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The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  176 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
The celebrated literary memoir and chronicle of one man's search for the elusive gift of authenticity.

Troubled by the lack of substance in contemporary life, Richard Todd suspects that much of what we experience is false. In this unique pursuit of the "genuine," Todd examines his search for authenticity in places and objects, in politics and ideas, and in ourselves, and re
Paperback, 272 pages
Published August 4th 2009 by Riverhead Books (first published August 14th 2008)
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Sep 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like Bachelard, Baudrillard, Yi-Fu Tuan, and Leach's <i>Country of Exiles</i>
The book-cover summary above does not do this book justice. I imagine a lot of people might read The Thing Itself and claim, "This book isn't about anything!" But it is. It's a meditation in several expository essays in which Todd explores issues of simulacra and simulacrum. It is a memoir of sorts, but not in the way that most memoirs these days are. Nowhere does he go to "confession gulch". Yet in the more formal, classical sense of the word "memoir", Todd does reflect on the life he's lived a ...more
Mar 17, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book got better as it went on but the first couple sections, specifically the section about things irritated to more than I can remember being irritated by a book. And just to spout off (hopefully without ruining too much of the book).

1. The value of antiques (something he loves) seems to be beyond question. "Authentic" pieces have tremendous value and this should be obvious. Knockoffs are a travesty. Meanwhile the author cannot seem to comprehend why someone would pay more for a shirt with
Matthew Taub
There is a reason Richard Todd is a contributing columnist for a host of magazines and does not pay the bills as a full-time author. This collection of essays, intended to be a thesis about the lack of "authenticity" in (presumably modern American) life, suffers from many unforgivable flaws: (1) A lack of coherent thesis; (2) insufficient evidentiary support (more often than not, self-indulgent ramblings substitute for real evidence of trends and problems in our society); (3) a perniciously bias ...more
Jan 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book so much that I have purchased multiple copies and given them to people I know will appreciate it as well. Unfortunately for Todd, I found it at the Dollar Tree. I found he articulated and clarified many of my own ideas and attractions. I like how he started with the broader world of 'stuff' and gentle narrowed the focus in on self. It is one I know I will reference again and again.
I started this book three years ago, which is why I found a bookmark slipped down inside after three or four chapters. I didn't recognize it as I reread it, but it moved quickly.

I like his writing very much, but disagreed with his insights about fifty percent of the time. Still, room for thought. One man's authenticity is another woman's sophistry.

The last two chapters were such a contrast. The penultimate discussing life and death, and the last deciding authenticity was eating dinner with your
Oct 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
I bought this book at my college's Friends Of The Library sale , for fifty cents. I would have paid the full price if I could, because this book is worth it. I began reading it today, at 12 pm and just finished it right now -- that's how engrossing it is.
Richard Todd has written what I've observed in our current pseudo-Victorian present; Anaheim's downtown is being transformed into a consciously hip yet "nostalgic/old timey" downtown for the 20-40 hip crowd; a vain attempt to regain the history
Mar 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up at a used bookstore because I assumed it was an allusion to Virginia Woolf's constant search (and sometimes encounter) of her famous "thing itself." And it sort of is, though via the Wallace Stevens poem quoted in the book-- the underlying motivation, though, remains the same. For Todd, the search for the elusive "thing itself" is a question of authenticity, as much personal as it is national, and, for the most part, I think this book does a good job of balance between pers ...more
anthony e.
Jan 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was a little surprised by this work. Initially recommended to me, it had been maybe two years until I finally got around to reading it, and in the initial pages I thought that I had made a colossal mistake in taking it up. Richard Todd seemed too smug, the work seemed a little too self-important and dense...all in all, it seemed just a little off base from what I was wanting to be reading.

I was wrong. While not a MAGNIFICENT work, Todd's examination of the authentic (and lack thereof) at the
This book is a very loosely organized reflection on the phoniness of the human condition (at least the modern American human). Although Todd's main approach is gentle humor, he subjects himself to a fairly rigorous evaluation, poking fun at his own tendency to cherish things he views as real and genuine while admitting his own personality and history were self-consciously constructed in his youth. There are a lot of great lines in here. For instance, he talks about "the falsity of feeling that p ...more
Jan 08, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is a painful read and I regret having spent money on it or reading it. I was going to stop reading it but I was stuck on an airplane.
This only good thing about this book is that it references so many books that are more interesting and more readable than this book.
Anyone who has had even the most cursory contact with philosophy should avoid this. The major thing I found annoying about this book was that most of the material that is covered is covered much better in other places and a basic
Dec 14, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a hard time reading this book until I figured out that Todd is mostly commenting/lamenting/poking fun of his topics, rather than offering any solutions. He writes entertainingly enough, and often makes valid points, but he spends so much time chagrined that I expected him to say "ok, here's what we can do to fix this". He never does that (which is ok, but when you hear someone complaining so much, you naturally ask "so whaddaya gonna do aboudit?"). It's a strange mix of social commentary a ...more
Apr 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The search for authenticity is a complex one.
Think about it...if your authentic self craved heroin but you talked yourself out of wanting it you are no longer being true to your authentic self. Is that so bad?
I liked the part of the book when the author buys an antique box and pays $200 for it. He was drawn to it and had all these reasons for liking the box and needing the box. Then his friend tells him the box isn't an antique and is only worth $5. If the author never knew he was conned he wou
Aug 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thoughtful meditation on authenticity. Todd has divided it up into 4 sections: Places, Things, Culture/Society, and Self. He explores what we mean when we talk about authenticity in each of these arenas, and why it matters to us. It is engrossing and beautiful, and for the most part, it rings true.

