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The Gift

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  2,470 ratings  ·  382 reviews
“A manifesto of sorts for anyone who makes art [and] cares for it.” —Zadie Smith

“The best book I know of for talented but unacknowledged creators. . . . A masterpiece.” —Margaret Atwood

“No one who is invested in any kind of art . . . can read The Gift and remain unchanged.” —David Foster Wallace

By now a modern classic, The Gift is a brilliantly orchestrated defense of the
Paperback, 327 pages
Published February 12th 1983 by Vintage Books USA (first published 1979)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  2,470 ratings  ·  382 reviews

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Eric Hansen
Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I felt I needed to write a review to counter the negative ones here. Any book that calls the zeitgeist into question is bound to draw confusion and pushback. I've bought this book three times because I give it to friends who don't always give it back. That's okay: The Gift was and is a profound touchstone for me (and for an older generation of writers who knew Hyde from his Minnesota days). I recommend it to artists who wonder how their gifts may be appeciated for their worth, if not always alwa ...more
Nov 27, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I tried to like this book, since it had come so highly recommended, and it was in a 25th anniversary edition. If it has been in print all those years, there must be something to it, right? Nope. First of all, it's badly structured. The first half is an extended discussion of the concept of gifts (vs paying for things) in ancient vs modern societies. Once you get the basic point, that (especially older) societies exchanged goods and services as gifts, not for money, and that Hyde thinks that's a ...more
May 15, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up at a bookstore where I was killing some time before an appointment. I read the preface and the introduction and wept through them both. I left for my appointment, thinking I'd have to find a used copy of this book sometime and read it. A couple of hours later, I had to go back and buy it because I was still thinking about it. So it lit a fire under me, for sure. Whether or not it fulfilled the promise of that fire is still up for debate. The preface and the intro are really easy ...more
Feb 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
I chose this edition because the new one looks like a Valentine's day card. I expected it to be perfumed inside.

The Gift is a large and pretty messy book, to its credit, but the main thrusts are: 1) To use detailed analyses of folk-tales, anthropology, and economic theory to come up with a model for human interaction that parallels commodity exchange but is based around gift-giving, and 2) To give detailed readings of Whitman and Pound, two poets whose careers and lives Hyde sees standing at an
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Liliana Valenzuela
Now in its 25th anniversary edition, this book is as current and necessary as it was in 1979. A creative mix of ethnography, folklore, economics (the gift economy, the market economy, the vegetable money economy?!), and literary criticism (Whitman and Pound) all seen through the prism of art as a gift and the artist as a gifted person. Keen observations are sprinkled throughout on how an artist needs to protect from market forces that space where the artwork is conceived (essentially a gift), an ...more
Mar 11, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anth-sosh
The title of this book is the most egregious misnomer I've ever encountered. Combined with the misleading jacket description I don't think I've ever had a more disappointing or frustrating experience from a book that I thought was going to be pretty straightforward.

It would have been more accurately subtitled not "Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World," but "An Ethnographic Study Through the Works of Whitman and Pound." If that subtitle still appeals to you, by all means read the book, b
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While Hyde has given his readers the gift of a lens through which to view artistic endeavors, this could have been done in about 50 pages - not 385. This book reminded me of a typical college freshman essay: I want to write about everything! And therefore, nothing is really achieved. While the gift metaphor is interesting, it's too vague to help in any but the most theoretical way. This could have been a tight essay, a literary work (like a novel or short story) or a scholarly work on the anthro ...more
Seth Mann
Nov 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Persevere through this book and I believe you will be rewarded with some interesting observations about human nature and how we perceive one another - in particular, you will find new perspectives on who is considered an "insider" or "outsider" to your group and how you treat them in kind.

You will also be introduced universally shared human traits - in this case, gift-giving. You will learn why there is much more to the practice of gift-giving than you ever thought possible and that the manipul
Jay Green
Not what I was hoping for. The subtitle suggests that this is a work of psychology or anthropology, and it starts out that way, but the second half of the book is devoted to case studies of Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound that do not live up to the book's billing. I was hoping for something that might carry Marcel Mauss's anthropological study of the Gift economy a step further to show its applicability to the world of artistic production and creativity, but I was disappointed.
Feb 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
it turns out that every culture has a great creepy folktale about how, if you give up on your art or become ungenerous, you shrivel up and turn into a rotten fascist prune.

