Solo Lisa Reads: The Narcissism Epidemic

It's rare for me to find a non-fiction book this compelling, and rarer still for it to change my outlook. But that was exactly what happened when I picked up a copy of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. (Well, more truthfully, I started reading it at Chapters and couldn't stop raving about it to the boy, who later bought the book. He very graciously lent it to me.)

The Narcissism Epidemic argues that Americans have higher levels of self-esteem and self-love than ever before and are positively obsessed with themselves, never failing to proclaim how hot, fabulous, unique, and successful they are. But underneath it all, Americans are more isolated, in debt, and unhappy than ever. What began as a push to promote self-confidence and positive self-image by educators and parents alike has gone beyond that and is now promoting narcissism, with narcissistic personality traits on the rise in society. Although much of the evidence that Twenge and Campbell present is specific to the US, their observations and conclusions are probably applicable to Canada and many other individuals in societies with Western cultural norms.

The evidence compiled by the authors is broad in scope, covering pop culture phenomena and topics such as:
  • Web 2.0 and the rise of social media
  • Tabloids and the obsession with celebrities
  • Education curricula emphasizing uniqueness and individualism
  • Vanity
  • Easy credit and the resultant high levels of debt as overconfident narcissists buy things they can't afford
  • How narcissism operates as a negative force in the workplace
  • How narcissism affects relationships (hint: it's hard to have a relationship with someone who's in love with him/herself)
As a fashion blogger and social media user, I was particularly interested in Twenge and Campbell's discussions of vanity and Web 2.0. Unfortunately, much of their research centred on Facebook and MySpace; their coverage of blogging and narcissism only spanned two pages. The authors concede that a lot of wonderful topical blogs exist, but what do they think of the fashion blogging community, which has been criticized as narcissistic on many an occasion by non-fashion bloggers? I'd like their two cents on this topic, please.

Overall, The Narcissism Epidemic is a fascinating book and I highly recommend it if you want something more substantial to read this summer than a fluffy romance novel. The arguments are articulate and readable, and the evidence is well-presented with a touch of humour. But be forewarned: as soon as you finish reading it, you'll be tempted to examine your own behaviour as well as that of others for touches of narcissism.

P.S. Yes, I'm aware of how ironic it is to review a book about narcissism in a post with my name in the post title and on a blog named after me.


  1. Great review! Once I'm done with my summer classes, I'm going to have to make my way down to Chapters to pick up this and some chicklit. Have the fluffy, then the substantial.

  2. Great review - I'll have to add this to my reading list! I wonder though, what the opposite of narcissism is. The book talks about "Education curricula emphasizing uniqueness and individualism". Well, if that pertains to being narcissism, then the opposite of individualism is...uniformity. So the opposite of obsession with self is obsession with whole? Haha, just a thought.

    Fashion bloggers may perhaps just be responding to the knowledge that people respond well to cohesive brands and connect better to people. I see how it is easy to brush off the fact that fashion blogs are filled with people posting pictures of themselves as being self-centered, but maybe it is something else, or a mix.

    I'll have to read this for sure! Were there any points that you disagreed with in the book?

  3. Annching, according to Twenge and Campbell, the alternative is cultures that emphasize collectivist values and the family and taking care of one another as opposed to always being an individual, thinking about yourself, and standing out. The authors cite Asian and Latin American cultures as examples of the alternative. They also argue that by teaching kids to focus on their differences, educators are creating less empathetic individuals who can't relate to one another because they're unable to focus on the ways in which they're similar.

    I did disagree with one of the final chapters in which Twenge and Campbell argue that narcissism has spread beyond America into Asian cultures. They cite rising materialism in China as a prime example, but in my experience, there's always been an element of materialism in Chinese culture. There's an emphasis on status and showing face. During Chinese New Year, well-wishers say "Gong hay fat choy" to each other, thereby equating prosperity with happiness. It just strikes me as strange to say that materialistic values were exported from capitalist America to Communist China, when it's possible that materialistic values in China were just dormant under a particular political regime.

  4. i think i saw this book in a magazine and was def interested... i agree with the argument but i'm probably guilty of it at the same time.. though I don't facebook like a mad-woman.

  5. Ok, I might just have to give this book a read.. Perhaps after I finish reading Harry Potter.. *sigh* I read so slowly.

    Great review Lisa!

  6. Oh, I'll definitely have to read this. What a fascinating subject! I'd be guessing that this is something inherent to the more capitalistic countries, but the factors listed are intriguing. It also makes sense from the standpoint that at an early age we're now groomed to market ourselves so we're seen as more popular in school, then desirable in a work environment (or on a CV) and so forth. Thanks for the fab reivew!

  7. ooh very interesting! a lot of what they have to say seems very valid too. i'd say yes fashion can be a little narcisstic, but where would be its success without a bit of that? as long as people don't say it's shallow..

  8. I LOVE a good read that makes you think. I'm all over it! Thanks!

  9. Thanks so much for reviewing this book, Lisa! Cath and I have been curious about exactly this idea about narcissism. I wish they had more about blogging as well. It took us a while to get to the point of being okay with shooting photos of ourselves and thinking people might want to see them- actually I still feel weird/silly doing it. I certainly do feel a little too self-involved when I'm blogging... about myself. Thanks again, Lisa!

  10. i totally have been wanting to read this! i'm stoked to get to it now after your review!


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