The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism

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Disappointing, because the book had such promise, such a killer first paragraph where she outlines the “new selfishness” in the various things a narcissistic millennial says about shutting down Peachtree Street in Atlanta for her sweet 16 birthday party, giggling as she suggests that ambulances can just wait to get to the hospital across the street. Great introductory sentences like how “it’s getting harder to remember if there was a time before being a manipulative, shallow, grandiose asshole was something to brag about…” Parallelling the millennial’s behavior with that of the Norwegian psychopath who killed 69 teenagers along with the wounded rants all the murderers post online before doing their deed, “as if a moment’s celebrity is worth any human life, even their own.” All the blogs and websites and articles and books are all pointing to the fact that “we live in a time so rampant with narcissisms, so flush with false selves masquerading as real selves so selfish that they feed on other selves, a time so full of contagious emptiness, that ours is a moment in history that is, more than any other, absolutely exceptional.” She skewers Karl Ove as well, “the literary establishment has read the first two volumes of a 3,500 page, six-part autobiographical novel about every mundane detail of the life of a sweet but anxious and self-absorbed Norwegian man.” The thing is, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is now so prevalent that it’s not a disorder, but “our culture exactly.”

Those were the good bits. Then comes a hundred pages of humdrum drawn out fleshing out that picture with cites from forums of sad websites for people just dumped by their narcissistic boyfriend, diving into Freud’s false thoughts on narcissism, details about the ultimate bad boyfriend–one of those pickup artists, even an interview with the Atlanta millennial who didn’t care about shutting down Peachtree. She lost me after the strong opening chapter with a wandering, rambling chapter “The Epidemic” where her main point, I think, was that our obsession with narcissism is more interesting than the actual epidemic itself. Seems like she saw this bandwagon, jumped on it, and rolled around in the hay a bit before emerging with bits in her hair and with us readers a bit more bewildered than before.