this is one of the best books I've ever read and has changed my life, and is smart as hell, even though the cover has an embarrassing little pink heart on it. IGNORE THE EMBARRASSING PINK HEART AND FORGE AHEAD. or risk becoming a rotten fascist prune, you know, it's your choice
Adam Fisher
Mar 16, 2012 rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this book, but ended up hating it thoroughly by the time I was done with it. His exploration of gift economies is one-sided and glosses over most of their problematic aspects; a text I read by a feminist author last year pointed out that in old school gift economies women were often used as gifts, and traded in the same way, as a form of homosocial bonding. Hyde refuses to acknowledge these less pleasant aspects of gift economies, focusing instead on everything that he can use t ...more
Dec 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
You who keep such close track of my "currently reading" list may have noticed (I know I have) that when I put something on it, I promptly stop reading it. It's where books in my life go to stagnate. This holiday season, with my glut of unclaimed time, I aim to change this trend. To that end, I have just finished The Gift, which I see I started reading two years ago. This is an AMAZING book. I sort of want to start reading it all over again from the beginning, since what I read two years ago is a ...more
Mar 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Sorry, but this good-hearted little book, much-loved by the market-alienated artists it praises for preserving the primitive magic of creativity in our cold age -- well, it's kind of a crock. Hyde's emphasis on the processes by which true Art is created pays off in nice biographical readings of Whitman and Pound, but blinds him to the obvious truth that purity of intention does not determine (OK, does not always determine) the meaningfulness of a creation. We sure could use some powerful defense ...more
Dec 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, rereading
This books gets me in the mood, creatively speaking, more reliably and more deeply than any other. Maybe I'm already primed by the time I pick it up, but still I highly recommend to artists and aspiring, cynical, doubtful creators that need a little help sometimes getting in the zone. This might help you reconnect to that thing inside of you that digs and gnaws all the time, but stays frustratingly elusive most of the time.
Kevin Mckinney
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
i'll have to keep this around because it took me too long to read the second half because i felt like i needed to quit and read a bunch of whitman and pound to get it. i dont know- this was powerful. i think that where hyde lands (i mean he doesn't really "land" anywhere) on the question of how to find the balance between art as commerce and art as gift doesnt feel entirely satisfying to me in the end. but some of the ideas in here are very powerful. this book has shaped my thinking on a lot of ...more
L.K. Simonds
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-writing, misc-nf
In her Masterclass series on fiction, Margaret Atwood recommended this book, so I bought a used copy of the 25th anniversary edition. From what I can see on Amazon, the book appears to only be available from third-party vendors, although there is a Kindle edition.

I'm an American, born, raised, and steeped in barter culture. There's a joke about an old fish swimming past two young fish and asking, "How's the water, boys?" When the old fish passes, one young fish asks the other, "What is water?" S
Jasmin Cheng
Dec 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I approached this book with some skepticism based on previous reviews. What I discovered was a long and thoughtful essay rather than a self-help guide. I think this would be a very disappointing self-help book. Especially if you're an artist looking for financial advice: do not read this for that!

Instead, The Gift is a beautifully written, thoughtfully cultivated essay on how human society has changed since tribalism to capitalism, and how this has affected the work of an artist. Hyde does not
Carlene Byron
Jul 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arts-and-culture
I'm now in my second reading of Lewis Hyde's excellent book -- in print more than 30 years! I would encourage my conservative Christian friends to ignore the [marketing department's new and irrelevant] subtitle on this edition. Hyde, a MacArthur Fellow, offers profound insights into the differences between gift and exchange economies in the first half of this book. I found my own reading of the Old Testament profoundly informed by the opportunity to view Israel as a gift economy, similar to the ...more
Hyde originally wrote this book with poets in mind, but it is recommended for anyone working in any of the arts, or who wants to devote themselves to a career or calling that does not do well in a market economy. In the first half of the book he draws on cultural anthropology and folktales to lay out his theory of a gift economy, and the characteristics and requirements of a gift. In the second half, he uses that theory to examine the works and lives of Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound. Neither secti ...more
Nov 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's become common sense to talk about artistic creation as part of our market economy, complicating the pressures of artistic creation with expectations for artists to then function as business people to sell, promote, and distribute their creations as well as make them. Hyde, after an analysis of the notion of the gift in various cultures, and comparison of "gift culture" with "market culture," makes an excellent case that what artists do is better understood as a gift than as a product for sa ...more
Michael Pronko
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating examination of the gift, through historical practice and through cultural symbolism. I found this book so rich in insight, it's hard to know where it doesn't apply. I especially liked the essential argument here, that works of art are gifts and not commodities. Having slugged it out with a few editors in the past who wanted to focus on the commodified cultural product, instead of the artistic expression, this book really hit home. It's not an easy read, but it doesn't have to be. R ...more
Jan Bulla-Baker
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. Changed how I looked at the world. Always recommend it.
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a little tedious to read--especially the last section that details the lives of two poets--but WOW is it original. When it isn't boring, it's fascinating. I liked the book but I think I'd love the TED talk version.

Essentially, Hyde describes how gift-giving establishes the relational boundaries between people. We exchange gifts with people in our tribe, but we charge interest to those outside of it. We give gifts that symbolize our desire to help or to honor or to live in community
Nov 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Been reading this for a few months now. It was a lot heavier than I was expecting. I'm a little out of practice reading this type of book, so it definitely took some effort. Part of the difficulty may also have been that I was trying to read it over lunch breaks and was not very consistent with it either.
I don't remember anymore where I first heard about this or when it was first recommended to me, but it must have been when I was in grad school. It seems like that kind of book.
There were lots o
Jul 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I could not get through the 2nd half, but the first half was more than worthy of 5 stars. So many transformative ideas about the nature of art, creativity, community, and commerce in here that I had never encountered elsewhere and will continue to think about for a long time.
Kristin Boldon
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, borrowed, writing
Useful, but overlong and dated with so.e questionable cultural references ("the Jew of the Old Testament"?). But the question of how art and commerce can coexist , the examples of Whitman and Pound, are worthwhile. I would seriously skim the section on usury, though.
Some interesting ideas about art and the marketplace, but overall not for me. Too much talk about creativity being an ineffable gift from the universe or whatever.
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Life changing to say the very least. Inspirational to say even less.
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“Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one's voice isn't just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. Any artist knows these truths, no matter how deeply he or she submerges that knowing.” 19 likes
“Erik Erikson has commented: Potentially creative men like (Bernard) Shaw build the personal fundament of their work during a self-decreed moratorium, during which they often starve themselves, socially, erotically, and, at last but not least, nutritionally, in order to let the grosser weeds die out, and make way for the growth of their inner garden. ” 14 likes
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