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Considering the fine art of self-control.

  • Jul 9, 2011
"I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is the victory over self." Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

In the annals of human history the primary focus of most people was mere survival.  Out of sheer necessity human beings were hunter-gatherers who lived by hunting and collecting food.  They were essentially nomads who moved from place to place searching for sustenance.  All of this began to change dramatically about 10000 years ago with the introduction of agriculture.  The knowledge and skill of learning to care for the soil and growing crops advanced the development of human society, allowing clans and tribes to stay in one location generation after generation.  Indeed, mankind has evolved over the centuries to the point that in much of our modern world the problem of survival has been replaced by the nagging and perplexing problem of self-control.  This is a fascinating topic.  In this new book "We Have Met The Enemy: Self Control in an Age of Excess" author Daniel Akst explores the subject of self-control from a whole host of perspectives.  And as Aristotle so aptly pointed out more than 2000 years ago for human beings achieving a modicum of self-control is much easier said than done.

As Daniel Akst points out in "We Have Met The Enemy" "For most of us modern daily life is an on-going test of self-control. It's not that we have less willpower than we used to, but rather that modern life immerses us daily in a set of temptations far more evolved than we are".  That new Coca-Cola Freestyle machine immediately comes to mind.  As marketing and advertising techniques have become more and more sophisticated all of us are exposed to a plethora of offers, products and services that are proving to be increasingly difficult to resist.  Some of us indulge in too much food and drink while others buy more house than we can reasonably afford.  The incidence of gambling, alcoholism, overspending and a plethora of other addictions continues to rise in our society. Meanwhile, many of the traditional forces that encouraged some semblance of moderation such as close-knit families and organized religion have greatly diminished in influence.  So how does the average person cope?  Akst turns to the wisdom of philosophers, historians, scientists, economists, poets and writers for answers in his quest to discover that perfect balance between self-control and self-indulgence.  Akst also discusses those whom he opines exert too much self-control in their personal lives and what the ramifications of such excessive self restraint might be.  Being deeply steeped in the Catholic tradition I am probably one of those people with whom Akst might take issue. Catholicism places a lot of emphasis on self-mastery and although I am weak and prone to failure like everyone else I generally buy into to that position.  Having said that, I had never given a whole lot of thought or consideration to Akst's contention that too much self-control can also be debilitating.  Daniel Akst has little use for religion and although I do not entirely agree with some of his conclusions I found his viewpoint on these matters to be enlightening nonetheless.

I commend Daniel Akst for taking on such an important and far-reaching topic as self-control. Lord knows this is an issue that all of us need to contemplate and figure out.  I knew that I wanted to read "We have Met The Enemy: Self Control in an Age of Excess" the moment I heard about it. I found this book to be very well researched and generally well-written although  I must admit that Akst lost me from time to time when the discussion focused on philosophical issues.  Still this is a book well worth your time and consideration.  Recommended.
Considering the fine art of self-control. Considering the fine art of self-control. Considering the fine art of self-control. Considering the fine art of self-control.

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July 12, 2011
Excellent review as always, Paul. Sounds like a read we could all learn something from. Nicely written!
July 12, 2011
Sounds like a great read--thanks for sharing!
July 12, 2011
I think I'm going to have to read this one! I definitely need a good lesson in self-control from time to time. Thanks for sharing, great review :)
July 11, 2011
Sounds like an interesting book and all very good points, Paul. Also, I love that Aristotle quote. Thank you for sharing.
July 11, 2011
We have to do all of the above on a national level to reduce the national debt to manageable levels for our generation and future ones.
About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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About this book


A witty and wide-ranging investigation of the central problem of our time: how to save ourselves from what we want.

Freedom is dangerous. Half of all deaths in America come from overeating, smoking, drinking too much, failing to exercise and other deadly behaviors that we indulge against our own better judgment. Why are we on a campaign of slow- motion suicide? The simple answer is that self-control is tough-especially now, when more calories, sex and intoxicants are more readily and privately available than at any time in memory. Gambling, once against the law almost everywhere, is now legal and ubiquitous. Trying to work? If so, chances are you're also struggling to resist the siren call of the Internet-to say nothing of the snack machine.

But while temptations have multiplied like fast-food outlets in suburbia, crucial social constraints have eroded. Tradition, family, church and ideology have lost much of their capacity to circumscribe behavior, while financial limits, once a ready substitute for thrift, were swept away by surging affluence and the remarkable open-handedness of lenders (a confluence that recently ended in tears). The result is a world that puts more pressure than ever on the "self" in self-control, sorely testing the limits of human willpower.

How can we cope with our appetites in a landscape of such boundless temptation? We Have Met the Enemy is a brilliant and irreverent search for answers that delves into overeating, overspending, ...
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ISBN-10: 9781594202810
ISBN-13: 978-1594202810
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The
Date Published: January 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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