ESCAPING THE SELF

ALCOHOLISM, SPIRITUALITY, MASOCHISM, AND OTHER FLIGHTS FROM THE BURDEN OF SELFHOOD

A perceptive study of modern culture's overriding fascination with the self and identity. Baumeister (Psychology/Case Western Reserve Univ.) states that the history of the self in Western culture began by equating it simply with the physical body; the self has now grown to be regarded as vast, unique, important—containing personality traits, the wellsprings of creativity, the keys to personal fulfillment, and the solution to life's dilemmas (all of which is absurd to cultures that don't share our zealous faith in the inner self). The more inflated this self, Baumeister argues, the more burdensome it becomes: In the wake of calamity, or to escape its demands, people flee from it. For example, says Baumeister, bulimics, painfully preoccupied with themselves and the way they look to others, go on binges to escape their tyrannical self- images. During a binge, meaningful thought is abandoned for a narrow focus on immediate sensations; the troubled self disappears from awareness by becoming preoccupied with one cookie after another. In masochism—most common among successful, individualistic people at the top of the socioeconomic hierarchy- -the competent, virtuous, energetic, and decisive selves these people maintain are gratefully relinquished by submission to the master. And, through pain, the self is reduced to the body, and the world is shrunk to one's immediate surroundings. Baumeister notes that the cult of self-esteem—which has so raised people's expectations and obligations (looking better, making love better, success at work, play, dieting and saying clever things)—will be dangerous in the long run as they try, through aberrant behaviors, to escape this self-imposed despotism. And perhaps self-esteem in itself is not always desirable. ``Weren't self- importance and overconfidence two of the factors that embroiled the US in Vietnam?'' Baumeister asks. Well written in nontechnical language; unique and persuasive.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 1991

ISBN: 0-465-02053-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1991

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A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.

HALLUCINATIONS

Acclaimed British neurologist Sacks (Neurology and Psychiatry/Columbia Univ.; The Mind’s Eye, 2010, etc.) delves into the many different sorts of hallucinations that can be generated by the human mind.

The author assembles a wide range of case studies in hallucinations—seeing, hearing or otherwise perceiving things that aren’t there—and the varying brain quirks and disorders that cause them in patients who are otherwise mentally healthy. In each case, he presents a fascinating condition and then expounds on the neurological causes at work, drawing from his own work as a neurologist, as well as other case studies, letters from patients and even historical records and literature. For example, he tells the story of an elderly blind woman who “saw” strange people and animals in her room, caused by Charles Bonnet Syndrome, a condition in with the parts of the brain responsible for vision draw on memories instead of visual perceptions. In another chapter, Sacks recalls his own experimentation with drugs, describing his auditory hallucinations. He believed he heard his neighbors drop by for breakfast, and he cooked for them, “put their ham and eggs on a tray, walked into the living room—and found it completely empty.” He also tells of hallucinations in people who have undergone prolonged sensory deprivation and in those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, migraines, epilepsy and narcolepsy, among other conditions. Although this collection of disorders feels somewhat formulaic, it’s a formula that has served Sacks well in several previous books (especially his 1985 bestseller The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), and it’s still effective—largely because Sacks never turns exploitative, instead sketching out each illness with compassion and thoughtful prose.

A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95724-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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The book would have benefited from a tighter structure, but it’s inspiring and relatable for readers with depression.

THE HILARIOUS WORLD OF DEPRESSION

The creator and host of the titular podcast recounts his lifelong struggles with depression.

With the increasing success of his podcast, Moe, a longtime radio personality and author whose books include The Deleted E-Mails of Hillary Clinton: A Parody (2015), was encouraged to open up further about his own battles with depression and delve deeper into characteristics of the disease itself. Moe writes about how he has struggled with depression throughout his life, and he recounts similar experiences from the various people he has interviewed in the past, many of whom are high-profile entertainers and writers—e.g. Dick Cavett and Andy Richter, novelist John Green. The narrative unfolds in a fairly linear fashion, and the author relates his family’s long history with depression and substance abuse. His father was an alcoholic, and one of his brothers was a drug addict. Moe tracks how he came to recognize his own signs of depression while in middle school, as he experienced the travails of OCD and social anxiety. These early chapters alternate with brief thematic “According to THWoD” sections that expand on his experiences, providing relevant anecdotal stories from some of his podcast guests. In this early section of the book, the author sometimes rambles. Though his experiences as an adolescent are accessible, he provides too many long examples, overstating his message, and some of the humor feels forced. What may sound naturally breezy in his podcast interviews doesn’t always strike the same note on the written page. The narrative gains considerable momentum when Moe shifts into his adult years and the challenges of balancing family and career while also confronting the devastating loss of his brother from suicide. As he grieved, he writes, his depression caused him to experience “a salad of regret, anger, confusion, and horror.” Here, the author focuses more attention on the origins and evolution of his series, stories that prove compelling as well.

The book would have benefited from a tighter structure, but it’s inspiring and relatable for readers with depression.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20928-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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