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On Balance

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  144 Ratings  ·  18 Reviews
“Balancing acts,” writes Adam Phillips, “are entertaining because they are risky, but there are situations in which it is more dangerous to keep your balance than to lose it.” In these exhilarating and casually brilliant essays, the philosopher and psychoanalyst examines literature, fairy tales, works of art, and case studies to reveal the paradoxes inherent in our appetit ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published August 31st 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published July 1st 2010)
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Sean Goh
Aug 11, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Nonsensically dense.

We can only really be realistic after we have tried our optimism out.

It is only our fantasies that are excessive, our appetites are sensible. (generally.)

There is always a magical belief that by destroying the thing that we love we destroy our need for it.
And having it all means not having to make choices.

People know they are in a relationship when they become a problem to each other.

The hell of a narcissist is the tyranny of his need for others.

Helplessness is the preconditi
Tim Pendry

This has all the faults and benefits of a collection of smaller essays brought together to make a book.

Some of the pieces are startling good, enough to make the purchase of the book worthwhile, while others are utterly boring unless you are an academic fascinated with academic opinion on the opinions of dead poets.

Adam Phillips is an interesting intellectual. Of East European Jewish heritage but fully British (actually adoptive Welsh) in his outlook, he uses a Freudian psychoanalytic platform a
Feb 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Full of insights on excess and our frustrations, on helplessness and its moral value, on fundamentalism (how we all harbour one), on children being difficult to test their parents worth, on the authenticity issue, on getting away with having sex without having to have sex, on getting lost and its merits (what is it you're at a loss about?). Those were some of the headlines, what is great about it is that you can read it in Hyde Park or Dianna' Fountain, or even under a tree when it rains and you ...more
Jul 15, 2013 rated it liked it
I thought some of the essays were outstanding, some were difficult to follow, and some were of no interest to me. Overall, Adam Phillips uses the lens of psychoanalysis to explore ideas and ways of thinking that we never thought were worth examining.

In one chapter I was fascinated by his discussion of how we interpret situations that make us feel guilty for getting away with something (like stealing and not getting caught). There is also a great discussion of Diane Arbus’ black and white photos
Jun 28, 2015 rated it liked it
This book was a difficult read. Some of the insights were worth pondering, but it took a lot of plowing through dense prose to uncover them.
Jan 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
A hard slog at times but littered with exquisite gems.
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: borrowed, health, essays
(view spoiler) ...more
Jul 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
For a book On Balance, I don't think it was achieved. The focus was on excess and I can accept that excess is the opposite of balance and understanding excess produces an understanding a balance. The author did a solid argument as to why excess is necessary. Then things devolved (in my opinion) to psychobabble and Freudian-focused at that. I did gain some insight and realized when reading this, that persecution of the Jewish people in Europe even during Freud's lifetime must have influenced his ...more
Canadian Reader
Jul 27, 2015 rated it liked it
I found this collection of essays less focused than other books I've read by Phillips. There is some fascinating and thought-provoking rumination about human excess, the need for sleep (to be away from ourselves and our being just too much for ourselves), the questionable desire--even intentions--of adults that children be happy at school, and about the western world's approach to (Islamic) fundamentalism (from a psychoanalytic perspective). In one section of the text, Phillips provides commenta ...more
Michael Vagnetti
Jan 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An apotheosis of kind of essay technique that is both fantastic and practical. Challenging, dashing essays on the constellation of behaviors involving balance and stability: excess, authenticity, disenchantment, truancy, sleep, getting away with things, and, most impressively, helplessness.

The writing is especially aware of how desire exists in language, and is often a literary reading of mental behavior. It tells the stories of how we think and act through the torque, texture, and friction of w
Anna Sternberg
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As always with adam Phillips, a thought provoking read, even though certain essays float away from my ability to intellectually grasp them at present. never the less satisfied by those that informed and gave me new ways of seeing.
Tom King
Jan 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Either too deep or trying to be too deep for me.
Apr 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
A thought-starting ember.
Mark Mendoza
Nov 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
One of his very best and a great place to start exploring his brilliant thoughts and writing.
Vikas Datta
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A vital read, very persuasively and cogently argued..
Aug 17, 2015 rated it liked it
2.5 stars

The most confusing book I've ever come across. You get to some pages where you are breathtakingly fascinated, then the next ones are just nonsense!
Aug 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Great essays, though they don't all tie into the theme of balance. I like his love of paradoxes and suppressed impulses. However, if you aren't a fan of Sigmund Freud, you probably should avoid.
Judy Frabotta
Jul 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
I love everything Adam Smith writes. The only problem is you read a sentence and then you want to go away and think about it for a week. Not a fast read.
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Jenna Velez
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Jul 14, 2011
Rohit Anand
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Martin Andersson
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Wendy C. Ortiz
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Adam Phillips is a British psychotherapist and essayist.

Since 2003 he has been the general editor of the new Penguin Modern Classics translations of Sigmund Freud. He is also a regular contributor to the London Review of Books.

Phillips was born in Cardiff, Wales in 1954, the child of second-generation Polish Jews. He grew up as part of an extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins and describes
More about Adam Phillips...

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“Greed is a way of avoiding making choices: if I have everything I don't have to choose what I want. And choosing what I want means giving up some pleasures for other pleasures.” 15 likes
“Believing in religion is like believing that adulthood is the solution to childhood.” 10 likes
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