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
- 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)
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.