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This book is an analysis of how society has developed in the way it has done. The author argues - convincingly in my opinion - that if children are not brought up to understand the feelings and viewpoints of other people they will turn into adults who are only concerned for themselves. It is because generations of children have been brought up not to consider others and to always put themselves first that we have a society which is not interested in looking after the weakest and wants only individual satisfaction. I remember my own upbringing in the 1950s and 1960s where the worst sin I could commit was to be selfish and as a result I am prone to put others' needs before my own to my detriment at times.

Counter-intuitively, the author suggests that by not providing for all a growing infant's needs, and by not spending time interacting with their children parents are producing monsters. By having all its needs met a child learns to accept other people's feelings and needs. If a child is emotionally starved of attention in its formative years it will grow into a very needy adult who has no trust in its own needs being met.

I found the first few chapters a little heavy going - partly because I am not that interested in children. But the last half of the book is excellent. The author analyses politicians both in the UK and the US and shows how their known upbringing has influenced their political styles and policies. She shows that both in America under George W Bush and in Britain under Tony Blair, Government changed to the leader making decisions aided by his particular cronies. She quotes figures for the UK of how rarely the Cabinet meets now compared with previous Governments. There are also chapters analysing how feminism influenced society in the 1970s and 1980s and made it possible for married women with children to work outside the home. Though she suggests the effects on children may have been as mixed as they have been on their parents.

The author does not presume to judge the changes in society - merely analyses them and shows their effects. I found it quire refreshing to read an author who neither praises nor condemns feminism. She traces the effect consumerism and capitalism have had on society and how they have influenced us all to the extent that material wellbeing is the most important thing in life for many people. She suggests we get the Government which reflects the sort of people we are. If we are selfish - the politicians will be selfish. But there are signs that things are changing - the emphasis on charitable efforts, ethical purchasing and green living - suggest that people are starting to look further than their own immediate interests.

I do think there needs to be a balance between putting others first to the extent that none of your own needs are met and the author herself does touch on this where she is discussing working mothers and their own intellectual needs. It will take time for society to change but the author suggests that things are changing and it will be interesting to see what happens after the looming General Election (May 6th 2010) in the UK and whether we get a Government with a different philosophy.

The book is well worth reading for the connections it makes between the upbringing of children and the future of society. It is well written in an easy accessible style with plenty of references in the notes to each chapter to follow up if you want further information, though there is no separate bibliography. There is also a comprehensive index.
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on 10 April 2010
I looked at the news today. Why do our politicians behave like overexcited schoolchildren during debates or baby-kissing automatons when on the election stump? How can bankers become so divorced from the rest of us that they still claim huge bonuses after the taxpayer has bailed them out? Despite the ever increasing funds poured into social welfare, why do we still talk about "Broken Britain" and lament the seemingly intractable social problems reported every day? Why do some disputes like the Palestine/Israel problem stubbornly resist international diplomatic efforts? It's clear that politicians of every hue don't have the answer; however, in my opinion, this book does give an important insight on this wide range of problems.

The old Jesuit saying is "Give me the child for the first seven years, and I'll give you the man" - the thesis of Sue Gerhardt's accomplished book goes one better, "Give me the infant for two years and I'll show you the man"! Drawing on her own experience as a psychotherapist (particularly in the setting of the Oxford Parent Infant Project that she co-founded), as well as cutting-edge neurological and psychological research, she builds a convincing case for how essential it is to meet the emotional and developmental needs of babies during the first two years of their life. In a clear and comprehensive manner that's accessible to all, she shows how even the very structure of the brain is modified during this phase of life depending on the infant's environment, in particular the behaviour, responsiveness and availability of its primary care giver (usually the mother). She goes on to show how these changes affect the way a child goes on to see and experience the world and other people, and the terrible price paid by the individual and society in general for inadequate parenting. Her argument is then expanded to show how many of the `progressive' social changes of the recent decades (parents returning to work soon after their child's birth, the greater proportion of families where both parents have full-time jobs, the promotion of nurseries as a substitute for a parent's care, etc.) have had an increasingly negative impact on the emotional development of infants, which has contributed to (some might even say `explains') the issues outlined above - hence the book's title.

Sometimes this book makes for uncomfortable reading, because it asks of all of us what type of society we want - an increasingly individualistic one (remember Mrs Thatcher's "There's no such thing as society") or one established on emotional maturity based on real respect for the individual as shown by meeting their needs during the first two years of life. It looks at the inadequacies of parenting in all strata of society - not just `problem families'. It calls for a radical rethink of policies favoured by all political parties for supporting families - not just the provision of more nurseries, where parents can farm out their babies whilst they get on with their careers.

The issues raised in this book and their implications for society are so great that it is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of this book. I expect many will criticise it because it has a powerful message that many of us do not wish to hear and the solutions proposed involve us all in rethinking how we want our society to move forward and being prepared to make the changes. As we reach the limits of materialism in the West, where the main measure of national success is increasing GDP, this is a timely book that holds up a mirror to our behaviour and dares to suggest that there is another way.
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on 17 July 2011
This book will be very interesting for those into developmental psychology during the early years of childhood. However, those (like myself) who might buy the book expecting to find a wider coverage of the problems with society today, will likely be disappointed with it. The main thrust is that the quality of care and upbringing that a child receives in the first couple of years of life, largely determines whether their adult behaviour will be good (caring, empathic, sensitive to others, etc) or bad (selfish, materialistic, status-obsessed, etc). While I have great respect for the author's depth of knowledge in this field, I think that (a) there are many other influences that determine how an adult behaves, and (b) the adult's behaviour, outlook and values can change markedly over time in response to life experiences.

