Cover image for Envy : the seven deadly sins
Envy : the seven deadly sins
Epstein, Joseph, 1937-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
[New York] : New York Public Library ; Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxv, 109 pages : illustrations ; 19 cm
Reading Level:
1280 Lexile.
Subject Term:
Format :


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Item Holds
BF575.E65 E67 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Malice that cannot speak its name, cold-blooded but secret hostility, impotent desire, hidden rancor and spite--all cluster at the center of envy. Envy clouds thought, writes Joseph Epstein, clobbers generosity, precludes any hope of serenity, and ends in shriveling the heart. Of the sevendeadly sins, he concludes, only envy is no fun at all. Writing in a conversational, erudite, self-deprecating style that wears its learning lightly, Epstein takes us on a stimulating tour of the many faces of envy. He considers what great thinkers--such as John Rawls, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche--have written about envy; distinguishes betweenenvy, yearning, jealousy, resentment, and schadenfreude ("a hardy perennial in the weedy garden of sour emotions"); and catalogs the many things that are enviable, including wealth, beauty, power, talent, knowledge and wisdom, extraordinary good luck, and youth (or as the title of Epstein's chapteron youth has it, "The Young, God Damn Them"). He looks at resentment in academia, where envy is mixed with snobbery, stirred by impotence, and played out against a background of cosmic injustice; and he offers a brilliant reading of Othello as a play more driven by Iago's envy than Othello'sjealousy. He reveals that envy has a strong touch of malice behind it--the envious want to destroy the happiness of others. He suggests that envy of the astonishing success of Jews in Germany and Austria may have lurked behind the virulent anti-Semitism of the Nazis. As he proved in his best-selling Snobbery, Joseph Epstein has an unmatched ability to highlight our failings in a way that is thoughtful, provocative, and entertaining. If envy is no fun, Epstein's Envy is truly a joy to read.

Author Notes

Joseph Epstein is the author of fifteen books, including Snobbery: The American Version, which was a New York Times Best Seller and Notable Book for 2002. He has also written roughly four hundred essays, stories, reviews, and articles in such publications as The New Yorker, Harper's, TLS, New Republic, Commentary, New York Review of Books, New York Times Magazine, and others. He was the editor of The American Scholar for over twenty years and has taught at Northwestern University

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Seven writers have been invited to consider the seven deadly sins, and the results are being published in a promising series of small, cleverly illustrated, and, so far, scintillating volumes. Epstein's recent book on snobbery has met with great acclaim, making him uniquely suited to the task of analyzing envy, since snobbery is based on its cultivation, and, indeed, Epstein is a witty and thoughtful elucidator of this covert and poisonous state of mind. Of the seven sins, Epstein observes, envy is the most common and insidious and the least enjoyable. He discusses various types of envy, the differences between women's and men's envy, Freud's preoccupation with it, and worlds in which envy rages (the arts and academia may be the worst). Epstein confesses to his own struggles with envy over the course of his musings, which grow in gravitas as he moves beyond individuals to consider how envy between nations leads to war and how anti-Semitism can be interpreted as a particularly malignant manifestation of this deadly sin. Novelist and critic Prose brings her keen interest in our conflicted relationship with our bodies to her creatively, even voraciously researched and elegantly argued inquiry into the paradoxes of gluttony, a sin writ large on the body and, therefore, impossible to conceal. Prose notes that the term is rarely used now that overeating is viewed as a psychological and health problem rather than a crime against God. Equally conversant in religious and secular perspectives, Prose turns to theology and art to illuminate the curious history of a sin rooted in a behavior essential to survival. She traces the line between gourmandism and binging and ponders the increase in obesity in our consumer culture and the stigma of being overweight in a society that loves excess in everything but body size. Gluttons now sin against prevailing standards of beauty and health, and the punishment is living hell. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

The Oxford University Press/New York Public Library Seven Deadly Sins series, of which Envy is the first volume, comes hot on the heels of Penguin's successful Lives, which provocatively pairs celebrated subjects with well-known writers in compact and accessible biographies. Unfortunately, Envy is insubstantial and unambitious even for its modest size. While it might have a seemed a good idea to get Epstein, author of the uneven but amusing Snobbery: The American Version, to address the related sin of envy, he does not seem to have anything very provocative to say about it. Derived from a public lecture, Epstein's opening chapters give a decent if unenlightening overview, larded with enough quotations from such greats as Schopenhauer and Lord Chesterfield to maintain interest. Over the course of 14 chapters, some of a few hundred words each, clich? turns up often (Shakespeare is "that most universal of writers," and Othello is about Iago, it turns out), yet the book's airy charm and lightly worn learning might work as diverting, high-toned amusement if not for the one-dimensionality of some of the ideas that emerge. For Epstein's notion of envy is ultimately that of the moneyed and powerful, who characterize any challenge to their power as being based on envy. Marxism? Envy. Feminism? Envy. The academy? Envy and "hopelessly radical political views." This kind of rhetoric might go over in a country club or cigar lounge, but in the world of ideas to which it is presumably addressed, it reads more like an example of the eighth deadly sin: smugness. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The NYPL and Oxford University Press have joined forces to produce these two little volumes, which inaugurate a seven-volume series on the seven deadly sins that will be published serially through fall 2004. Measuring 5" 7", these handy little books will all be written by prominent writers and thinkers; the next five will be by Simon Blackburn (Lust), Wendy Wasserstein (Sloth), Robert A.F. Thurman (Anger), Phyllis Tickle (Greed), and Michael Eric Dyson (Pride). With the first two volumes, we see that envy is that secret "sin" behind everything from common jealousy to the bringing down of the World Trade Towers, while gluttony, that most visible of vices, afflicts at least that third of the American population considered overweight. Not unexpectedly, the writing is superb and memorable, with eminently quotable quotes to serve as daily reminders not to be envious or overindulge. Epstein (Snobbery: The American Version) argues convincingly that the "real wages of sin" for envy are not paying attention to our own abilities, while Prose (The Lives of Muses; Household Saints) illustrates the very real psychological and physical results of overeating, which range from poor self-esteem to death itself. Prose's writing is illustrated by 16 graphic works of art from Bosch to Breughel, showing gruesome examples of gluttony, while the text of Envy is accompanied by numerous cartoons (for how do you illustrate a mental sin?). With the insights gleaned from these volumes, perhaps readers will work toward changing our "culture of gluttons" and renewing the clarity of life that envy can block. Decidedly different from Ken Bazyn's recent The Seven Perennial Sins and Their Offspring, which originated as a series of sermons and has a decidedly religious tone, these Lilliputian volumes are highly recommended, especially for public libraries.-Gary P. Gillum, Brigham Young Univ., Provo, UT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Editor's Notep. xi
Prefacep. xv
Chapter 1 Not Jealousyp. 1
Chapter 2 Spotting the Enviousp. 9
Chapter 3 Secret Vicep. 17
Chapter 4 Is Beauty Friendless?p. 23
Chapter 5 The Glittering Prizesp. 29
Chapter 6 The Young, God Damn Themp. 37
Chapter 7 Knavery's Plain Facep. 45
Chapter 8 Under Capitalism Man Envies Man; Under Socialism, Vice Versap. 51