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Walker Percy's mordantly funny and wholly original contribution to the self-help book craze deals with the Western mind's tendency toward heavy abstraction. This favorite of Percy fans continues to charm and beguile readers of all tastes and backgrounds. Lost in the Cosmos invites us to think about how we communicate with our world. Walker Percy's mordantly funny and wholly original contribution to the self-help book craze deals with the Western mind's tendency toward heavy abstraction. This favorite of Percy fans continues to charm and beguile readers of all tastes and backgrounds. Lost in the Cosmos invites us to think about how we communicate with our world.


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Walker Percy's mordantly funny and wholly original contribution to the self-help book craze deals with the Western mind's tendency toward heavy abstraction. This favorite of Percy fans continues to charm and beguile readers of all tastes and backgrounds. Lost in the Cosmos invites us to think about how we communicate with our world. Walker Percy's mordantly funny and wholly original contribution to the self-help book craze deals with the Western mind's tendency toward heavy abstraction. This favorite of Percy fans continues to charm and beguile readers of all tastes and backgrounds. Lost in the Cosmos invites us to think about how we communicate with our world.

30 review for Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    You have just finished Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos. You are prompted to give a brief review on the book. You describe the book as 1.) A unique and alternative way of storytelling, befitting roughly of your zeitgeist, with a tinge of satire and elbow ribbing, but ultimately a humorous book. Yes, it grapples with spiritual and metaphysical questions still unanswered in modern society, but it does not offer answers. Its primary function is to be funny, entertaining. 2.) It is a spiritually wh You have just finished Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos. You are prompted to give a brief review on the book. You describe the book as 1.) A unique and alternative way of storytelling, befitting roughly of your zeitgeist, with a tinge of satire and elbow ribbing, but ultimately a humorous book. Yes, it grapples with spiritual and metaphysical questions still unanswered in modern society, but it does not offer answers. Its primary function is to be funny, entertaining. 2.) It is a spiritually wholesome novel that must be taken seriously. It is an attack on the culture and the way we usually answer and grapple with questions. e.g. the ultimate shallowness of scientism, the fraudulence of self-help book genres and that the Self cannot ultimately help itself, the lack of understanding or even confronting of what the Self really is. This is a wakeup call and a dire one at that that has been largely ignored in the three decades even since its publication. 3.) It is a joke, but a joke in the most serious, Kafkaesque fashion. The joke ultimately being the reader itself and the book, much like the abyss, enjoying the last and everlasting laugh. Choose one A Robotics company out of Japan has just announced their launch of of new robotic dogs. The dogs are marketed and designed as companions, can be replicated to mimic any desirable pet (cat, dog, turtle &c) including hair, sounds, circadian cycles and even, to a degree movement of bodies. They are not service pets, they are meant to be companions. An ambitious and popular marketing campaign is launched to try and appeal to the American consumer. No one is as fondly attached to pets as Americans, the research says. For instance, a dogbot is marketed as saving money on food, flea treatment, and waste management. The dog still walks and "wants" to play catch, can sleep on your bed at night, lick your toes, in short, do all the idiosyncratic, enjoyable things that a dog does. Sales are not good. In fact they are bad, even though no one at the company wants to use that word. The robots are simply undesirable despite a popular TV commercial campaign. The following questionnaire is submitted to the company executives. Of the following which option do you believe is the best description as to why the product failed. 1.) People know first and foremost that they are not pets. They are copies, replicas. They are therefore not the "original" or "real" and people want "originals" and "real" things especially when most pets are fairly affordable and not expensive to maintain, even factoring in food. 2.) People actually prefer the trouble of a dog peeing, pooping, carrying fleas and chewing up shoes. Not just from an authenticity issue, but people actually prefer flawed things and beings in their life. Every person sees themselves as flawed and sees all others around them as flawed. A Self is not a Self without flaw, sin. 3.) We live in an age and culture that celebrates the concept of "real" even though our definition of this word is tenuous at best. Real depends on perception, but also on the preconception that "real"ness a.) exists and b.) should be celebrated. It is not the product's fault, but instead we should seek to change the culture and attitude. (Choose one). You are writing a review for Lost in the Cosmos. You read the book in one sitting and are enthusiastic about sharing it with others. However, your internet goes out just as you sit down to the computer to type your review. In fact, the television says that the Internet is down for the foreseeable future all over the world. Your goal was to write a review that mimicked the form of Lost in the Cosmos and you knew that the only people that would appreciate it were the people that had already read it; that is, the people in the know about the format and style you are mimicking. None of your friends in real life have ever read the book. In fact, most of your friends don't read recreationally. Perhaps with the Internet down people will begin to read more but you can't be sure. Therefore without the Internet your review becomes unsharable. Despite all this you write the review. Which of the following describes your feelings upon its completion? 1.) Disappointment. You can't share the review with anyone and the impetus of a review is that it shares criticism, thoughts, ideas about the book with another. Sharing is at least half of the nature of a review and without sharing it, it is not a review. 2.) Boredom. Overwhelmingly you miss the Internet. The review gave you something to do, but the Internet has engendered a What's Next syndrome in you in which you are always looking for the next thing to do. You are not really worried about the review itself so much as just being able to do something. 