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Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton
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did not like it
bookshelves: historyonics-world, lit-crit, social-crit, wisdom-philosophical-investigatons

Underwhelmed. Botton is erudite, eloquent, wide-ranging, interested and interesting. He claims that we are consumed by status, and status anxiety, because we lack something more profound than the material satisfactions can hope to be. Veritas. He offers quite a few alternatives to the snobbery and mendacity which is obvious to many, if not most, in conspicuous consumption.

But that's sort of the problem- it's all possibility, perspective. Botton diagnoses the problem, surely, and has a lot of learned, detailed, lucid and rather lyrical things to say about the possible alternatives. But he doesn't really make a stand. He presents some of the most innovative, incisive voices in all of history as examples of the variety of thought in history. Good for him. But he doesn't really get enough out of them. We are given the openings of doors, hints at other rooms, and then we're on to the next thing. I read this book because I like and respect the writer but also because I think this is a topic which is really world-historically important. I didn't get much more than some of the further details of the literature and history which Botton cites, which were already familiar. This is always a good thing, and I'm glad to have him around. Where the book falters, however, is in suggestion and not conclusion. Evidence is part of the problem, arugment and analysis even more so, but I'm starting to think that conclusions are really more of the essence on issues like this.

For that matter, none of his possible alternatives to the wealth/status/consumption/esteem circuit really seemed to challenge the reader much. We aren't asked to fundamentally re-examine our lives or the way we think, but instead are given a dusting of what the best that has been thought and said has to offer. This is fine if it's just to get a general survey of intellectual history, but when the issue is something much more mechanistically real, complex, and perilous- real social tinderboxes- I think what's necessary is a little more challenge and a little less dim sum. Botton doesn't grab the reader by the lapels, which is nobody's fault, instead he takes you by the arm and leads you around the topic-appropriate warehouse of the school of the ages. All to the good. But I think a trifle more gusto might be called for when you're talking about the underlying ideological assumptions of the social register. Botton- the most hugable philosopher around...

Botton might be excused for being more of a popularizer than a strategic philosopher, in which case- great!

It's just that I started to lose interest when it seemed like it was finger food on the menu, in sumptuous variety, when what I really wanted, and more importantly, what the subject demanded, was a banquet.
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Reading Progress

October 10, 2011 – Started Reading
October 10, 2011 – Shelved
October 15, 2011 –
page 175
December 19, 2011 –
page 200
January 6, 2012 – Finished Reading

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Tom LA Interesting review. Sounds like De Botton is not angry enough for your tastes, which is a good thing for him.

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