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You're Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery [Hardcover]

Richard Stengel
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

5 Feb 2001
A history of flattery, showing it to be an art form well worth studying. Ranging from the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt, an outrageous form of physical self-flattery to the publication of "How To Win Friends and Influence People". It looks at flattery during the Renaissance and President Clinton on the opening day of his impeachment inquiry: "I trust the American people. They almost always get it right".

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd (5 Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684854910
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684854915
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.4 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,524,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This is a genial yet totally serious history of the timeless activity of flattery, defended here as often a victimless peccadillo that makes both the giver and receiver feel better - like telling a woman how much you like her new dress. Stengel argues that evolution has ultimately favoured sycophants because smooth talk trumps brute strength and it was our smaller, smarter ancestors who won the struggle over the big bruisers. As he drily notes: "This was the triumph of Woody Allen over Hulk Hogan." In Stengel's witty history, we are given examples of an ancient Egyptian peasant's shameless shmoozing of a judge some 4,000 years ago and flattery to be found between God and the Israelites in the Old Testament; also the romantic flattery of the medieval troubadours and much political flattery throughout the ages. A fine gift for St Valentine's Day - or at any other time!

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A little smug, but entertaining 7 Dec 2013
By William Cohen VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read this book in a week as part of my research to write a website on flattery. I enjoyed Stengel's supercilious comments about Dale Carnegie, author of How To Win Friends and Influence People. He's a sophisticated and stylish writer after all.

My view on business and political flattery is that it's part of the discipline of the job. Yes, it can be onerous and mechanical, but if you don't express gratitude and acknowledge people, you might be neglecting other bits of your business like providing a reliable service or answering your constituents' letters. Mrs Thatcher used to go into the kitchens and thank the staff after she had a meal. That punctilious discipline made her a great politician. There are plenty who don't bother, and they wonder why they don't get votes.

I regularly write to people in public life, usually expressing something positive. It's always interesting who replies and who doesn't.

Dale Carnegie has inspired the working practices of lots of good companies. They teach people to respect each other and be upbeat. What's the alternative? Condescension, unpleasantness, a strict class system?

