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Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,167 ratings  ·  217 reviews
Walker Percy's mordantly funny and wholly original contribution to the self-help book craze deals with the Western mind's tendency toward heavy abstraction. This favorite of Percy fans continues to charm and beguile readers of all tastes and backgrounds. Lost in the Cosmos invites us to think about how we communicate with our world.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 1st 2000 by Picador (first published 1983)
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Jean
Jul 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I have read and reread this book half a dozen times. No doubt that number will reach a dozen or more during the course of my lifetime. It is, first of all, absolutely hilarious: a subtler, non-narrative, written precursor to "I Heart Huckabees." Who are we? Why are we here? What is the problem of the Self and how do we resolve it?

These questions are presented as both ridiculous and fundamental, a cause for laughter, sadness, and reflection. I remember wanting to cry and scream for jo
...more
Nate
You have just finished Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos. You are prompted to give a brief review on the book. You describe the book as
1.) A unique and alternative way of storytelling, befitting roughly of your zeitgeist, with a tinge of satire and elbow ribbing, but ultimately a humorous book. Yes, it grapples with spiritual and metaphysical questions still unanswered in modern society, but it does not offer answers. Its primary function is to be funny, entertaining.
2.) It is a spiritually wh
...more
Simon Stegall
Apr 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The irony of the self-help genre is that its main function is to provide non-self-originating help those who can't help themselves. Or in rather kinder terms, to "help people who can't help themselves". It is ironic both in the name, "self-help", which is a typically attractive advertising inaccuracy, and in its goal, which is to help the self gain control over some area of its life, rather than help the self know itself in any meaningful way. Percy has written a book to help the self know that ...more
Charles
Mar 21, 2008 rated it did not like it
Capsule Review: Don't Read Walker Percy. Ever.

Longer Review: If somebody recommends this book (or any other of his books) to you, rest assured that that he will one day soon try to convince you that the Eagles really are rock n' roll. Afterwards, he will probably inflict some of his "poetry" on you. You know the kind of stuff I mean: four-line stanzas in ABAB that will inevitably rhyme the words "pain" with "insane," "soul" with "hole," "heart" with "apart," and "feel" with "unreal."
...more
Alex Stroshine
I really wanted to like this book. The first few pages pulled me in and I thought I had stumbled upon what was sure to become one of my favourite reads.

Alas, this book was mind-boggling and infuriating and I don't have the patience or desire to appreciate this book. I did not answer any of the questions that Percy offers (mostly because as I read through the possible answers my own answer seemed obvious). Percy writes very academically, with a strong grasp of science, psychology, philosophy and
...more
Laure
Oct 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: over-200-pages
I am just DNFing this one. Really not funny or saying anything worthwhile.
Corey
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Eloquent and savage, with a haunting conclusion (“A Space Odyssey”). Read this, then follow it up with Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz. Make sure you’re sitting down.
Simon Robs
Oct 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Nicht wah

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Ki
...more
Darrell Reimer
Mar 22, 2013 rated it liked it
I understand, I think, the adoration some readers have for Walker Percy's Lost In The Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book . But while I might garner an aloof admiration for Percy's project, I can't generate much love for it. This is partially because Percy worked hard to keep the book “cool” (in the McLuhan sense of the word), and thus difficult to love (surely a “hot” response). It's also partially because I kept getting the sense that even Percy was having trouble whipping up affection for the work.

The ubiquity of t
...more
Rick Davis
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I disagree enough with Percy on some issues that I would, in other circumstances, give this book 4 stars. However, Percy is relentless and devastating in his assault on the problems with our postmodern culture. The fact that he offers this critique in a series of "multiple choice" Socratic thought questions makes the reader work that much harder to get the message. The fact that he cloaks his profundity in the guise of a self-help book, that genre from which we expect the least profundity, is hi ...more
Sherri
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this book. Maybe that was the problem, because I decidedly didn't. It was written in a style I didn't care for at all -- too flip? I felt the style obscured what was good and worthwhile in the book. And there were a few gems.

I loved The Moviegoer, the only other book of his I have read.