BUT. There seem to be no conclusions. So, what is authenticity? Todd doesn't have a theory. I was left with a sort of minor undercurrent of disappointment. Effectively, Todd tells us " I don't know w
Aug 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Relentless and witty social commentary on aspects of "authencity"--from restored antiques, to landscape, to Disneyland and Las Vegas, to politics and ideas--serves as a stalking horse for this memoir by Richard Todd, whose examined life and hard won honesty seems as satisfyingly rendered as that of Richard Ford's fictional narrator, Frank Bascomb. Todd's life spans a Forties childhood (with a father in the Navy), a Fifties adolescence, a Sixties college education in New England, marriage, and fi ...more
Dec 02, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book interesting, though it wasn't really what I expected. The essays on objects brought up more questions than they answered, which I liked very much. Some of the essays struck me as very rooted in an Eastern US place-mindset. It surprised me, and I found myself pushing back against it, especially when reading the section on place. What I felt like Todd was presenting as some kind of universal (which he never actually says, so it could just be my interpretation) seemed very centere ...more
Sep 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. This was a fascinating book that is impossible to explain. Todd examines the natures of things, places, and experience to try and understand what is real. What makes the actual Mona Lisa better than an exact duplicate? How does place define us and how do we define place? Fascinating stuff. But, the beauty of the book is that its not written in the voice of a sneering intellectual, rather Todd sounds kind of like the idealized Grandpa.
This is a great little book of intelligent ramblings about our culture. He covers everything from our fascination with antiques, mall culture, to our celebrity and media obsessions. This book is very well written and several times made me laugh out loud as I recognized myself in his observations. Also, it's nice that he does not pretend to be above our cultural weaknesses. He acknowledges himself as a card-carrying member in most of our culture's follies.
Linda Heaney
Jan 03, 2010 rated it liked it
It's an interesting read showing that true authenticity is a mirage; that we are always adding and subtracting pieces. I found his chapter about Epcot, which he hated, and Las Vegas, which he liked quite interesting. He's a cultural snob but at least he admits it, and he is well-read and has a good sense of humor. I gave it 3.5 stars.
Feb 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful collection of essays reflecting on our search for an authentic life in a world that is filled with mass produced goods. Todd's craftsmanship coupled with current cultural references and philosophical insight moved this book to the top of my list. I'm pretty sure this will make my top ten of 2010.
Ann Tonks
Apr 06, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
I read this book as an introduction to the idea of "authenticity" and by the end, I was charmed but still unclear. There are some wonderful descriptive passages; some delightful meanderings through the meaning of life; some small moments of profundity. In the end, it felt like a combination of a modest American autobiography and an exploration of life in America.
John Pappas
Great exploration of what authenticity means in place, self, etc. but is more personal and less philosophically rigorous toward the end. I found myself wanting to hear more of Todd's ideas about the mall, 9/11 etc. but his essays were a bit short.
Nov 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: authenticity
I had to give this back to the library, and so I bought it. What a great idea! This author interrogates authenticity by looking at his own desires for it. It's a good idea since so many people are touching about that kind of thing. I highly recommend it.
Nicole Bell
I couldn't make it through The Thing Itself. I have this thing that I have to finish books, and I had to put this one down after 150ish pages. There were small glimpses of quality, and though the writing was done well, The Thing Itself just didn't do it for me. Maybe I'll pick it up again one day.
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, essays
I loved this collection - at the beginning. I felt that toward the end, it lost focus rather than really settling in on the perspective that Todd was trying to communicate.
Shehab Hamad
Apr 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lovely memoir-meditation on sincerity of things and selves.
Jan 15, 2009 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant essays on the idea of 'authenticity' why we think 'country' is more authentic than 'suburb' and why we live as tourists.
Lisa Powers
A talented writer who could have benefitted from a more adept editor.
Sep 11, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The author must spend too much time reading his students work. Brings up a lot of other authors with good ideas, who write better. Suck. I would not mind burning this book.
Jennifer Kidd
Jan 02, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: could-not-finish
In my opinion, this was more rambling than making legitimate points. I didn't bother to get beyond one third of it. Yawn.
Christopher Galtenberg
rated it really liked it
Dec 16, 2014
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“When did people begin to wear clothing with writing on it? Was this not significant? I visit a beach resort. There is a fellow sitting on the sand and his T-shirt says in bold letters: "Tommy." Is he Tommy? Of course not. Tommy is Tommy Hilfiger, the designer who writes his name all over everything and people buy it. Kate Spade puts her name on a purse and it sells for several hundred dollars. Calvin Klein enhances your underwear with his name. ... Where did they get their strange power? What did they do to derange people so that they actually pay for the right to wear an advertisement for what they have just bought?” 4 likes
“The distinction often seems precarious. Both traveler and tourist are, by definition, separate from their environment. We like to think that the role we aspire to, the traveler, has that distance on the scene that implies vision and understanding, while the tourist suffers the alienation of the passive viewer, the "sightseer." At its worst, tourism is felt to represent a moral or spiritual failing. And in our hear we fear that we, too, are tourists.” 2 likes
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