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Pride: The Seven Deadly Sins [Hardcover]

Michael Eric Dyson

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Book Description

2 Mar 2006 The Seven Deadly Sins
"Pride goeth before destruction, a hoaughty spirit before a mighty fall." As the biblical fall of Satan suggests, pride as a defining symptom of self-preoccupation follows a paradoxical route at which end lies self-destruction. Dyson explores the fate of pride from Christian theology to the social responsibilities of self-regard and regard for the society as a whole. Pride is also vain glory, or the inordinate obsession with one's existence, body and intellect, which becomes the playground for human vanity. Dyson examines how pride, within black communities, becomes a necessary and ironic defense against a culture that at once formally rejected it in their vreligious beliefs but embraced it in their social realtions. As a result, blacks were ensconced, implicated, even embroiled, in the West's schizophrenic views of the deadly sin. Dyson will explore all these moments of pride, attempting to probe the contradictory facets of a vice that in some instances became a celebrated virtue, and a virtue among some cultures that ultimately became a vice.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA; 1st Edition edition (2 Mar 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195160924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195160925
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 13.5 x 18.2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 582,800 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'This is a great little book' (Ronald Segal, Spectator)

'short, muscular book' (Iain Finlayson, Times)

About the Author

Michael Eric Dyson is Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities, and Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies, at the University of Pennsylvania. An ordained Baptist minister, he is the author of twelve books, including the New York Times bestselling Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has theBlack Middle Class Lost Its Mind? and Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves, and Demons of Marvin Gaye, as well as Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur. He is a contributing editor at Christian Century.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Of all the deadly sins, pride is most likely to stir debate about whether it is a sin at all. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Astounding Lack of Critical Reflection 15 July 2006
By K. N. - Published on
I was drawn to the New York Public Library's series on the seven deadly sins for its stated aim of examining the ways in which faith, belief, ideology, and politics shape our contemporary world. I read this last book in the series first and was left bitterly disappointed.

Dyson pays lip service to the long and intriguing history of pride as a sin (pp. 7-26); in truth, he is a poor chronicler of the theological and philosophical roots of the notion of pride, or self-regard. It's tempting to suggest that Dyson composed this short chapter based on only a cursory reading of a handful of books that address the topic more substantively. His analysis of pride from Pope Gregory I to Stanley Hauerwas rings hollow and reads like a middle-school book report.

But the lack of "critical reflection" to which I refer in my review title stems from Dyson's mobilization of his own self-regard in the rest of this unfortunate book. Aside from the brief chapter mentioned above, Dyson offers blustering criticism of contemporary errata -- almost every example of which does not illuminate the complexities of pride as both concept and practice.

If anything, Dyson's examples shore up his own rhetorical self-worth and display an astounding lack of concern for broader social, political, and cultural views on pride. A chapter devoted to "Personal Pride" (pp. 27-42) is an insincere reflection on the ups and downs of Dyson's childhood and career, while his later discourses on versions of white and black pride are so simplistic (e.g., the KKK espouses a "bad" form of pride; Halle Berry's winning the Academy Award in 2002 evinces a "good" form of pride) as to insult the reader's intelligence. Finally, Dyson's profound ignorance of the posturing of his own critical voice is exemplified in two moments of particular resonance: when he defends himself against critics of his biography of Martin Luther King Jr. and, in a scene of unintended humor (for the reader) and false modesty (on Dyson's part), when he takes two black female students to task for being disruptive in a class he taught at the University of Pennsylvania.

These are just some of Dyson's prideful follies; the book as a whole replaces meaningful consideration of this purpoted "deadliest" of sins with Dyson's all-too-familiar -- indeed tiresome -- hobby horses and sound bytes. This book is about him, then, and I suppose to that extent it is a book about pride.

