The Culture of Narcissism

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The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations is a book by the cultural historian Christopher Lasch (1932–1994), first published by W. W. Norton in January 1979.[1] It explores the roots and ramifications of the normalizing of pathological narcissism in 20th century American culture using psychological, cultural, artistic and historical synthesis.

For the mass market edition published in September of the same year,[1] Lasch won the 1980 U.S. National Book Award in the category Current Interest (paperback).[2][a]


The book proposes that since World War II, post-war America has produced a personality-type consistent with clinical definitions of "pathological narcissism." This pathology is not akin to everyday narcissism, a hedonistic egoism, but with clinical diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. For Lasch, "pathology represents a heightened version of normality."[3] He locates symptoms of this personality disorder in the radical political movements of the 1960s (such as the Weather Underground), as well as in the spiritual cults and movements of the 1970s, from est to Rolfing. Behaviors such as streaking, theatrical illusion in contemporary drama, and a fascination with oral sex are evidence of long-term personality disintegration.[4]

The book builds its thesis from Lasch's idiosyncratic political views and encyclopedic grasp of US social and economic history, the world of arts and letters, and clinical research and psychological theories on narcissistic personality disorder. As the utopian visions of the 1960s faded into the "personal growth" lifestyles of the 1970s, the chaos and excess of the former began to imprint itself on the public mind.


An early response to The Culture of Narcissism commented that Lasch had identified the outcomes in American society of the decline of the family over the previous century. The book quickly became a bestseller and a talking point, being further propelled to success after Lasch notably visited Camp David to advise President Carter for his "crisis of confidence" speech of 15 July 1979. Later editions[clarification needed] include a new afterword, "The Culture of Narcissism Revisited".

The book has been commonly misused by liberals and conservatives alike, who cited it for their own ideological agendas. Author Louis Menand wrote:

Lasch was not saying that things were better in the 1950s, as conservatives offended by countercultural permissiveness probably took him to be saying. He was not saying that things were better in the 1960s, as former activists disgusted by the 'me-ism' of the seventies are likely to have imagined. He was diagnosing a condition that he believed had originated in the nineteenth century.[4]

Lasch attempted to correct many of these misapprehensions with The Minimal Self in 1984.

Some editions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Award history there were dual awards for hardcover and paperback books in many categories. Most of the paperback award-winners were reprints, including this one, but its first edition was eligible only in the same award year.


  1. ^ a b The Culture of Narcissism at Barnes & Noble provides the specific dates January 28 (first) and September 21 (mass market paperback). Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  2. ^ "National Book Awards – 1980". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
    There was a "Contemporary" or "Current" award category from 1972 to 1980.
  3. ^ ???
  4. ^ a b Menand, 206
  • Menand, Louis. "American Studies." Farrar, Straus & Giroux: New York, 2002.