There are lots of other suggestions for being good at flattery from Chesterfield, Castiglione, Benjamin Franklin. It makes for a colourful book.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Too-Brief History of Flattery 29 Jun 2000
By Fred A. Bernstein - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What can I say about Richard Stengel's book that this smart -- no, incandescent -- writer couldn't say better himself? And, while we're at it, wait'll you see how great he looks in the dust jacket photo! Like the lipstick-smeared derriere on the front cover, Stengel's book comes in two parts: first is a history of flattery. It moves from the Bible, which suddenly makes sense through Stengel's lens ("God begins to preach compassion and justice, and in order to flatter him, God's followers make those virtues the hallmark of three great religions"), through ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance -- all hotbeds of flattery -- before crossing the Atlantic, where Stengel's analysis is particularly astute. (He writes: "Flattery in America was seen as unmanly. You can't flatter the Marlboro Man, and he won't flatter you.") A Princeton-educated journalist (now managing editor of Time.com), Stengel surveys flattery in Hollywood, in Washington, and among the media elite (Sam Donaldson's obsequious letter to his journalistic quarry is a gem). Then Stengel switches from history to how-to, dispensing the kind of advice that makes the book seem cheap (and probably a tax deductible business expense to boot): Avoid seeming like you want something [who needs a job at Time.com, anyway?]; avoid giving the same kind of compliment to more than one person [but what will I tell Jay McInerny?]; be cool or neutral at the beginning and grow warmer and more complimentary over time [be honest -- do you think I mentioned the jacket photo too early?]. If there's one thing wrong with Stengel's history of flattery, it's that it's only 315 and 3/4 pages. It should have been 316 -- at least.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wry Panoramic Look of the Social Roles of Flattery 1 Nov 2000
By Donald Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Without intending to be too kind, the question this book really raises is who should read it. Some will love it while others will hate it. What will be your reaction?
Flattery is one of those subjects that most people cannot and do not want to take seriously. If you like a little humor with your social commentaries, you will enjoy this book.
If you want a how-to book on being a more successful flatterer, you will find some helpful hints towards the end of the book. But you will feel unrewarded by the histories of flattery, beginning with studies of chimpanzee behavior.
If you want to learn how to defend yourself against flattery's corrupting influences, there are useful ideas here and there. But you will probably still feel vulnerable in this regard ( . . . at least until someone praises you for avoiding being taken in by flattery . . . assuming the praise is genuine, and not just flattery).
If you want a guide for how to praise, rather than flatter, you will find some ideas here. But that's also not the book's purpose. You belong elsewhere to serve your purpose.
If you take a very reverent attitude towards the Old Testament, you may be offended by what the author has to say about God in that context. You should skip at least that chapter or perhaps the entire book. If you are an agnostic or an atheist, you should probably start there in chapter three.
If you have read widely on flattery (animal experiments about how "alpha" males are created, Machiavelli, Castiglione, Franklin, Bacon, Dale Carnegie, Chesterfield, and troubadour verse), you will find little new in this book except for the quips. Now, the quips are quite good, so you may like the book anyway. But be aware that about eighty percent of the book is providing such historical perspectives.
On the other hand, if you want to add to your repertoire of cocktail party stories, this book is excellent. You get humorous glimpses into the foibles and virtues of those who wrote about flattery, as well as their writing. Mr. Stengel is a witty story teller, who makes it all much more interesting than it really is. For example, anyone who likes Dale Carnegie books or courses should read about Mr. Carnegie's background as an unpopular young person and ineffective salesman.
There are many legitimate ways to attract attention from people that are different from flattery (in the sense of "false praise"). For example, you can simply be very attentive because you respect all other people. You can tell funny stories because you like to amuse. You can help people accomplish things they care about, because you like to make life better for others.
Whatever you do, be sure that you choose how you want to be sociable, however, rather than simply falling into the habits of flattery without thinking about what you are doing. The unconscious desire to please may take you along paths you don't really want to trod.
Have true friends and a meaningful life!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! 1 Oct 2000
By Ralph Adam Fine - Published on Amazon.com
Sam Rayburn was a towering Speaker of the United States House of Representatives in an era when the Speaker was king. His advice to new members of congress: If you want to get along, go along. This is Stengel's advice -- in spades! And he has the history to prove it.
But this is no more a self-help, climb-the-corporate-ladder book (although if you take his advice you will help your self and, perhaps, reach the top of the ladder) than was Alexander Pope's Essay on Man, which also was a guide through the shoals of life.
You're Too Kind is a witty, colorful, fast-paced trip through history -- the thread of flattery makes an engaging guide. This is a book you will enjoy from the first sentence to the last; and this is no mere flattery! :)
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid history, but an uphill read 23 Feb 2001
By KTS - Published on Amazon.com
YOU'RE TOO KIND covers all the bases of flattery, from its early origins in the Egyptian courts, to the modern conceptions we have today. Along the way, there are fascinating facts to be learned. And by the end, the reader will feel armed-and-dangerous with a myriad dinner-party-ready tidbits, as well as a solid understanding in the art of flattery (and, more importantly, how not to be detected).
The problem remains, this book just really doesn't know what it is. In many ways, it's a scholarly treatise, detailing the conventions of flattery through time, chock with allusion to historical text. But inevitably, it seems to be purposely injected with modern-day relativisms. Stengel writes in a casual, jocular manner, but inevitably, these comparisons denigrate his credibility as a scholar and end up distracting from the issues (is there ANY possible historical relevance to the movie "Titanic"??).
Despite the painstakingly detailed and incredibly interesting tracing of flattery through the ages, I still had to battle through the end of it. (And would that there were another word for flattery--that, in itself, made it all the more frustrating.)
Stengel's done some good work here. But the concept of the book is ultimately flawed.
NOTE TO BROWNNOSERS: skip to the epilogue for a condensed how-to on flattery.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Praise for the book! 16 Jun 2000
By Sandhya Rao - Published on Amazon.com
The book made for enjoyable reading. It was interesting as it is especially pertinent in a culture like the American culture which tries its hardest to bolster everyone's ego with feel-good messages. I think the truth is that we have got tired of hearing cliched congragulatory phrases and in an attempt to communicate something postive we try to outdo all the jaded postivisms out there by paying richer, heavier, and more meaningless compliments for things that are truly mundane.
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