But this, I conked out before the end, which is rare. I put it on my bookshelf, hoping that maybe someday I will come back to it with different, more appreciative eyes.
Dennis Henn
Aug 01, 2015 rated it did not like it
? ? ?
Such a strange book. I liked it at first, so odd did it flow. I waited for Percy to answer the riddle of our existence. No answers did he put forth.
Semiotics. Somehow or other, semiotics and strong drink are important. I am now more lost in the Cosmos than before I read the book.
Jonathan Schildbach
I read this several years ago and was really drawn in, and loved the tone and organization of the book. On reading it again, I got bogged down in the middle, shelved it for a while, then came back to it and quite enjoyed pushing through to the end. It's hard to explain exactly what this book IS. It's definitely not a self-help book in the sense of offering a theory on how to fix one's life. It's far more provocative and funny than that. Instead, Percy sets up scenarios, throws out a bunch of ide ...more
Kyle Muntz
Nov 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
this book actually had a pretty huge effect on my worldview when i was young. going back, i was sort of surprised to see how great it really was--percy develops a sophisticated semiotic theory of the self, sexuality, and pretty much everything in modern culture, and does it in one of the best essay styles i've ever read, with lots of humor and frequent forays into metafiction. there are things i read in this book when i was like 15 that i still think about now, especially percy's model of the se ...more
Bruce
May 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Such a shame that Percy and David Foster Wallace didn't get to team up to co-author a book on soul-searching. They would have either found the soul, or would have proved its nonexistence. Both men had a special gift for self-exploration and for getting readers to go deeper inside their own heads (readers') than they had been before. This was a fantastic book. Very insightful.
Jamiewas
Apr 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Hilaroius account of the problem of man's consciousness of self.
Adam Marischuk
This is not a funny book

It is an insightful, challenging, cunning, creative, humourous, cutting and confrontational book. But it is definitely not a funny book. After years of having this book on my birthday/Christmas wishlist my wife finally bought it for me for Christmas and I brought it on our tropical winter vacation to the Canary Islands thinking it would make light beach-reading material. This is not the case.

The book is much heavier than I anticipated, (perhaps I anticipated
...more
Thomas
Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was fascinating to read this at the same time as David Lipsky's book-length interview with David Foster Wallace (Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself). Wallace and Percy have a set of overlapping interests (the modern self, desire, TV/celebrity, addiction etc.), along with a certain "smartest-guy-in-the-room" perspective and commitment to ideas (and, to be fair, both were likely the smartest guys in most rooms). The difference that comes across (and it may be partly due to the different formats of the bo(Although ...more
Barry
Oct 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
A philosophy book about the consciousness of self, masquerading as a self-help parody, this book explores the feelings of alienation, and longing for some type of meaning or transcendence that are so common in our Secular Age. It illustrates, often hilariously, modern man's central dilemma, which is analyzed in more didactic form by Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, et al.
Jon Beadle
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars! Excellent read. I do not know how he did it. But it was, at times, a difficult “provocation” to ingest. (The semiotics portion nearly destroyed my will to finish this book.)
Katie Marquette
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
"The Strange Case of the Self, your Self, the Ghost which Haunts the Cosmos."

This is one of the most profound, enlightening, and honest books I have ever read. Written with wit, intelligence, and compassion, Percy takes readers on a bizarre journey into the unknowable self. Presented in the forms of questions (many rhetorical) and strange hypotheticals, Percy deftly reveals the absurdity of modern man. The answers may still be unclear - but the questions (and the importance of those
...more
Adam
Mar 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Artists, Writers, Wanderers, Thinkers, People with Time to Kill
Um, well, that was quite a trip.

I can't remember who or where I came across this book though I do recall it being mentioned in another book at one point. This is again a read that I began a while before but never had a chance to devote much attention to until now.

