Big news! LibraryThing is now free to all! Read the blog post and discuss the change on Talk.
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.


The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing… (1979)

by Christopher Lasch

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,100812,616 (3.9)10
The book quickly became a bestseller. This edition includes a new afterword, "The Culture of Narcissism Revisited."


culture (18)

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 10 mentions

English (7)  French (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Chapter on degradation of sports is excellent ( )
  clarkland | Mar 11, 2015 |
Lasch, on the evidence of this book, is the American Adorno. He writes in a similar style; each sentence is perfectly formed, but often not so well connected to the preceding and following sentences. He has no patience for the conservative/progressive distinction, and would rather discuss the effects of an idea or practice rather than immediately laud or damn it (so, for instance, 'feminism' isn't abruptly praised or scornfully ignored; rather, the difficulties of putting feminist doctrine into effect, and the inadequacy of feminism as a theory of society, are outlined... without concluding that women are inferior to men). Finally, this is Major Theory. He is not 'making a space for conversation' or 'analyzing discourses' or adding one brick to the great Academic Wall. He has a theory that late twentieth century life is really messed up, he traces out how we got to be like we are and speculates about how we could stop being that way. And his theory does seem to explain an awful lot.

In short, the conjunction of progressive liberalism and capitalism destroys traditional forms of life without providing any satisfactory replacement. Since people can no longer rely on those traditional forms, we feel a) at a loss, homeless, as if the world is out to crush us, but also, b) we're completely and increasingly dependent on the world. Our psychological defense against this is to become 'narcissistic,' reliant upon others for praise to boost our self-esteem. That praise needn't be genuine, in fact, it's usually better if it's not, since then there's no danger of our becoming dependent upon anyone. Relationships seem to require co-dependence, rather than friendship or love. It's increasingly difficult for us to become mature adults. Nonetheless, Lasch doesn't seem to be advocating a return to feudalism or anything. Socialism - not bureaucracy, but the human control of the economy, state and society - is his chosen solution to these problems.

The big problem with the book is that it's all a little Freudy. If you're allergic to Freud, as many people seem to be, you'll find that pretty off-putting. But there's not a whole lot of the really whacky Oedipus stuff. Lasch relies on the later Freud's theory of the id/ego/super-ego, to suggest that the revolt against authority makes it impossible for us to form an effective ego. Instead, it's all id (uncontrolled instinct) and terrifying super-ego (crushing guilt and self-loathing). You can and should cherry-pick chapters, even if you don't like Freud.

The second problem is that this is not a book for people who don't know about sociology and psychology as traditions of thought. In that way he's like Adorno too- this isn't popular non-fiction, whatever else it is. How it became a best-seller I'll never know. I do think that someone who's done a good job with a core undergraduate education should be able to muddle through and get the point; but how many people have done that? This is frustrating, because I want to recommend it to everyone I know. And if I do that, half of my friends will think I've become a knee-jerk conservative, one quarter will say 'oh Justin, up to his commie tricks again,' and the other quarter will roll their eyes and wish I wasn't such an elitist. Well suck it up, friends- I'm a conservative, socialist, elitist. Maybe I just like this book because I already agreed with it. ( )
2 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
A withering critique of contemporary society, probably more relevant (and frightening) read today than back in '79. He leans heavily on Freud and mixes in Marxist/Frankfurt school style criticism. More or less his thesis reinforces everything a pessimistic cultural critic already sees/feels in 'late capitalist' society, but here, he persuasively argues that the reader is more than likely a narcissist and probably has never been aware of his condition (which, as Lasch defines, is the new psychological nerusosis of our time: the implication that a narcissist is a narcissist without knowing it). Who, me? ( )
1 vote pessoanongrata | Apr 1, 2013 |
Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism” was originally published in 1979, and has been a major cynosure of cultural and social criticism ever since. English literary critic Frank Kermode called it, not inaccurately, a “hellfire sermon.” It is a wholesale indictment of contemporary American culture. It also happens to fall into a group of other books which share the same body of concerns that I have been working my way through, or around, in recent months: Daniel Boorstin’s “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America,” Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle,” Philip Rieff’s entire corpus (especially “Charisma,” but also his earlier work on Freud), and even the book I’m currently reading, Tony Judt’s “Ill Fares the Land.”

