary Americans.
Mehrsa
Jun 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot from this book, but it felt like it was missing something. There are a lot of these topical history books that weave together a bunch of different stories from different time periods. The best ones extract some useful wisdom or analysis. They say something or reveal some truth through the telling. This one just laid out the stories and makes the reader do the work. The stories were interesting, but I wish that the book had gone through a few more drafts so that the author could h ...more
Kaethe Douglas
Well, that was fun and enlightening. I love etiquette books, and am neutral on advice columnists in general except for Daniel Ortberg's Dear Prudence. But then there's that whole other aspect: the how-to-do-anything-better field is one I appreciate. Paradoxically, I have never been a fan of the Self-Help book genre. Yes, I think there is a great deal we can all learn from the billions of other people in the world, many of whom have struggled with the same issues and also, at the same time, skept ...more
Rebecca
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An well-researched look at the history of advice columns spanning the topics of manners, financial advice, love, child rearing, marriage, death, and etiquette. Sometimes the people who write these columns are more screwed up than the people seeking advice, but many of them, like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, had seismic affects on the society they lived in changing people's perceptions of certain topics.

An interesting read and highly recommended.
Mark Mikula
I really enjoyed this illuminating survey of advice providers through the centuries. The lively biographies and accounts of events associated with the subjects made this really compelling for me. From Ben Franklin to Miss Manners to Quora users, the book covers a wide range of approaches to advice-giving set against a loose chronology from pre-colonial times through the present. I've read a handful of these types of books (To the Letter is another of my favorites) and really enjoyed the experien ...more
Scottsdale Public Library
I am an advice column fanatic, so this book was right up my alley! It’s a wonderful blend of storytelling and history. I loved learning about the people giving advice (many of whom could have used some advice themselves) and how society’s mores and morals changed over the centuries, or sometimes even during the columnist’s writing career. Highly recommended even if you don’t read advice columns.
-- Lynn H.
Leslie Jonsson
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Neat look at the background of the people whose advice the public has taken over the years.
Jen Juenke
Jan 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
At first this book was a bit exciting. Why do we always seek out the advice of others? The author does a great bit of research on the history of advice givers. Yet I felt the book was incomplete. I would have liked to see each genre of advice givers featured. For instance, Dr. Ruth for sex, Dr Phil for TV, etc. The author was limited in her scope of focusing on Dorthea Dix and Ann Landers, and Dear Abbby, while forgetting some of the other genres. Yet, the author acknowledges that she could have ...more
Gretchen
Jul 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: work
A totally serviceable book that discusses the history of advice givers over the past 300 years. This book mostly discusses individual advice givers and does not give much room to the overall trends, history, sociology, psychology, or other global history of public advice giving or receiving.
Liz De Coster
Apr 04, 2018 rated it liked it
I appreciated the historical perspective, but some of the profiles were a little glossy and less analytic of context. The Quora section especially was thin and tacked-on.
Ashley
Best for:
Anyone who likes self-help books / advice columns.

In a nutshell:
Author Weisberg explores the history of advice giving, from Benjamin Franklin to life coaches.

Worth quoting:
“Americans’ interest in advice reflects our cultural tendency toward optimism: we tend to believe that with a bit of direction and a small boost, the future can be bright.”

“People seem to prefer advice-givers whose wisdom seems attainable, who learned from doing.”

