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659 of 667 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The no-answer answer
At one point in this book Michael Foley laments his own tendency to buy books and CDs in pursuit of some transcendental experience - the books are going to give him arcane knowledge and explain the meaning of it all. Of course, they stay on the shelf, eventually becoming a source of guilt and stress. This is ironic, because The Age of Absurdity comes as close as anyone...
Published on 11 Feb 2010 by modern life is rubbish

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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Penetrating insights or Grumpy old man?
This is a well written book with some interesting ideas. Foley's premise is that modern lifestyles militate against happiness. The examples of absurdity quoted are a bit cliché and one wonders if that's because there aren't that many of them and that they are therefore not as typical as detractors like to imagine. Foley seems to be saying that because some work...
Published on 2 Aug 2010 by C. E. Carter


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659 of 667 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The no-answer answer, 11 Feb 2010
This review is from: The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy (Paperback)
At one point in this book Michael Foley laments his own tendency to buy books and CDs in pursuit of some transcendental experience - the books are going to give him arcane knowledge and explain the meaning of it all. Of course, they stay on the shelf, eventually becoming a source of guilt and stress. This is ironic, because The Age of Absurdity comes as close as anyone ever will to giving you arcane knowledge and explaining the meaning of it all.

I'm simplifying a complex and detailed argument here. But, in brief, Foley argues (or at least I take him to be arguing) that the modern world has placed two major barriers in the path of happiness - the `culture of entitlement' and the worship of potential. (NB: Foley breaks down the analysis into more categories, but I think there's good reason for thinking that these are the main issues). The culture of entitlement is so much part of the zeitgeist that we can hardly see it anymore - it drives the talentless to obsessively seek fame, spawns a million `self esteem' workshops, and ensures that every thug knows his rights without considering that he even has responsibilities. (And if you think it's just thugs, ask yourself when you last concluded a whinge by observing that `someone' - some unnameable `they' - should do something about it). But it also means that when the world fails to notice our talents or respect our rights - which, let's face it, is most of the time - we feel hard done by. We are all poisoning our lives with a terminal feeling of injustice; all have a chip on our shoulder big enough to overbalance us.

The worship of potential is what causes dowdy frumps to face humiliation on TV for the sake of a swift makeover, hi-tech firms to lay off anyone who looks over 40, middle-aged dads to dress as their toddlers (all bright artificial fibres with toggles on), everyone to love travel even if they have no idea where they want to go, and society in general to become dumbed-down and infantalised (don't want to grow up? Don't bother! Why should you?). It also leaves people with a constant sense that they're missing something, that a better time is to be had elsewhere, so we're constantly on the look out for the next big thing - job, relationship, possession. And it discourages us from making the firm decisions which, in a way, define and develop our characters.

It's probably no coincidence that modern capitalism needs both these things - the worship of potential keeps us wanting the newest thing; the culture of entitlement (`because you're worth it!') makes us believe we deserve it, whether or not we have the money.

Many of our problems are the problems of abundance, so Foley draws extensively on the Stoics, (who were writing for a rich, decadent late-Roman audience with many of the same problems). He also makes considerable use of the existentialists, proto-existentialists like Schopenhauer, and Buddhist thought. Obviously it does no harm to have come across these thinkers already. But for anyone who hasn't he leads you in gently, so the lack of a philosophical background isn't too much of a handicap. Indeed, his prose throughout is clear and accessible (just as well for an age which eschews difficulty!)

Two things really make this book special. One is the incisiveness with which he analyses the modern condition. Time and time again, Foley hits the nail on the head - often to the point of being uncomfortable. I'd come to similar conclusions myself about some of the points he makes here, but I hadn't reasoned them through as thoroughly. So it was sobering to be continually confronted by descriptions of my own behaviour. There I was thinking that my problems were interesting and complex, and lo and behold they're everyone's problems. For a while it made me squirm, but actually it's quite reassuring.

Secondly, there are no glib answers. Yes, Foley makes some suggestions for how we might be happier - consider learning to meditate, allow yourself to daydream more, develop the Stoics' mental habit of accepting whatever life throws at you and asking yourself how you might turn it to your advantage in one way or another. But the main answer is that there is no `answer' - we make our own deals with life. The best thing we can do is come to a clear understanding of just what the main issues are - and that's what philosophy (and this book) can help us with.

But then, you've watched Monty Python, so you already knew that.
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99 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, 24 Feb 2010
By 
A. Johnston (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy (Paperback)
Foley writes lucidly and with much thought on some of the deeper issues facing western (and potentially other) societies, touching on areas such as the impact of advertising, the role of drugs companies in creating new "disorders", and lack of personal responsibility. There are no easy answers, but he does come up with suggestions that can help embrace the absurdity of modern life and use it to your advantage.

Not a self help book, but a mix of social commentary, philosophy, life coaching and other things. It has a serious purpose (or does it?), but uses brevity and wit to get it's point across.

