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Selfie : How the West Became Self-Obsessed

4.13 (346 ratings by Goodreads)
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`Fascinating' Guardian
`Brilliant' Evening Standard
`Electrifying' Financial Times
`So interesting I literally couldn't put it down' Sunday Times

We live in the age of the individual. We are supposed to be slim, prosperous, happy, extroverted and popular. This is our culture's image of the perfect self. We see this person everywhere: in advertising, in the press, all over social media. We're told that to be this person you just have to follow your dreams, that our potential is limitless, that we are the source of our own success.

But this model of the perfect self can be extremely dangerous. People are suffering under the torture of this impossible fantasy. Unprecedented social pressure is leading to increases in depression and suicide. Where does this ideal come from? Why is it so powerful? Is there any way to break its spell?

To answer these questions, Selfie by Will Storr takes us from the shores of Ancient Greece, through the Christian Middle Ages, to the self-esteem evangelists of 1980s California, the rise of narcissism and the selfie generation, and right up to the era of hyper-individualistic neoliberalism in which we live now.

It tells the extraordinary story of the person we all know so intimately - our self.

As featured on Russell Brand's Under The Skin podcast.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 416 pages
  • 161 x 241 x 35mm | 683g
  • PICADOR
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Main Market Ed
  • 1447283643
  • 9781447283645
  • 59,171

Table of contents

Section - i: A note on the text


Chapter - Book Zero: The Dying Self
Chapter - Book One: The Tribal Self
Chapter - Book Two: The Perfectible Self
Chapter - Book Three: The Bad Self
Chapter - Book Four: The Good Self
Chapter - Book Five: The Special Self
Chapter - Book 6: The Digital Self
Chapter - Book Seven: How To Stay Alive in the Age of Perfectionism


Acknowledgements - ii: Acknowledgements
Section - iii: A note on my methods
Section - iv: Notes and references
Index - v: Index
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Review quote

