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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Status Anxiety

Alain de Botton

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To purchase Status Anxiety

Title: Status Anxiety
Author: Alain de Botton
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2004
Length: 293 pages
Availability: Status Anxiety - US
Status Anxiety - UK
Status Anxiety - Canada
Du statut social - France
Statusangst - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : adequate but unremarkable

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor . 18/5/2004 Paul McLeary
Entertainment Weekly B- 4/6/2004 Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
FAZ F 10/5/2004 Eberhard Rathgeb
The Guardian . 27/3/2004 Steven Poole
The Independent . 5/3/2004 Laurie Taylor
Independent on Sunday . 7/3/2004 Mark Simpson
New Statesman . 22/3/2004 Andrew Roberts
The NY Times Book Rev. . 22/8/2004 Emily Eakin
San Francisco Chronicle . 13/6/2004 John McMurtrie
The Spectator . 27/3/2004 Frederic Raphael
The Telegraph . 1/3/2004 Selina Hastings
The Telegraph . 6/3/2004 Sam Leith
TLS . 14/5/2004 Jonathan Rée

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, with a few finding it enjoyable and more finding it pointless

  From the Reviews:
  • "While de Botton may not have found the cure for anxiety over our place in the world, he has still produced a witty, highly literate account of those slings and arrows that keep us up at night." - Paul McLeary, Christian Science Monitor

  • "De Botton incorporates a vast amount of knowledge into his thesis, but this does ultimately read like a thesis, better suited to a graduate student's syllabus than to an armchair reader." - Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Das Buch der Banalitäten hat den Rezensenten gelangweilt und geärgert. Gelangweilt, weil der Autor, gedankenschwach, aber beflissen, mit Geschichten aus dem Nähkästchen der Kultur dicke tut und alles an den dünnen Statushaken hängt, was er beim Herumstöbern fand. Geärgert, weil der Autor sich dabei noch in der Pose eines adretten und umsichtigen Lebensweltberaters gefällt." - Eberhard Rathgeb, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "De Botton manages to stay his book's entire course without ever offering a strongly held opinion, without ever arguing. Real philosophical thinking involves fierce, passionate engagement; here the voice never rises above a soothing, reassuring murmur. (...) (I)ts refusal to engage with almost anything written during the 20th century is also the only reason that it can pretend to any originality of theme. (...) The prose often sounds as though it has been awkwardly translated from the German, an effect of the author's constant straining after aphoristic profundity" - Steven Poole, The Guardian

  • "(T)his new offering is desperately disappointing. De Botton has nothing much to say about status anxiety that hasn't already been said a thousand times by knowing journalists or populist sociologists. You'll recognise the tune after the first few notes (.....) De Botton works his socks off to bring this material to life, but for all the neat phrases and quirky illustrations, it still sounds more like a writer following a greedy publisher's brief than the de Botton of former times -- the literary flâneur happily indulging himself." - Laurie Taylor, The Independent

  • "Precisely because the author is such a polite, learned and charming writer with a fine appreciation for history, literature and the arts which he is so very generously keen to share with us, he never explicitly touches on the subject of his own status, or his own anxiety about what the world thinks of him. (...) This is a shame, since it would have made his beautifully written but bafflingly pointless and aimless book, which claims to deal with something as real and worldly and dirty as status, rather more readable and infinitely more relevant." - Mark Simpson, Independent on Sunday

  • "Like any good shrink, de Botton first analyses our obsession with status, then diagnoses five ways to deal with it." - Andrew Roberts, New Statesman

  • "A dissertation on status anxiety leavened with New Yorker cartoons, Old Master paintings and (ugh) smiley faces, it contends that the obsession with rank, though increasingly prevalent and "capable of ruining extended stretches of our lives," is amenable to treatment." - Emily Eakin, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(A) readable, edifying exploration of our fears of where we stand in society and how we can best mitigate our concerns. (...) (D)e Botton, who lives in London, steers clear of an angry polemic that simply accuses people of being full of envy. Instead, he has written a generous and humane book that offers up thought-provoking solutions to status anxiety" - John McMurtrie, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "After all but bowling himself for a duck, de Botton goes on to hit attractive shots all round the ground." - Frederic Raphael, The Spectator

