Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Narcissism Epidemic Book Review by ChristineMM

The Narcissism Epidemic Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement
Authors: Jean M. Twenge PhD and W. Keith Campbell PhD
Genre: Nonfiction
Publication: Free Press, Simon and Schuster, 2009
ISBN: 978-1416575986
Full Retail Price: $26.00

My Star Rating: 3 stars out of 5: It’s Okay

Summary Statement: Liked the General Ideas but Some Exaggeration and Over-Simplification Led Me to Not Love It

I was interested in reading this book because I know things have changed about life in America and don’t always like what I see. As a forty-something mother of two, I see changes in both the way today’s children are spending their time and being parented as well as the differences between how adults are living compared to the way things were just twenty years ago. I hoped the authors would identify exactly what is different now, how and if this is tied to narcissism (something I’d never thought about), what can be done to reduce it to bring things back to a more balanced or healthy state.

The flow of the book is as follows: Section 1 explains what narcissism is, that it is on the rise, and why this is not good. It should be made clear the topic of the book is general narcissism not to qualify as a psychiatric diagnosis but a more mild form that is growing in non-mentally ill people. Part 2 Discusses root causes of the epidemic with detailed examples from American culture and a small amount of information on how we can combat it relating to that specific topic. Part 3 discusses symptoms of narcissistic people, how they think and act, and why this is hurtful to individuals they interact with and/or how they negatively affect our society as a whole. The two chapters of part four discuss general ways we should try as a society, to reduce the incidence of narcissism.

The authors were selective in their examples of narcissistic behavior, often citing something and picking only the parts that support it being negative while ignoring parts of that thing that do not indicate narcissism. While they did give numerous detailed examples from real life to indicate narcissistic behavior they seemed to me to sometimes over-exaggerate the reach. Yes, tabloids exist and sell but their existence doesn’t mean that everyone is reading them. To cite the rise in the number of blogs but to infer that blogs are all fluff and nonsense, self-promoting blather; it is just not true. Some older adults and educated people use blogs for deeper, more meaningful purposes. To focus on immature and sometimes damaging use of Facebook and MySpace and quote statistics from the numbers of users to imply that all users do that is misleading. Actually business marketing and promotion on Facebook is on the rise as is inter-generational family communication and photo sharing. Facebook is sometimes the entry for some senior citizen’s use of the Internet. These are just a few examples of how the authors take the worst, most severe examples of a thing and paint the entire thing or all the people who do that thing as ‘all bad’.

The authors have mastered the art of picking and choosing facts to make their point. In some parts ‘the rich’ were accused of using services or doing things that are too extreme when the reality is these same things are done by middle class families. I feel this is a bit dishonest. The margins of my book are filled with retorts and comments on what the authors didn’t share. To keep the word count on this review lower I’ll not list all the examples.

Additionally I resent the fact that the authors have tip-toed around hot button topics. In Part 1 they criticize teachers for their over-use of praise when it is not due, to have raised kids who feel they are superior students academically when they test poorly and produce shoddy school work. I felt in Part 2 there should have been an entire chapter dedicated to teachers and the public school system but there was not. In the last chapter the authors revisited curriculums to help teach empathy and to focus on similarities instead of differences. Worse, in discussing the entitlement mentality as well as over-spending, the authors do not discuss politics and the role model that the U.S. Government is to its citizens. Well, actually, twelve pages from the end they do address that and share that they decided not to discuss politics and government as it might “transform into a typical political debate”.

To sidestep those two big topics is a cop-out. These issues are actually out of an individual’s reach to change or fix (federal government and public schooling). Perhaps the goal was to focus on things that individuals can quickly and more directly control—because really to hold larger systems responsible yet to show we are largely powerless to affect change is quite depressing and dis-empowering, thus making this more a book about complaining about a problem we are unable to fix.

I felt let down by this book is because the authors were too simplistic in their ideas to combat narcissism. According to the authors narcissists are all around us. In my opinion we are nearly powerless to combat them. I don’t think the authors have given us enough tools to put them in their place.

One example of how to save oneself from being the victim of a narcissist, it is common sense to say to avoid getting into a romantic relationship with a narcissist, but their advice for those who have to work alongside a narcissist or whose boss is a narcissist is ridiculous. To say that eventually no one will want to work with the narcissist co-worker is not a true remedy for the narcissist. We are generally stuck with our co-workers unless they are fired or quit. In fact in some corporate team based environment’s managers and even the human resource department employees find fault in the non-narcissist employees, recommending if they were a better team player they’d be able to ‘make the team work’. I feel this is because the narcissist can be very difficult to challenge and no one wants to endure their wrath, or perhaps, they know they may get sued, while the normal-nice employee is easier to manipulate and be told to learn to work well with the narcissist. The authors are researchers and college professors who seem to not understand what it is like to work in the private sector.

The book was easy to read and is intended for laypeople to read (not academics or psychologists). If you are interested in this topic you may find it a fast, easy, interesting read. It is not a dry or boring book.

In a nutshell I felt the examples of narcissism were accurate but the authors were a bit disingenuous by exaggerating the worst parts of something or over-extending the reach of a thing. I feel the solutions to combat narcissism were over-simplified. Life is much more complex, this book tried to simplify things too much. This is why I rate the book 3 stars = It’s Okay rather than “I like it” or “I love it”.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program for the purpose of writing a book review to publish on the site. I did not get paid to write this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

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