Studying self-image from a variety of perspectives.
The idea of the self has long fascinated British novelist and journalist Storr (The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science, 2014), and he scrutinizes the topic through both historical and contemporary lenses. The author probes themes of identity and reputation in an anthropologically sound examination of the ancestral tribal brain and the inherent nature of humans to become preoccupied with perfectionism and outward perception. He traces ideas of self-imagery and cultural influence back to ancient Greece, contrasts Confucian and Aristotelian principles, and looks at the work of Ayn Rand. He intermingles these notions with a chronicle of his conversation with a brutish former club bouncer whose violently aggressive demeanor, according to psychologists, stems from low self-esteem issues. Some scientists argue for the significance of threatened masculinity and ego, which correlates to Storr’s introduction to the personal growth–focused Esalen Institute, whose main intent remains to improve attendees’ general self-esteem. The author’s immersion in the encounter groups at the facility’s “Big Yurt” provides a revealing look at the individualistic author himself. In another self-commentary, he equates his extra belly fat with a “moral transgression,” a failure to match the historically and culturally normative blueprint of what his body should resemble. Reflections on neoliberalism follow a discussion of his extended stay at Silicon Valley’s Rainbow Mansion tech commune, where a millennial narcissist obsessively takes hundreds of selfies daily, continually incentivized by social media’s virtual validation. The book is uncommonly structured into large segments with text that often glides into a stream-of-consciousness flow, featuring ideas and points of reference that correlate but sometimes seem haphazardly arranged. Nonetheless, Storr continually delivers rich insights, historically grounded conclusions, and more contemporary deliberations on his subject’s relevance to the Trump campaign and how to stay hopeful living in a me-first world.
Captivating, self-reflective research on our culture of rampant egocentricity.