  • "Status anxiety is a fascinating topic. It is disappointing, therefore, that this study of it ultimately fails to deliver. (...) His book is the work of a schoolboy swot who has read widely, always got his homework in on time, but who has nothing new to give us. Lavishly illustrated and studded with irritating little diagrams and smiley/frowney faces to help us understand what clever Mr de Botton is saying, it is a prime example of a book all dressed up with nowhere to go." - Selina Hastings, The Telegraph

  • "His approach is to be as much anthologist as author, offering a bitty, purposely quirky sort of omnium gatherum. Much of the book consists in schoolteacherly retellings of old stories or passnote-style settings-out of episodes from intellectual history, accompanied by frequent quotations. Like Schott's Original Miscellany -- oddly, a comparable work in some respects -- it ends up standing or falling on whether you go for the tone of voice and whether you like the quotes and stories reproduced." - Sam Leith, The Telegraph

  • "In the end the philosophical lessons of Status Anxiety get a bit lost amid the wry social commentary. The book starts by promising that if we train our eyes on eternal verities, or rather eternal doubts, we will learn to stop worrying about our public reputation; but it finishes by recommending that we simply spread our risks and take advantage of the vast variety of ways in which success and failure can be defined." - Jonathan Rée, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Status, Alain de Botton believes, is one of our main and driving preoccupations; indeed, he argues early on in this book that: "Every adult life could be said to be defined by two great love stories": our quest for sexual love, and our quest for love from the world. Defining self-worth by how others see us -- our status in the world -- is, he believes, near-universal, and brings with it all sorts of consequences, both good and bad. Hence: status anxiety, that widespread affliction -- and mainstay of society (pushing, as it does, people to seek to attain whatever the status du jour is).
       Status comes in all different forms, though increasingly, as de Botton notes, it is financial achievement that is the ultimate measure. Previously other groups have been status-favoured: "hunters, fighters, ancient families, priests, knights, fecund women". De Botton's book offers an overview and an attempt at some analysis of all of these, and status generally.
       The book is divided in two section: Causes and Solutions. The first looks at the explanations for why status matters so much -- and the justifications for why a specific sort of accomplishment or condition (from being of noble birth to business-success) might be considered the proper measure of status. The second looks at how one can deal with the potentially overwhelming burden of status and the quest to achieve it, in reassuring chapters -- meant to show that status isn't quite everything after all -- on "Art" and "Philosophy" and "Religion" and the like.
       The book is presented in now typical de Botton fashion: very short chapters, well-illustrated (with everything from cartoons to reproductions of classic paintings to print advertisements), and with a few charts and graphs. Typical: two graphs, one above the other, on "How We Imagine the Satisfaction Brought Us by an Acquisition/Achievement" vs. "How We in Fact Feel After an Acquisition/Achievement" -- visually suggestive, but in fact pure invention dressed up as (pseudo-)science, with undefined "levels of happiness" supposedly being illustrated -- gross oversimplification of the sort de Botton seems to prefer at every turn.
       The text is littered with historic examples and appropriate quotes. They are generally well-chosen -- interesting enough -- but leave one with the sense that de Botton is cobbling together his argument from what others have said and noted before, rather than constructing or offering anything new.
       All this makes for decent fun, with de Botton ranging widely, offering some entertaining perspectives and thoughts, and presenting it in very readable (and richly illustrated) form. But it's also all quite unremarkable -- a decent book to while away some time, but without much novel insight (though in an age of self-help book mania this sort of essentially regurgitated, dressed up slightly different 'wisdom' may be just what the public wants). As to status anxiety, the reader likely closes the book with as much (or as little) of it as ever.

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Status Anxiety: Reviews: Alain de Botton: Other books by Alain de Botton under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Alain de Botton was born in Switzerland in 1969 and educated at Cambridge.

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© 2004-2010 the complete review

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