'Lost in the Cosmos is not so much a book as it is a series of hypothetical questions that Percy poses in order to make the reader question, well, I'm not sure exactly what. I'm inclined to say it offers the read
...more
Kirsten Jensen
Feb 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
How often do you come across a writer who wants to raise dozens of questions about life and then completely refrains from giving you his opinion of the answer? One's immediate reaction when discovering this is what Walker Percy is doing here is to exclaim, "yes, Mr. Percy, but what do you think!" When followed my silence the only think left is to shrug and say, "well, I suppose I could figure out what I think." And I believe that was the point all along. Rather clever, eh--a "self-help" book tha ...more
John
Dec 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: catholic
I've read Walker Percy's novels and I enjoy them. This book is not a novel. It seems to sum up his other books. He posits that Man is lost. Man has no idea who he is or what he believes. He drifts along with no real purpose. Sometimes Man sleeps around or drinks or travels in order to escape what is his reality. Man is an absolute mess.
This book is a series of discussions and questions. Percy was a Catholic so I expected him to point in that direction. But he just asks the questions and le
...more
Graychin
Aug 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Acerbic is the word that I believe I’m looking for. Percy’s 1983 faux self-help book is a high-comic slap in the face to the comfortable certainties of Western culture in its present decadent phase. Some of the references (Donahue, Johnny Carson, etc.) are necessarily dated, but Lost in the Cosmos manages to be funny, frustrating, and (not infrequently) enlightening all at the same time. Several of the chapters here are worth returning to for a second read, especially his ‘Semiotic Primer of the Self. ...more
Steve
Jun 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this book. I have enjoyed all that I have read of Percy. I liked the tongue in cheek manner, the format, the questions, and the desire to not take any prisoners. Reminded me that I need to dig up my Miller and re-read A Canticle for Leibowitz again soon.
JSA Lowe
Sep 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm demoting it to four stars, for some irritating occasional cultural-historical backwardness, and the last scene, which, it's like he started writing <1>The Second Coming about 40 pages from the end, and unwisely made it science fiction. But oh the first part is so good.
David
Feb 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Truly the last and only self-help book you'll need.
Howard
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Quirky. Honest. Insightful. One of those books that I'm going to have to read a second and third time.

You learn, perhaps, not so much about the book, or the author, as the reader.
Raegan Butcher
May 02, 2008 rated it liked it
Excellent satiric take on self-help books with a lot of interesting philosophical questions posed. Well-done and thought-provoking.
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Walker Percy (1916–1990) was one of the most prominent American writers of the twentieth century. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was the oldest of three brothers in an established Southern family that contained both a Civil War hero and a US senator. Acclaimed for his poetic style and moving depictions of the alienation of modern American culture, Percy was the bestselling author of six fiction t ...more
“The difference between a non-suicide and an ex-suicide leaving the house for work, at eight o'clock on an ordinary morning:

The non-suicide is a little traveling suck of care, sucking care with him from the past and being sucked toward care in the future. His breath is high in his chest.

The ex-suicide opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn't have to.”
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“The peculiar predicament of the present-day self surely came to pass as a consequence of the disappointment of the high expectations of the self as it entered the age of science and technology. Dazzled by the overwhelming credentials of science, the beauty and elegance of the scientific method, the triumph of modern medicine over physical ailments, and the technological transformation of the very world itself, the self finds itself in the end disappointed by the failure of science and technique in those very sectors of life which had been its main source of ordinary satisfaction in past ages.

As John Cheever said, the main emotion of the adult Northeastern American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment.

Work is disappointing. In spite of all the talk about making work more creative and self-fulfilling, most people hate their jobs, and with good reason. Most work in modern technological societies is intolerably dull and repetitive.

Marriage and family life are disappointing. Even among defenders of traditional family values, e.g., Christians and Jews, a certain dreariness must be inferred, if only from the average time of TV viewing. Dreary as TV is, it is evidently not as dreary as Mom talking to Dad or the kids talking to either.

School is disappointing. If science is exciting and art is exhilarating, the schools and universities have achieved the not inconsiderable feat of rendering both dull. As every scientist and poet knows, one discovers both vocations in spite of, not because of, school. It takes years to recover from the stupor of being taught Shakespeare in English Lit and Wheatstone's bridge in Physics.

Politics is disappointing. Most young people turn their backs on politics, not because of the lack of excitement of politics as it is practiced, but because of the shallowness, venality, and image-making as these are perceived through the media--one of the technology's greatest achievements.

The churches are disappointing, even for most believers. If Christ brings us new life, it is all the more remarkable that the church, the bearer of this good news, should be among the most dispirited institutions of the age. The alternatives to the institutional churches are even more grossly disappointing, from TV evangelists with their blown-dry hairdos to California cults led by prosperous gurus ignored in India but embraced in La Jolla.

Social life is disappointing. The very franticness of attempts to reestablish community and festival, by partying, by groups, by club, by touristy Mardi Gras, is the best evidence of the loss of true community and festival and of the loneliness of self, stranded as it is as an unspeakable consciousness in a world from which it perceives itself as somehow estranged, stranded even within its own body, with which it sees no clear connection.

But there remains the one unquestioned benefit of science: the longer and healthier life made possible by modern medicine, the shorter work-hours made possible by technology, hence what is perceived as the one certain reward of dreary life of home and the marketplace: recreation.

Recreation and good physical health appear to be the only ambivalent benefits of the technological revolution.”
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