This is the first book by Foley that I've read but it definitely won't be the last!
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68 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the wisest and funniest books I have ever read, 19 Mar 2010
By 
Fr. Chambers (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy (Paperback)
This is a very rare book that combines great insight into the modern human condition with incisive and illuminating wit. It draws upon on a wealth of writings from the great historical thinkers to modern day novelists and is delivered in a superbly engaging way. If you aren't that interested in philosophy you should read this becase it's just a very good read. If you are interested in philosophy don't be put off by this book's 'accessibility' because it takes a very well argued and challenging position on modern life. I think I may now have told everyone I know to read this book so for the first time in a long time I am encouraging strangers to do the same by wrting on Amazon!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For added confirmation - it's very refreshing and good!, 28 Mar 2010
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This review is from: The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy (Paperback)
There are some excellent reviews on here, so I won't rewrite some already well made points. I just want to express my personal gratitude to 'Mike' for providing a sane voice and conceptual framework for understanding the absurdity of much modern life. I found myself nodding sagely on many pages and thanking God/common sense that there are others out there, who can think 'out of the box' and not be completely sucked in by the outrageous conformity of the modern world.

In order to justify this as a review, I offer a few words on the book: It's very well written, with reference to a wide variety of sources ranging from Buddha and Jesus to Marx and Freud. It's split up into clear chapters with each one being dealt with comprehensively. The writing is lively and amusing. And to be frank, if you've arrived at this page because 'The Age of Absurdity' rings a bell, then you're going to like and appreciate this book. A little effort may be required, but the journey will be worth the effort!
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 13 Mar 2010
By 
S. C. Collins (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy (Paperback)
A thoroughly enjoyable, thought provoking and amusing book.

Foley weaves together philosophy, psychology, science, religion, popular culture and anecdotes from everyday life to explain the absurdity of the modern world.

The only problem with this book is it's going to make you want to go and read all the other books it references. And hopefully all those books won't end up on your shelf unread!

Ultimatley, Foley makes you realise you are not alone in pondering the absurdity of modern life, and points out that the answers are there, they always have been; though don't confuse simple with easy.

Oh, and I picked this book off the shelf initially because of the picture on the front. I guess marketing does have its uses - damn!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uncomfortable reading, excellent book, 19 Mar 2010
By 
Jordan Gerrard (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy (Paperback)
The other excellent reviews here don't require repetition.

This is a very fine book, like a (mainly) one sided conversation with a good friend. Foley says that is what a book should be, and he's right, and his book is an example. Some of what he writes is uncomfortable, but he recognises his own weakness in the face of the zeitgeist too. I've not stopped talking about this since I finished it - and (more importantly) not stopped thinking about it. There are no easy answers, but - to use a modern idea - it provides a context.

Really, really recommended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What lies beneath, 8 April 2010
This review is from: The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy (Paperback)
If the sign of a good book is that it leads you on to many other good books, then The Age of Absurdity wins hands down. I've decided to give Proust and James Joyce a second chance on the author's analysis of why they're important "What makes Proust & Joyce seem hard work is the absence of plot....the pleasure of plot is all expectation and sensation....so plot-driven novels have no residue of beauty." He then goes on to explain the payoff to reading Proust & Joyce - very insightful. The psychologist Barry Schwartz is another recommendation for his work on Choice. I particularly like Foley's observation that faced with a plethora of choice, we are "haunted by the missed opportunities of rejected alternatives" Snappy little summings-up like this stay in the head long after you've read them and are food for rumination (something he say's we're short of). Michael Foley is an astute social commentator able to pinpoint the idiosyncracies of the age in a couple of elegant sentences and then expand with originality on his view. I particularly liked his take on the failure of primary experience and the tyranny of screen life saying that we all become like the inhabitants of Plato's cave "shadowy creatures in a permanent gloom with true perfection online in the bright world on screen." He's also good on the academic studies he quotes from, the intriguingly entitled "The Relationship between television viewing in mid life and the development of Alzheimer's Disease" might be worth a second glance
So what did I find less good? - I think he has a particularly jaundiced view of the work place. And do we really need to know what Mrs Foley thought of the death of Princess Diana?
But overall, as a bracing assault on received wisdom I think it deserves 5 stars.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a wonderful book, 13 Aug 2010
By 
A. Brown (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy (Paperback)
For a good overview of the contents, I can't hope to do better than Mr. modern life is rubbish's review dated 11 Feb 2010 which currently has over 200 'helpful' votes. So, go read that.

I just wanted to add that this book has been really influential on me. I've now read it twice in succession - I've never before read a book twice in-a-row - and am sorely tempted to read it a third time. I'm also about to buy my third, fourth and fifth copies because I keep quoting from it, or referring to it, or thinking about parts of it, in conversations with friends. So a few of them are getting presents (again, not like me, cos I'm a bit of a scrooge).