On a parting note, let me offer this retroactive disclaimer. As someone who identifies with progressive political and social causes, I am dismayed by a book like this because it displaces genuine critical reflection for brash but ultimately hollow showmanship. The series of which this book is a part offers up the possibility of doing some real *thinking* about important issues in our contemporary world. Progressive politics, in my view, should flow from the primary act of thought, reflection, critique -- whatever you want to call it. Dyson, although nominally a progressive, is in the business of repeating political ideologies that have become old hat. This book could have been written, and imagined, otherwise.
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pride: The Virtuous Vice 18 Feb 2006
By P.B. - Published on
Pride has often been viewed as being the worst of the seven sins, yet it is the only sin known to also be a virtue as well as a vice. The first part of this book looks at historical views of Pride, from Plato to Aquinas, who clearly labeled it as a terrible vice, to Aristotle, who not only did not condemn it but also encouraged it. The tone then shifts to racial pride, and the author's take on the damaging affects of identity politics and the negative influences of white pride upon black pride.

Though all that is probably a must for those interested in race issues, the gem of this book is the chapter on national pride (My Country, Right or Wrong?). In it, the author examines the differences between patriotism, a love of country and its values, and nationalism, an uncritical support of a country's national and international interests and affairs. He also brings to light religious extremism and the injustice of the American government upon its own people during times of war or crisis. I strongly urge anyone interested in issues of patriotism, racial prejudice, and the war on terrorism to read this chapter.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars You can't judge this book by its title (and that's not so good) 24 Feb 2008
By Kerry Walters - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The New York Public Library's series on the 7 deadly sins, which invites authors to reflect on the contemporary relevance and meaning of the 7 traditional deadlies, is an excellent idea. Unfortunately, the series is uneven, as exemplified by Michael Eric Dyson's rather self-indulgent volume on pride.

Dyson has made his name as an acute cultural critic and a commentator on the politics of identity. He's very good at what he does, and I've learned a good deal from reading his other books, especially Is Bill Cosby Right, Come Hell or High Water, and Debating Racism. I also think that his reflections on the politics of racial identity in this book are interesting. My problem is that they're misplaced. What Dyson has wound up doing is writing a book on the dynamics of black and white pride as defined by the American experience. What he's not done is write a book on pride as one of the 7 deadlies.

Apart from the opening chapter, in which Dyson provides a quick and sketchy rundown of pride from Aristotle to the contemporary theologian Stanley Hauerwas, and the concluding chapter, in which Dyson distinguishes between legitimate national pride and gung-ho, uncritical patriotism, his treatment focuses on what pride, self-esteem, and ethnic identity should mean to black Americans. In focusing this narrowly, Dyson necessarily moves away from pride as a moral vice to the social construct of black pride. Again, his discussion is interesting and worthwhile. But it leaves the reader with the sense that s/he's been taken in, given something quite different from what the book title and series title promised.
4.0 out of 5 stars Pride 14 Aug 2012
By Steven C. Thedford - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Michael Eric Dyson suggests in his book Pride that sin a virtuous value,
he agrees with Aristotle as he engages in long diatribes of Black and
White pride. His arguments are compelling, if you like Dyson you will be drawn into his views-cheering and pumping your fist into the air. I want to believe him; pride has helped African Americans on a path to equality in The United States and has provided moral paragons that America needed in the past. However, since the King years I have become incredulous of Dyson's claim that pride is a virtuous value. For example, in the 21 first century African Americans use "Black Pride" to obtain an allowance to stuff their personal piggy banks, even exploiting own exploiting their community in the process, which has lead them away GOD. This is the reason Thomas Aquinas preached that pride was a sin.
6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The evil sin that does good... 28 May 2006
By ewomack - Published on
Some deadly sins are better than others. Take gluttony. By definition it seethes with excess and over indulgence. And greed, with its inherently selfish motivations, carries no positive overtones whatsoever. How would one depict gluttony or greed in a positive light? Not easily. Twenty first century people, in line with their medieval ancestors, would probably still classify these behaviors as "sins" or at least as "darn bad things". But the other "sins" remain different, and people today would probably only call them "sins" when taken to extreme. Truly, too much anger, sloth, lust, or envy can result in behavior destructive to self and others. But in small quantities they can provide motivation to action or emotional release. Unlike gluttony or greed, each of these remaining sins can be depicted in a positive light when not taken to excess. Pride shares this characteristic. Fatuous overzealous pride makes for a rather unpleasant and potentially self-destructive person. But the right dose of pride can inspire and provide self-worth. Modern pride then swings more to the "less deadly" side of the deadly sin continuum.

