...this book is no life hack. Rather, in this fascinating psychological and social history, Storr reveals how biology and culture conspire to keep us striving for perfection, and the devastating toll that can take ... The book takes readers on a long and complicated journey through centuries of religion, literature and economics, but Storr navigates the material with remarkable clarity, frequently recapping and synthesizing. There are rare instances when the writing calls attention to itself, but overall, Storr’s portraits of individuals effectively illuminate complicated psychological concepts, and most are great fun to read.
Will Storr does not shoot fish in a barrel. He does something far more interesting. Rather than handwringing over this unedifying phenomenon, he places selfie-taking and social perfectionism exactly where they should be — in the context of the history of western individualism dating back 2,500 years ... Storr has done huge amounts of research for this book and the content is sometimes heavy, but he conveys it with a gifted lightness of touch that is wry and funny ... Selfie grows increasingly fascinating and shows why we should not be so hard on the selfie-taking generation.
Will Storr’s thoughtful and engaging book comes at the idea of the human self’s relationship with itself from many angles ... Storr is sympathetic...but it’s worth pointing out that the suggestion that an entire new generation of young people is selfish in unprecedented ways is the kind of thing that the grumpy middle-aged have been saying since time immemorial. And recently, quite a few of the young seem to have found time away from selfie-taking to vote for decidedly anti-neoliberal policies. So, although Storr’s cultural history is fascinating and often persuasive, his diagnosis of where we are now might well be too pessimistic.
Despite the digital wink of the title, this is a story that arrives at Silicon Valley only in its second to last chapter. As he sets out to reverse engineer that ridiculous face I make into my phone, he finds it to be the result of a long historical process. It is 2,500 years of culture layered on top of biology that have determined this need to selfie. Aristotle, Jesus, Freud, Ayn Rand and the Esalen Institute are to blame—much more than Steve Jobs ... Storr wants to tell a clean story. His claims can, as a result, often feel overblown. It’s just as reductionist to state that individualism can be traced back to the craggy geography of Greece or that the notion of self-esteem originated from wacky happenings at an institute sitting on the cliffs of Big Sur as it is to blame Facebook for a chronic lack of empathy in young people. His historical tour is pretty loosey goosey, skipping over, for example, the Enlightenment, the scientific and industrial revolutions, the rise of democracy, and, yes, the impact of technology on communication from the telegraph until today. All this too helped chisel the contours of the modern self. But for Storr the story comes down to a few cherry-picked facts from biology, culture and economics. It seems possible to say on every page, 'yes, but' ... Until Google or Amazon invents an app for solving the problem of mortality, I think we’ll all remain humbled enough.
He ably synthesizes centuries of attitudes and beliefs about selfhood, primarily in western thought, from Aristotle, John Calvin and Freud, to Sartre, Ayn Rand and Steve Jobs. His straightforward prose and personal anecdotes make all of it eminently digestible ... So who are we, after all? Storr can cut through the swirl of intellectual theorizing and cultural pressures in one sentence ... If Storr can rattle on a bit, as he does in covering the rise of the self-esteem movement, his chronicle generally is crisp and compelling.
If this sounds like an ambitious argument, it is. Storr is sweeping rather than rigorous, apt to follow his enthusiasms where they lead. His analysis of the Esalen Institute is interesting but takes up nearly a third of the book; the section on Freud, by contrast, seems rather token and might have been shorter still. When we reach the digital self, however, it is worth the wait. Storr is an electrifying analyst of internet culture, documenting the rise of connectivity in prose that crackles with the energy of the early 21st century.
If we are suffering from self-obsession, should we really feed the disease by poring over another book about ourselves? Well, perhaps just one more. Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us, by Will Storr, a British reporter and novelist, is an intriguing odyssey of self-discovery ... Storr’s side of the conversations he recounts tends to be blunt, inquisitive and peppered with salty British swearing. One comes to like him, even if he does not often like himself ... Nowhere in his account of Western ideas of the self does he mention Rousseau. This is quite an omission, since Rousseau was not only the first thinker to examine self-esteem in depth but also ended up with conclusions that are similar to Storr’s.
Storr is nothing if not open-minded, but he does little to defend this latest form of self-focus from the dogged assertions that life online, especially on social media, is hollow and often malignant. Just the same, the latest from the adroit, widely respected Storr will generate demand.
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.