Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Review: Status Anxiety

"Status Anxiety - a worry that we are in danger of failing to conform to the ideals of success laid down by society" (p3-4)

This is mostly a bad thing and because our society is mercantile to the core it mostly has to do with the amount of money we earn and the possessions we have. De Botton identifies five main causes of anxiety (lovelessness, expectation, meritocracy, snobbery and dependence) as well as five remedies (philosophy, art, politics, Christianity and Bohemianism).

De Botton is a pretty good writer and this is a pretty good book. It's more coherent than say, Affluenza which dealt with a similar issue, albeit from a slightly different angle.

I think the book is strongest in its analysis of the problem than its presentation of the solutions. It's chock full of interesting asides, anecdotes and quotes. I was introduced to people I've not thought much about before and realised they had much to say about the dangers of consumerism.

His insights into the solutions offered by Christianity were a bit half-hearted. True reflection on eternity and our own mortality can and should readjust our priorities, true too that community can defeat the strong sense of individualism that can cause such strong anxiety about our place in the world and true too that Christianity advocates the spiritual over the material. But...

As a Christian I thought so much more was missing, it seems that De Botton has understood well the cultural heritage of Christianity over the centuries but not fully understood Christ. No significant mention of say, treasures in heaven or that is better to give than to receive. No mention of the great themes of contentment and generosity, no mention of liberation from selfishness to selflessness. No mention of grace. Not that I expected any of that, but just to say that you won't find it here.

However, I did thoroughly enjoy this book and it's one I'll go back to as a source of stories, pithy quotes and shrewd observations about contemporary life and mark it with much underlining (note to self to read with pencil in hand more often). It's well produced, with quality glossy paper that makes it stand out from some of the cheap paperbacks that are churned out but most importantly it is well written with a sound thesis and one in whcih he rarely over elaborates or becomes boring. Recommended.


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