It is possible for a book on narcissism in our culture to probe deeply and persuasively (witness Christopher Lasch's Culture of Narcissism), but this rambling essay by a psychiatrist lacks shape, scope, and definition--with the result that the thesis never takes root. Stern traces the childhood and adolescent developmental stages as a constant war between narcissistic dependence and the freedom to give love. He is harshly critical of today's parents and the adolescents they raised: overly dependent, self-preoccupied, terrified of failing--or even of being average at something. He is unforgiving toward such social forces as education--on the grounds that it nurtures intellectual achievement at the expense of teaching humanistic values--and the violence-abetting media: ""If power is a form of narcissistic prostitution, then the media is the world's best brothel for procuring it."" While some of the conclusions are palatable enough in a general way, they are often too lacking in specifics and too inclined to all-or-nothing bleakness to convince any but the pre-sold reader. Well-merited concern, sketchily applied.