I would like to have seen a broader coverage of modern day selfish behaviour and how it might be addressed to improve our society. It would be rather depressing to conclude that our adult behaviour is so largely determined by the care we receive in the first two years of life, and I for one don't accept this is true. The book suggests that if we can improve the early years experience, then in 20 years time we will start to see a generation of well-adjusted, society-friendly adults emerging to make our society "better". While we should certainly do this, I think there are other ways we can try to influence the behaviour of those already beyond this age, and the book should have tried to cover this.

Still an interesting read, but perhaps the title should have reflected the main focus on early years child development.
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on 5 June 2010
Another insightful read from Sue Gerhardt. Yet again she draws attention to how our negative parenting, family breakdown and self centred lifestyle choices are having deleterious consequences for our children and the future of our planet. Please read and pass on to all you know, the world could benfit from the philosophy contained within.
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on 30 March 2011
In this book Gerhardt makes a powerful case for the connection between the quality of relationship in the first years of life and the patterns of excessive consumption that are causing so many problems in the western world and globally. She brings into relief many of the out-of-balance behaviours of our culture in a way that is extremely helpful. The author manages to be both academically rigorous and thoroughly readable. Sue Gerhardt is widely known in therapy circles but this book would be interesting reading for many people; I think it should be compulsory reading for policy makers.
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on 6 October 2011
The book looked promising when I spontaneously decided to buy it at an airport shop. Starting to read the book, my impression got even better, as I learn about Ayn Rand in the first chapter. Gerhardt is almost raising herself up to the scientific level of Ayn Rand ("this book is my attempt [...] to move into the opposite direction"), what left made me even more disappointed later on.

Let me begin with the good points. As an economist I know almost nothing about child psychology and learned some interesting and logical facts. The left-half-of-brain-right-half-of-brain way of writing is simplifying things a bit too much though (I hope, Gerhardt is not seriously thinking that way). The history of child raising is very interesting and I even like the examples of recent politicians.

Now let us get to the not so good points. Quite a hilarious chapter is "No more heroes anymore". It is about extreme views and moral judgements, people talking about the 'good' and the 'evil'. When I read the sentence "Ann Coulter, described by Sam Tanenhaus as the chain-smoking, hard-drinking, blonde pinup for the right" I thought, what a good example of polarised thinking that is! But, no, that Ann Coulter is the bad one, condemning others as described later on on that chapter. We democrats would never condemn other groups, as we do not have these kinds of psychological difficulties. Those republicans have that we-they attitude. We democrats have good explanations for our behaviours, like Obama, who wants to proof himself as a man. Republicans like George Bush just want to attack those who are weaker... and so on and so forth...

The parent is always "she", the baby "he" and, what I had not learned in five years of economics studies, the "homo economicus" is a man, well, even a cool man. The former is good to know, because so far I assumed, "homo" means "human" and the "homo economicus" is an abstraction that allows constructing economic theories. At the end of the book the parent can suddenly as well be the father, so in the last couple of pages, a parent is not the constant "she" anymore (anyway, with 10% of single parents being men, ignoring them does not do THAT much harm).

Let me try to keep my opinion about the political and economic section brief. Generally, Gerhardt provides a good research basis for her statements in the book. I did not find one single source about economics, though. The author makes suggestions for and even condemns measures in international politics without having looked into one single first year basics economics book. I refrain from going through the points, because I just cannot take them seriously. Sorry. The reference on the back of the book "The insightful chapters need to be read right now by everyone who is pregnant" (and no-one else) says it all.

Generally, it seems to me that Gerhardt wrote the book and never read through it before sending it to the publisher. There are so many little things not thought through or even wrong, that my reading flow was being interrupted every now and then. Seriously, Gerhardt, just put the book aside for two weeks, maybe buy the book "Economics for Dummies", then read your text again or let it even be read by an economist. The lack of effort in this book makes "The selfish society" a waste of money.
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on 28 August 2013
So many people put there own selfish needs before others (inc. before their own children), entitlement, selfish individualism, greed and conspicuous consumption - there must be some very damaged people out there!

Learn to be satisfied with what you have and not wanting more, more and more! Just be content, happy, grateful and not selfish!

This book goes into great detail about these problems in 21st living and makes you to stop to think...I am not going to be like that!
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on 17 December 2012
This book was an excellent follow on from Why Love Matters.
As a Community health worker this was an excellent thought provoking book, which enabled a lot of questions around why are we so selfish. Additionally throws into the mix moral dilemma too.

I am currently lending this book to a colleague, who no doubt will gain greatly from Sue Gerhardts work in research, particularly around the child.
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on 23 January 2011
excellent book
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on 19 May 2013
This is a wonderful book that highlights the problems our society and way of raising children faces. A must read for anyone!
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