All of these books discuss some aspect of social anomie, loss of community, and subsequent feelings of dissolution. This isn’t by any means a new debate; in the field of sociology, it dates at least as far back as Ferdinand Tonnies’ distinction between gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, a distinction that was almost a prerequisite for the invention of modernism.

First, a note on the word “narcissism.” It was formerly a clinical term to diagnose the individual, but has “gone global” - or at least national. Lasch doesn’t really mean for the term to be a diagnosis in the clinical sense, but rather a “metaphor for the human condition” in contemporary times. In his argot, the word means much more than just lack of empathy, a tendency toward manipulative actions and pretentious behavior. “People today hunger not for personal salvation, let alone for the restoration of an earlier golden age, but for the feeling, the momentary illusion, of personal well-being, health, and psychic security” (p. 7). Lasch is more interested in the dissolution of communities and relationships that makes us feel as if we live highly individualized, atomized lives detached from the concerns of others. The book spells out the ways in which these patterns are positively correlated with the rise of materialism, technologism, “personal liberation” (those bywords of sixties radicalism) and nominal egalitarianism.

His few words on contemporary corporate America will strike anyone who has ever worked in one of these organizational hellscapes: he states that corporate bureaucracies “put a premium on the manipulation of interpersonal relations, discourage the formation of deep personal attachments and at the same time provide the narcissist with the approval he needs in order to validate his self-esteem.”

A la Debord, the politics of narcissism become more about “managing impressions” and “human relations” more than actually solving problems, citing Kennedy’s disaster at the Bay of Pigs as an example. To steal from the language of yet another late French thinker, it’s all about the simulacra. In a chapter called “The Degradation of Sport,” he notes that enormous amounts of corporate money have turned athletes into mere entertainers to be sold to the most prestigious sports syndicate. The central concept of the sporting even – the agon, the contest – has been displaced in order to sell products and personalities who will invariably be with the team for only a short time.

Lasch’s political affiliations are sometimes interestingly and tellingly misconstrued. Though often criticized for being a reactionary conservative simply because he points to the radicalism of the sixties as one of the desiderata under consideration, Lasch’s analysis is self-consciously informed by both Marx and Freud, two figures hardly recognized for being popularly co-opted by various brands of twentieth-century conservatism. Those who believe that Lasch is a blind ideologue on other side of the spectrum need to read him again: he explicitly faults both the right for their veneration of the market’s “invisible hand” and the left for their cultural progressivism. Lasch is in politics, above all else, a democratic humanist.

He writes in the Afterword, “The best defenses against the terrors of existence are the homely comforts of love, work, and family life, which connect us to a world that is independent of our wishes yet responsive to our needs. It is through love and work, as Freud noted … that we exchange crippling emotional conflict for ordinary unhappiness.” It might not sound like a prognosis abounding in optimism, but it drips with the sincerity of an honest, heartfelt critic of American culture. ( )
6 vote kant1066 | Feb 15, 2013 |
It was galling to read this book when it first emerged in 1979, and I struggled against accepting its thesis, even as I realized that my struggle was symptomatic of my narcissistic pathology. Now, some 30 years on, I have grown weary of the struggle; I surrender to my narcissism with a humble, even cheerful, good grace. The beginning of wisdom? This unrepentant narcissist would like to believe so. ( )
2 vote jburlinson | Nov 23, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review

Belongs to Publisher Series

You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (3.9)
1.5 1
2 4
2.5 1
3 14
3.5 7
4 34
4.5 6
5 18

W.W. Norton

An edition of this book was published by W.W. Norton.

» Publisher information page

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 147,863,729 books! | Top bar: Always visible