Michael Eric Dyson thoroughly explores this "better" deadly sin in five short chapters. He draws on his direct experiences of both racial pride and what he has seen of overwrought nationalism. The former represents a potentially good form of pride (again, if not taken to extreme), the latter demonstrates pride's ugly side spilling over into myopic vanity. Dyson sees both forms at work in today's world.

The first chapter deals with pride from a historical perspective. Pride once held a notorious spot in the litany of sins. The Greeks, until Aristotle, termed it "hubris" and found it a menace. Much later, Pope Gregory I called it "the root of all evil" and Augustine and Aquinas held equally disparaging views. Pride kept people from God, so went the argument, and opened the door to other sins. Thus, humility became the state in which one fell into grace with the Lord by becoming truly subject (or subordinate). In great contrast to this long tradition, Aristotle held pride in some esteem. Dyson points out the Aristotelian notion of "the proud man... who thinks himself worthy of great things". But this proudness shouldn't stretch too far. Examples of overstretching in the forms of religious fundamentalism, nationalistic arrogance, power, and wealth get discussed.

Dyson then turns autobiographical as he discusses his experience with pride. He is proud of his reading and writing skills, and books helped strenghten his will in hard times. The writings of Melville, Dostoyevsky, Morrison, Solzhenitsyn, Ellison, Baldwin, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and countless others helped lead him to his position today of social critic and ordained Baptist Minister. So Dyson has had some very positive experiences with pride.

The next two chapters juxtapose white and black pride, in that "white pride is often the vice that makes black pride necessary." White pride, often taken for granted and infrequently up for discussion, can lead to self-loathing for blacks. Dyson quotes terms like "whitewishing" and "white water is wetter" as symptoms of white pride successfully squashing out black pride. Other signs include the long struggle between light and dark skinned blacks. Though historically the prejudice fell in favor of lighter skin, Dyson notes that today darker skin has come into vogue. He then discusses his conflicting emotions at the appointments of blacks high up in the Bush administration, feeling proud to have blacks so high up, but simultaneously feeling repulsed by their political views. He has some very nasty words in particular for Condoleezza Rice. With equal venom, he attacks what he calls the "black elite" (e.g., Jack and Jill and the Links), condemning their disdain for lower class blacks while attempting to better the interests of their own kind exclusively. The discussion ends on a happier note with the Oscar victory speeches of Halle Berry and Denzel Washington in 2002, and the rise of Kweisi Mfume (a US Congressman from Maryland now running for the Senate). One of the challenges going forward, Dyson claims, is to not allow white pride to distort or squelch black pride.

In the final chapter, Dyson deals with national pride. Here he attacks those that have disfigured a healthy love of country into narrow minded nationalism in post 911 America. A new form of PC, "Patriotic Correctness", has swept the nation following the fall of the twin towers. This chapter in particular deals with what Dyson sees as "pride gone bad".

This majority of this short book deals with pride mainly from a racial and political perspective. Dyson uses his own experiences of racism and nationalism to frame his arguments. Some of his observations and opinions may jar readers. In particular, supporters of the Bush administration may fulminate while reading the final chapter. But Dyson supports what he calls "critical patriotism", which he thinks needs to thrive for democracy to work. But sometimes relentless pride gets in the way and bats it down as heretical. His final chapter stands as a dire warning of what can happen when national pride runs amok. And it also demonstrates the dual nature of the prickly "sin" of pride. It has the strange power to make the healthy into a destructive force almost without notice.

"Pride" is thick with argument, stories, and criticism. Though not everyone will agree with Dyson's conclusions, he constructs an interesting ride through the subject of pride from certain perspectives. And though the discussion wanders and digresses in places, it always returns to its subject: that bizarre "sin" that no longer seems like a sin, pride.
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