Cover image for Graceful simplicity : toward a philosophy and politics of simple living
Graceful simplicity : toward a philosophy and politics of simple living
Segal, Jerome M., 1943-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : H. Holt & Co., 1999.
Physical Description:
xvi, 263 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BJ1496 .S44 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Despite Our Economic Abundance, "the good life" has proved evasive. Millions of Americans long for a simpler life, with more time for friends and family, for reading a good book or taking a long walk in the woods. Instead our lives are frantic, hectic, and harried -- we live devoid of almost any element of graceful existence.

In Graceful Simplicity, Jerome M. Segal, philosopher, political activist, and former staff member of the House Budget Committee, expands and deepens the contemporary discourse on simple living. He articulates a particular conception of simple living -- one rooted in beauty, peace of mind, appreciativeness, and generosity of spirit. At the same time, he critiques much of the "simple living movement" for believing that we can achieve this as isolated individuals if only we freed ourselves from over consumption. Segal argues persuasively that we have created a society in which human needs can only be met successfully at high levels of income. Instead of individual renunciation, he calls for a politics of simplicity that would put the facilitation of simple living at the heart of our approach to social and economic policy.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Philosopher and political activist Segal argues for an "Alternative American Dream," where our lives are "materially modest but rich in other dimensions," including spirituality and social interaction. Living simpler, less-encumbered lives is the goal, but this is no easy task given our consumer culture. Yet Segal provides many pragmatic ways for us to decide between what we truly need and what we think we must have (the later ideas often brought to us via our television sets). Here he echoes Founding Father Ben Franklin, who also stressed the difference between our natural and artificial wants. On a national scale, Segal believes that changes in government policies could also simplify our lives. The tax code, for example, places a huge burden on many of us: either we spend hours on record keeping and much money on accountants, or we are punished with higher taxes. A thought-provoking critique of our culture. --Brian McCombie

Publisher's Weekly Review

Segal's thought-provoking and energizing manifesto is partly a call to live a balanced life unyoked from the never-ending pursuit of money, partly a homily against material greed and partly a utopian economic blueprint for reordering society. "Graceful simplicity," in his definition, not only means scaling back consumption and working less but also implies the cultivation of meaningful activity, aesthetic appreciation, bonds of family and friendship. Rather than continually berating Americans for overconsumption, Segal, a social philosopher and former staff member of the House Budget Committee, trots out facts and figures to prove that the cost of meeting basic economic needs‘food, housing, transportation, health care, education‘has risen dramatically in recent years. So, to make the good life a workable proposition, he advocates a "politics of simple living," an agenda with scattershot suggestions like the following: replace paid higher education with free colleges and universities (an objective readily within the nation's budget, he insists); phase in extra holidays so that workers get a three-day weekend every other week; create a federal "simple living tax credit" for people who cut back on expenses and couples who move away from the two full-time wage-earner model; revive public transportation and build cars to last indefinitely. Sprinkled with the wisdom of Aristotle, Benjamin Franklin, Thoreau, Quaker theorists and Enlightenment thinkers, Segal's assault on the assumption that "more is better" will hearten readers tempted to "downshift" out of the rat race. Agent, Bedford Book Works. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Segal (Agency and Alienation: A Theory of Human Presence, Rowman & Littlefield, 1991) advocates an approach to life centered on gratitude and human connection rather than possession and achievement. He evokes a compelling portrait of the rich possibilities of life with social resources committed to education, environmental beauty, and economic security for all. Unfortunately, he seems unfamiliar with theories of Weber and Marx suggesting that the complexity and demanding pace of American life are rooted in capitalism. He argues that well-run cities offer the best chance for a satisfying yet modest life, but he ignores the role of white flight in the decline of urban livability, lamenting the lack of urban "safe" neighborhoods and "good" schools without acknowledging these as racial codes. Segal's call for political change wanders through religious and philosophical territory without acknowledging Socialist states (e.g., Sweden) that have achieved some of these goals. The book ultimately falls short but might find an audience in larger public libraries.‘Paula Dempsey, DePaul Univ. Lib., Chicago (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.