three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
user_rating: 
0
A-StatusAnxietyWith great wealth comes great angst, especially when the brass ring lies within reach of so many. Status Anxiety posits that the movement toward capitalist democracy throughout Western society has leveled the aspirational playing field and created a culture where the only thing superior to keeping up with the Joneses is passing them by, preferably in a gold-trimmed SUV. From the faded hope of a redemptive afterlife to the rigorous ideals of social Darwinism, there is little choice but to judge one’s place in society by the accumulation of material wealth. De Botton suggests an exit strategy from the consumer carousel through a steady diet of philosophy, art, politics, religion, and bohemian ideals.
Pantheon. 306 pages. $24.
ISBN: 0375420835

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"[De Botton] has written a generous and humane book that offers up thought-provoking solutions to status anxiety, a worry he says is ‘so pernicious as to be capable of ruining extended stretches of our lives’. … De Botton’s answers, buttressed by a wealth of insightful quotes and wonderful artwork, are as compelling as they are crisply laid out, emphasizing faith in one’s self while retaining one’s humility." John McMurtrie

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"…his richest, funniest, most heartfelt work yet, packed with erudition and brimming with an elegant originality of mind. … And as always, de Botton peppers his text with droll or revealing illustrations, varying from New Yorker cartoons to goofy graphs to reproductions of sublime works of art." Michael Upchurch

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… [de Botton’s] reasoning acquires an elegant simplicity. … He points our attention from one artist to the next, and then drags us off into the world of politics, up to religion, and back down into bohemia, all to show that status anxiety is entirely manageable if we immerse ourselves in culture, which forces us to think and create for ourselves." John Freeman

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In his continuing quest to assist readers in leading happier, more fulfilling lives, de Botton rightly addresses one of the major sources of modern discontent as a ‘worry… that we are in danger of failing to conform to the ideals of success laid down by our society and that we may, as a result be stripped of dignity and respect.’ … de Botton’s solutions sometimes do seem like different religions with the same god—varying means toward an identical end." Marc Mohan

Newsday 2.5 of 5 Stars
"This book is an explosion in a factoid factory, so it should please those with a de Botton habit. … [How Proust Can Change Your Life] was lapidary; Status Anxiety is slapdash, occasionally lackadaisical." Tim Apello

Rocky Mountain News 0.5 of 5 Stars
"The result is a book of staggering obviousness that panders to the faux intellectual while condescending to the intelligent reader who may not be familiar with all the authors de Botton shamelessly trivializes here but who will nonetheless recognize that he is being sold a wiener gussied up as T-bone steak. … If it has any merits, I am unable to discern them." Duane Davis

Critical Summary

From the creator of the "literary self-help" genre comes a new volume of social criticism and lively anecdotes for The New Yorker set. De Botton’s trademark erudition is the foundation for his road map, and he spares no literary reference towards the goal of enlightening his audience. Like his previous books, How Proust Can Change Your Life and The Art of Travel, Status Anxiety is well written, and makes a convincing argument for our current malaise. The author’s decided lack of personal reflection sounds a false note for some critics; his personal experiences are few and far between. Still, with the exception of the Rocky Mountain News, the critics considered Status Anxiety an otherwise insightful work.

Supplemental Reading

AS-HowProustHow Proust Can Change Your Life Not a Novel | Alain De Botton (1998): De Botton provides irreverent self-help advice through the life and work of Marcel Proust.

AS-OverspentAmericanThe Overspent American Upscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer | Juliet B. Schor (1998): The author of 1992’s The Overworked American, Harvard economist Schor explores how the media and other factors make it even harder for people to feel like they are "keeping up with the Joneses."