Synopses & Reviews
Malice that cannot speak its name, cold-blooded but secret hostility, impotent desire, hidden rancor and spite--all cluster at the center of envy. Envy clouds thought, writes Joseph Epstein, clobbers generosity, precludes any hope of serenity, and ends in shriveling the heart. Of the seven deadly sins, he concludes, only envy is no fun at all.
Writing in a conversational, erudite, self-deprecating style that wears its learning lightly, Epstein takes us on a stimulating tour of the many faces of envy. He considers what great thinkers--such as John Rawls, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche--have written about envy; distinguishes between envy, yearning, jealousy, resentment, and schadenfreude ("a hardy perennial in the weedy garden of sour emotions"); and catalogs the many things that are enviable, including wealth, beauty, power, talent, knowledge and wisdom, extraordinary good luck, and youth (or as the title of Epstein's chapter on youth has it, "The Young, God Damn Them"). He looks at resentment in academia, where envy is mixed with snobbery, stirred by impotence, and played out against a background of cosmic injustice; and he offers a brilliant reading of Othello as a play more driven by Iago's envy than Othello's jealousy. He reveals that envy has a strong touch of malice behind it--the envious want to destroy the happiness of others. He suggests that envy of the astonishing success of Jews in Germany and Austria may have lurked behind the virulent anti-Semitism of the Nazis.
As he proved in his best-selling Snobbery, Joseph Epstein has an unmatched ability to highlight our failings in a way that is thoughtful, provocative, and entertaining. If envy is no fun, Epstein's Envy is truly a joy to read.
"Whimsically packaged exminations of Lust by Simon Blackburn, Gluttony by Francine Prsoe, Envy by Joseph Epstein, Anger by Robert Thurman, Greed by Phyllis Tickle, Sloth by Wendy Wasserstein and Pride by Michael Eric Dyson become playgrounds for cultural reflection by authors and playwrights in Oxford's Seven Deadly Sins series."--Publishers Weekly (on the series)
"Diverting, high-toned amusement."--Publishers Weekly
"Epstein wields a nimble pen in this consideration of the 'most pervasive' mortal sin.... Though experiencing envy may be 'no fun at all,' under Epstein's guidance, this sin is pretty entertaining to contemplate in all its fine permutations.... Strangely comforting in its reassurance that the reader is not alone in being a petty SOB."--Kirkus Reviews
"Joseph Epstein has earned his reputation as one of our most respected men of letters through his mastery of the essay.... With Envy, we are back in familiar Epstein territory.... Delightful...entertaining and provocative."--Chicago Sun-Times
"Eternally fascinating to saint, sinner and everyone occupying the vast expanse between those two poles...penetrating and perspicacious.... Epstein's tone is as attractive as his judgment and analysis are sound."--San Francisco Chronicle
"Will win new readers for one of the most entertaining of contemporary writers.... Epstein cites an impressive range of authorities, from Aristotle to Gore Vidal ('Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies,' Vidal once wrote). Yet the real vim of the book comes from Esptein's honest search for envy close to home."--National Post
"A stimulating tour of the killjoy sin of envy."--Books and Culture
"Epstein explores this vice with candor and clarity...Though this book is compact and can easily be read in one sitting, it feels exhaustive. It delves into tortuous malebolge--resentment, schadenfreude, envy of youth, anti-Semitism, Marxism and so on--and examines how they are rooted in or fueled by envy.... The book's virtue lies less in explaining the vice than in warning of its danger. The reader who expects a smug, winking skepticism will be disappointed. Yes, Epstein has fun. (Each chapter comes with a New Yorker cartoon, but these wither in the heat of the author's wit. ) He is, nonetheless, deadly serious about a sin that 'tends to diminish all in whom it takes possession.' Epstein's writing is a rare alloy of sobriety, sophistication, and warm humor that--quite contrary to the spirit of his book--I wish I possessed."--National Review
"Epstein is a witty and thoughtful elucidator of this covert and poisonous state of mind."--Booklist
"Eptein deftly untangles jeolousy from envy, Othello from Iago, and Nietzsche from Schopenhauer while decoding an impressive universe of things enviable and revisiting the seeds of resentment that gave rise to anti-Semitism."--Elle
About the Author
is the author of eighteen books, including including Snobbery: The American Version
, which was a New York Times
Best Seller and Notable Book for 2002. His most recent books are Friendship, An Expose
and Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy is Genius
. He has also written roughly four hundred essays, stories, reviews, and articles in such publications as The New Yorker, Harper's, TLS, New Republic, Commentary, New York Review of Books, New York Times Magazine
, and others. He was the editor of The American Scholar
for over twenty years and has taught at Northwestern University.