Why I chose it:
My sister gave me this for Christmas a
...more
Kimee
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Before Pitbull rapped it, my mother would always tell me, “Díme con quien tú andas y te digo quién tú eres,” (tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are).
Weisberg’s thesis is similar: tell me who you ask for advice, and I’ll tell you about the anxieties of a nation. And she proves her thesis well with quick engaging essays on many of the most famous advice givers in American history in four categories: old wise men; friends; experts; advice for all by all.
There’s so much I hop
...more
Gwen
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Q: I'm asking for a friend: who is the audience for this book?
A: Any person who enjoys advice columns of various stripes (real estate, manners, relationships, you get the idea). I didn't realize that I'm supposed to be embarrassed to admit that I like to read them. Nor did I realize that this was more 16 mini-biographies than a straight history. Each featured writer has different merits, and together they provide 300 years of change in the world of all things advice. I may not be a better, neate
...more
Jaclyn
May 19, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to love this book. The premise is awesome. Americans, myself, included thrive on the advice of strangers, but I found myself losing focus as Weisberg talked through some of her chosen advice givers. The short version is that most advice givers of the last three hundred plus years were self-made. They had no real claim to their expertise, but Americans listened anyway. That said, there are some great anecdotal stories along the way, but they didn't make me any less eager for the book to ...more
Lecy
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
This book is less about the advice and more about the advice givers, delving into the lives and experience (or lack thereof) each of the subjects Weisberg writes about. I found this book to be a struggle to get through and not what I was expecting at all. I don't really understand what the purpose was or who the intended audience was supposed to be. I would have preferred if this was less of a deep dive on the lives of the advice givers and more about the actual platforms they each shared their ...more
Anita
Aug 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This history of advice giving has moments of great fun. I loved the chapters on Dr. Spock, Ann Landers, Dear Abby, and Miss Manners. I feel badly that we don't have those same kind of universal moments to share: the day Ann gives one of her pithy answers and we all talked about it wherever we went. I will never forget the day she answered a question about necrophilia and I have never before or since seen more students (and adults) reach for the dictionary.
Jackie Sieve
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book and love reading advice columns. I thought it was interesting to learn the history of some of America’s most famous advice columns. This book is not about advice it’s about the people who wrote the columns and the challenges in expectations and changes in culture at their specific time. What I find quite fascinating is that even though these people wrote about issues of their generation the series of questions, meaning of life, loveless marriage, loneliness hasn’t changed.
Mrklingon
May 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
My advice: read this book.
Weisberg presents a survey of "advice" in the US, from colonial days, through Ann and Abby, right up to the present with Quora. With an even hand, she reviews the backgrounds of the advice-givers and the arc of their careers in giving that wisdom that people - apparently EVERYONE - seeks.

Along the way, it's a revealing history of America - the problems, pitfalls and goals that people experience and the guides they seek to navigate life.
Amy
Jul 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book was a history on advice columns and was an easy and pretty interesting read. I knew about (and loved) the Dear Abby / Ann Landers drama already, and was most fascinated by the Joan Quigley, Nancy Regan's astrologer, section. This is a borrow from the library, not a buy your own copy sort of book.
Alicia
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Full disclosure: I know the author from college. I found it to be a fun, informative yet accessible history of the advice field (largely centered in the US), in which the short histories/vignettes of advice-givers served as representation/context for society at the time.
Cate
Aug 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Turns out Miss Manners is an anti-capitalist 🙌

Enjoyable, but I disliked how "of 2018" it is, with Trump references, etc. I loved the meat of the individual stories but found myself skimming the transitions.
Christa Harmon
Nov 04, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I didn’t finish this. I’d picked it up thinking it was going to include questions and answers from advice columnists over the ages, and was disappointed to see it was more biographical about the advice columnists themselves.
Melissa
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kate
Sep 08, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I love advice columns, so I thought this was right up my alley. What a disappointment! Dull, dull, dull.
Jesse
Sep 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun book on the history of advice in the U.S.
Abe
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rarely are books so smart and thorough and also this readable and fun. This book is about the history of advice but also doubles as a history of our national psyche. Must read!
Brooke
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book about the history of advice columns. It was a fun read about the people who have shaped American values over time. Lots of crazy characters!
Angela
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining book to pick up as casual reading, even if you only have short bursts of time to read. Chapters are organized chronologically and there are lots of witty throwbacks to previous chapters.
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Jessica Weisberg's writing has appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times, Harper's, and Atavist, among other publications, and been nominated for a National Magazine Award in public interest journalism.

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“[Chesterfield] introduced an ethical question that Americans continue to grapple with: Is it okay to say one thing while believing another? Or to put it another way: What's more important, honesty or politeness?

Lionel Trilling, the literary critic, picked up on this question in 1972 when he published /Sincerity and Authenticity/, in which he defines two distinct terms that he believed Americans had conflated. He describes sincerity as the "congruence between avowal and actual feeling." A sincere work is literature is one in which the author seeks to convey exactly what she's thinking-- your comfort be damned. Authenticity, meanwhile, is a matter of personal integrity: you know what you're being authentic, even if other people don't. It's a virtue that puts little stock in what other people think and instead emphasizes determination and self-awareness.

Using this parlance, Chesterfield urged his son to be authentic but never sincere. He wanted his son to be purposeful when he chose to imitate someone. "I would much rather have the assent of your reason to my advice than the submission of your will to my authority. This, I will persuade myself, will happen," he wrote Phillip. He hoped that Phillip would learn to calibrate his behavior in service of his goals. But sincerity, for Chesterfield, was for chumps. He instructed his son to never share his true feelings or thoughts, to never appear vulnerable or emotional. There is no need for sincerity if you have no self to begin with. And Chesterfield had no self, only a resume.”
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