on 30 August 2007
The only thing stopping me from giving this book 5 stars is its occasional complexity / impenetrability. The writing style can be hard going at times.
That said, a genuinely thought-provoking, complex and brilliant book. I found I had to try three times before I could finally get through it - something clearly clicked within me at some point, and the third time I approached it (feeling somewhat wary) I found it a relative breeze. Note 'relative'. I got through it in three days of unemployment with a pencil to hand, making pretty extensive notes. I found that I had to stop several times as it was getting a bit much.
However, there aren't that many books that have had me just sitting and thinking something over for ten minute stretches at a time. Digesting Beck's writing was one thing; pondering the consequences and ramifications of his theories of risk and reflexive modernisation was quite another. There was some stuff in there that left me astounded; with clear mental pictures that I would find it hard to translate into words. One example that had me thinking for some time - Marxist inequality and Marxist concepts in a post-industrial, classless society. How can the inequalities and differentiations within society remain alongside the divisions - how can Marxist theory still be broadly applicable - only in a world without class, without solidarity, without many of the precepts of classical Marxist thought.
I have come across Beck in one-line references time and time again in my chosen field of study (criminology). Nothing could prepare me for the scope and brilliance of this book. There is SO much in there about societal revolutions, individualism, expressive and reflexive directions that society is travelling in; though some of it is - admittedly - fairly impenetrable and written in painfully convoluted language.
Beck's portrayal and understanding of both present and future directions in society (bearing in mind that he was writing in 1986, translation 1992) is phenomenal. I would say this text is a definite worthwhile for anyone with an interest in sociology / late modernity / risk or, indeed, for anyone brave and interested enough to take it on. But again, that is predicated on the fact that what you'll get out of it will not necessarily come cheap. Put in the effort, and you'll get one heck of a payoff.
Genuinely one of the most thought-provoking pieces of conceptual thought that I've read in my adult life.