The other celebrity podcast I've been enjoying is Russell Brand's Under the Skin . . . He wants Answers with a capital A: the meaning of life, the short cut to spiritual awakening, the revolution that will overthrow the president, the place of economic and political systems within history, how terrorism works and if it can be stopped, ditto religion . . . Not much small talk here. High-profile guests such as Adam Curtis, Naomi Klein, Yanis Varoufakis and Yuval Noah Harari join Brand in trying to unpick humanity's most tangled knots . . . The latest episode has Will Storr discussing why the selfie is an indication of the narcissistic western approach to individuality, and it's fascinating. -- Miranda Sawyer * Observer * There are some real insights about how stories, social rules, cultural norms and role models affect our attitude to ourselves . . . because he puts it into a long, historical perspective, even nitwits with selfie sticks become a bit more interesting to think about . . . a good read -- Libby Purves * Daily Mail * Storr starts in Ancient Greece and masterfully pulls us through time, arriving at today's Silicon Valley. And on this journey he asks so many fascinating questions . . . An important, fascinating and mind-expanding read that examines the cultural, societal, psychological and political forces that have led to the Selfie generation. I can't recommend it enough. * The Pool * A very well written book. I enjoyed it greatly! -- Professor Danny Dorling, author of A Better Politics: How Government Can Make Us Happier I've come to consider Will Storr the best writer out there in terms of writing about human experience and the concepts and complexities of psychology. I've never seen such a well-thought-through and well-argued piece of work as Selfie, really taking ideas around self-esteem back to their philosophical and historical origins - and pulling them all to pieces. I loved it. -- Professor Sophie Scott, Deputy Director, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London You'll find yourself repeating entire sections of Selfie to your friends, and passing them off as your own. -- Amy Grier * Cosmopolitan * In this riveting account of how our culture has defined who we feel we should be, from Aristotle to Ayn Rand, Storr charts the rise of our age of perfectionism, and our resulting addictions to selfies and social media. It's profoundly eye-opening, and not a little chastening. Arresting mirrored jacket too . . . * Bookseller * Eminently suitable for readers of both Yuval Noah Harari and Daniel Kahneman, Selfie also has shades of Jon Ronson in its subversive humour and investigative spirit . . . Selfie, without being remotely fluffy, just might be the ultimate in post-truth comfort reading -- Caroline Sanderson * Bookseller * One of my absolute favourite writers -- Decca Aitkenhead Moving, wise, compelling and timely, this brilliant and absorbing book investigates the faultline between our oldest human needs and the terrible pressures of technology -- Marcel Theroux Selfie is an entertaining, concise and highly personal examination of the history of the Self. When did we all become narcissists? And how has it turned us into a society of dissatisfied perfectionists? Combining history, journalistic research and acute personal memoir, Storr brilliantly and candidly explores what may be the most pressing question of our - or any - time. I loved it -- Tim Lott A journey that is both personal and political . . . at once hilarious and horrifying . . . it's dynamite . . . This book should by rights bring down the entire house of cards that is the self-esteem industry * Saturday Paper (Australia) * A broad-ranging history of the western self, from the age of Aristotle to the age of Instagram . . . Storr builds a convincing case that free will is an illusion, change is impossible and our entire political system is built on a lie. But he's funny with it -- Richard Godwin * Evening Standard * A timely, inspiring book about self-obsession in modern life * Harper's Bazaar * A hugely important subject, and a compelling one . . . always entertainingly delivered thanks to Storr's rich reporting. More than that, by taking a hammer to the sacred idea of the self - by putting culture back in the picture - Storr provides a much-needed corrective to our understanding of who we are. For that reason alone, Selfie should be welcomed. * Literary Review * Will Storr crafts an entertaining history of the self, from Narcissus to Kardashian to Trump * Observer * Smart, serious and ultimately reassuring * Psychologies * A hellishly good book about the new hell: ourselves * Daily Express * It's easy to look at Instagram and "selfie-sticks" and shake our heads at millennial narcissism. But Will Storr takes a longer view. He ignores the easy targets and instead tells the amazing 2,500-year story of how we've come to think about our selves. A top-notch journalist, historian, essayist, and sleuth, Storr has written an essential book for understanding, and coping with, the 21st century -- Nathan Hill, author of The Nix So interesting I literally couldn't put it down. -- India Knight * Sunday Times * A fascinating, timely exploration of our drive for status, perfection and self-esteem, and a consideration of where such obsessions lead * Esquire * `Will Storr's new book tries to understand how we all became so self-obsessed. It's compelling, terrifying and a total must-read . . . a hugely ambitious book that might sound overwhelming, but is told with a humanity and vulnerability that is, thankfully, deeply at odds with many of its characters . . . Selfie is a fascinating investigation into the intersection of history, psychology, culture and the economy, and how our brains, our egos - and our constructed sense of self - are products of these interconnecting spaces . . . It's not just the insights that makes Selfie such an essential read; Storr is a master weaver - not only can he draw a line via Ancient Greece and Silicon Valley, but he does so between Ronald Reagan's rampant deregulation, the toxic nature of the American governmental pursuit of individualism and young women's Instagram accounts . . . Reading Selfie is like seeing links light up on a switchboard. Everything is connected; everything makes sense. Yet the most incredible thing about Storr's book is how it stays with you long after you've read it . . . In both an equally troubling and comforting way, Selfie's insights can't been unseen' -- Marisa Bate * The Pool * Brilliant . . . There aren't many authors who can range so confidently across disciplines and, if you go with the flow, you'll encounter some fascinating nuggets along the way . . . inspiring -- Rohan Silva * Evening Standard * Storr is a magnificent reporter in the mould of Jon Ronson or Louis Theroux . . . Selfie is profound, uncomfortable, joyful, frustrating, fascinating, fragmented, inspired, heartbreaking, and occasionally riven with internal contradictions. Just like a person, really -- Helen Lewis * New Statesman * This book is IMMENSE; like reading an Adam Curtis documentary -- Stuart Heritage Thoughtful and engaging . . . wonderfully funny . . . Storr's cultural history is fascinating * Guardian * An ambitious argument . . . Storr is an electrifying analyst of internet culture, documenting the rise of connectivity in prose that crackles with the energy of the early 21st century . . . an excellent antidote to time-wasting on social media * Financial Times * As entertaining as it is provocative and disquieting . . . His breezy prose is bedded down in intensive research, much of it immersive . . . his closing thoughts can't help but be comforting * Mail on Sunday * Storr has done huge amounts of research for this book . . . he conveys it with a gifted lightness of touch that is wry and funny (his investigative mode has been compared to those of Jon Ronson and Louis Theroux, with which I wouldn't disagree) . . . entertaining . . . fascinating * Times * Selfie is far more ambitious than its title might suggest: a serious (although funny) philosophical and psychological inquiry into consciousness. Storr has taken perhaps the most interesting subject (who we are and how we feel about it) and pieced together an overarching narrative from the latest neuroscientific research, smart reporting and careful selections of his personal history. It illuminates much of what feels peculiar about the world in 2017 . . . [Storr] has put in a formidable amount of work, he is irascibly good company, and he has something approaching genius for marshalling his material . . . This could be a pessimistic book. In fact, its insights are timely and welcome -- Richard Godwin * Sunday Times *
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About Will Storr

Will Storr is a longform journalist and novelist. His features have appeared in various publications, including the Guardian, Sunday Times, Observer, Esquire, New Yorker and the Sydney Morning Herald. He is a contributing editor at Esquire magazine. He has been named New Journalist of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year, and has won a National Press Club award for excellence. In 2012, he was presented with the One World Press award and the Amnesty International award for his work for the Observer on sexual violence against men. In 2013, his BBC radio series 'An Unspeakable Act' won the AIB award for best investigative documentary.
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Rating details

346 ratings
4.13 out of 5 stars
5 42% (145)
4 36% (124)
3 18% (61)
2 3% (11)
1 1% (5)
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