There are arguments he makes which I find tenuous. But then, for an attempt at a grand unified theory of meaning, there's always going to be a few stretches to pull it all together. This book is so full of wisdom, I could've highlighted profound truths on every page (instead, I'm apparently trying to memorize them).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revel in the Absurd, 12 July 2010
By 
G. Ward "Sotto Voce" (You are here ->) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy (Paperback)
I can't say that I'm entirely sure what I've taken from Michael Foley's work, but what is clear that it has posed thought, challenged certain personal perceptions and, in some cases, pointed out the things that 'drive us' in life as needing to be given that very thought and challenged.

What this examines, is 'Society' (as we might describe it), cultures, mindsets and, yes, philosophies. I agree with others that Foley's knowledge, perception and writing skills are quite humbling; as he brings a certain clarity to what it a very complex, and difficult to 'pin' concepts.

The concepts (or chapters) of the books are all delicately found against quotes and references to numerous other great thinkers and it's refeshing to have these views (and his own) clearly marked out. His preferences and thoughts are clear, so the reader is empowered to do with this information, guidance or thoughts, as they will.

Rather refreshing to have something, what could be seen as so 'spanning', stay well away from being dogmatic.

It's a book that I would certainly recommend. I just hope that peole will put in the effort to read, think, absorb and then utilise as they see fit.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sit back and enjoy the absurdity, 30 Nov 2010
This review is from: The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy (Paperback)
I've just this minute finished Michale Foley's book The Age of Absurdity, which, among many other things, invites us to look upon absurdity as the new sublime.

While they are fresh in my mind, I thought I'd just remember out loud a few favourite Foleyisms.

Happy, shiny work people
Foley notes how employees increasingly have to present and develop themselves not as a person but as a brand. And the brand identity? "Bubbly and smiley". God help you if you don't want to "lighten up and have fun".

Hard wired for fatalism?
Foley references some impressive neuroscience to challenge the pervasive concept of the `hard-wired brain'. "Far from being fixed millions of years ago the individual brain constantly rewires itself throughout a lifetime in response to experience," says Foley. This newly discovered plasticity allows the creation of entirely new brain configurations through persistent, attentive activity of more or less any kind. It also renders less useful the excuse "I'm an arsehole because I was hardwired to be an arsehole. It's just the way I am". Your basic temperament may indeed be set at arsehole, but if you really work at it you have to potential to be just a mildly irritating individual.

Staying cool is such hard work
Foley: "...staying cool is hard work because the cool is constantly destroyed by mass adoption. It was cool to get a tattoo when tattoos were the insignia of the dangerous outlaw -- but soon even suburban housewives had tattoos on their bum". Unarguable.

Real-life just seems boring these days
Giant-size, miniature, plasma, touch -- the screen is omnipresent. Pin sharp, bright, highly edited -- it's making real-life seem boring. The increasingly frenetic rate of image change of our new screen lives is also putting our brains into a continuous state of psychological red alert. Brain and body simply can't recover equilibrium.

Foley shows that this growing addiction to passive, stimulus-driven entertainment means we struggle with anything static and slow moving. We're losing the capacity to concentrate. Read a book? Have a conversation? Focus on a single task? That's, like, sooo, linear.

The failure of the primary experience
If it wasn't photographed, or it didn't get videod, it never really happened. We live our lives through a lens, and then view it on our "shiny, twit machines" (thank you, Charlie Brooker for that one)

Micro evolution -- adapting for the workplace
To a greater or lesser extent we are all actors when we're at work. Foley laments that we become a "simplified persona" -- shallower, actorish versions of our true selves -- through a process of unconscious adaptions. These generally take mildly depressing forms. For example, Foley drinks cheap instant coffee at work and it's always tasted fine. At work. He knows if he drank it at home (where he always grinds beans to make fresh espresso) it would taste vile. At work, he concludes, "even my taste buds renounce complexity and depth".

Where did my vibrancy go?
As well as the "ceaseless acting" we do at work, says Foley, we also channel considerable energy into maintaining that bubbly, smiley persona. This is bloody hard work and everyone needs a break. Hence when you spot colleagues out of work -- in the lunch hour for example -- they often appear "shabby, diminished and furtive". They've gone "off the set" and the artificial vibrancy has been extinguished.

Lost the plot? There never was one.
Not infrequently I am reminded of my inability to follow a plot (of a film or book). This is viewed by my family as mildly comical or "a bit sad". But I've always maintained I'm just not that interested in plots, or narratives generally. And now, in Michael Foley, I have discovered a fellow traveller.

The pleasure of the plot is all expectation and sensation, says Foley -- but the "dénouement of the plot-driven novel is often implausible and disappointing. so the pleasure is illusory and short-lived". Novels that reproduce some of the texture and feeling of life are less likely to rely on plotting -- no need, real life has no plot -- but are more likely to provide richer satisfactions and live longer in the mind. Says Foley. And says me.

Needless to say The Age of Absurdity is determinedly and joyfyully plotless. Foley ranges around his subject -- contemporary cultural conditioning -- with unconstrained abandon. A contrarian on the loose, in the age of conformity as well absurdity.
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The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy
The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy by Michael Foley (Paperback - 4 Feb 2010)
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