3.) Accomplishment. Despite the fact that no one is reading it besides yourself, you know that it is quite objectively a very good review, and you'd like to think that a good piece of work is good work and that whether or not people read it doesn't change the fact that what it is: a review, meaning the existence of an essence of sharing, the other essence present is that, at bare minimum, it is very good. You don't have anyone else to tell you it is good, you just know in a vague metaphysical way that it is. (Choose one)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    I have read and reread this book half a dozen times. No doubt that number will reach a dozen or more during the course of my lifetime. It is, first of all, absolutely hilarious: a subtler, non-narrative, written precursor to "I Heart Huckabees." Who are we? Why are we here? What is the problem of the Self and how do we resolve it? These questions are presented as both ridiculous and fundamental, a cause for laughter, sadness, and reflection. I remember wanting to cry and scream for joy when I fir I have read and reread this book half a dozen times. No doubt that number will reach a dozen or more during the course of my lifetime. It is, first of all, absolutely hilarious: a subtler, non-narrative, written precursor to "I Heart Huckabees." Who are we? Why are we here? What is the problem of the Self and how do we resolve it? These questions are presented as both ridiculous and fundamental, a cause for laughter, sadness, and reflection. I remember wanting to cry and scream for joy when I first read Percy's discussion of signs, the way we perceive our world, and our struggle to accurately situate ourselves in that world. Who has not felt lost in the cosmos? Who has not felt like they sit on a sliding scale that takes them from being the hero of an epic universal drama to the most insignificant asshole all of existence has ever seen? We do not have signs that sufficiently represent ourselves, so how can our human minds ever really understand who we are? What are the repercussions of all this for how we live our lives? There aren't any answers, but I love how this book lovingly jabs at those who ask the questions AS it answers the question "why do we ask questions?" It's all a little ludicrous and cerebral and frustrating, which is part of the point. Yet we're not supposed to ever stop asking. For me, this book has served as a framework for my worldview. Sometimes it makes my brain buzz with the desire to wrap itself around something I can never quite grasp, and sometimes it shoots me right back into myself with the awareness that, sign or no sign, I'm just what I am.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    Capsule Review: Don't Read Walker Percy. Ever. Longer Review: If somebody recommends this book (or any other of his books) to you, rest assured that that he will one day soon try to convince you that the Eagles really are rock n' roll. Afterwards, he will probably inflict some of his "poetry" on you. You know the kind of stuff I mean: four-line stanzas in ABAB that will inevitably rhyme the words "pain" with "insane," "soul" with "hole," "heart" with "apart," and "feel" with "unreal." Luckily, th Capsule Review: Don't Read Walker Percy. Ever. Longer Review: If somebody recommends this book (or any other of his books) to you, rest assured that that he will one day soon try to convince you that the Eagles really are rock n' roll. Afterwards, he will probably inflict some of his "poetry" on you. You know the kind of stuff I mean: four-line stanzas in ABAB that will inevitably rhyme the words "pain" with "insane," "soul" with "hole," "heart" with "apart," and "feel" with "unreal." Luckily, though, you will see this coming, and as soon as your friend/lover/spouse/relative/coworker/mutual or new acquaintance/etc. recommends this author to you, you can immediately make the decision forever to exclude him (or her) from your literary life. That's right: whenever he mentions some book he read, change the subject. Talk about the weather; fake a seizure, if necessary. For example, say your boss, Mr. When-I'm-in-My-Car-I-Rock-Out-to-The Best of Sting, has previously recommended to you a novel written by one Walker Percy (thus alerting you that all of his taste is in his mouth). Your boss then approaches you one morning and says, "Hey, Suzy, how are you? You know, I was rereading Anne Rice this weekend, and I thought of you, because, you know, you can read, and I thought you might enjoy it." At this point, casually announce that the sun has given you cancer and you no longer have time to read before you die. Watch him shut up. (And yes, I've posted the exact same review for all the Walker Percy books I've been unfortunate enough to read. Percy's works aren't worth more than one original review. Besides, if you've read one of his books, you've read them all.)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Simon Stegall

    The irony of the self-help genre is that its main function is to provide non-self-originating help those who can't help themselves. Or in rather kinder terms, to "help people who can't help themselves". It is ironic both in the name, "self-help", which is a typically attractive advertising inaccuracy, and in its goal, which is to help the self gain control over some area of its life, rather than help the self know itself in any meaningful way. Percy has written a book to help the self know that The irony of the self-help genre is that its main function is to provide non-self-originating help those who can't help themselves. Or in rather kinder terms, to "help people who can't help themselves". It is ironic both in the name, "self-help", which is a typically attractive advertising inaccuracy, and in its goal, which is to help the self gain control over some area of its life, rather than help the self know itself in any meaningful way. Percy has written a book to help the self know that it doesn't know itself. How will Lost In The Cosmos teach you about yourself? By showing you how to ask the right questions, and teaching you how to see the "self" for what it is. What is the self? Read the book and arrive at your own conclusion. Percy shows us how to think rightly about oneself. This is why the book is so valuable and so superlative compared to the rest of the self-help genre. After reading Lost in the Cosmos, one does not have a desire to read any more self-help; one just wants to get on with being a self. This is a book that allows you to move on to deeper topics like philosophy rather than, like dieting books, perpetuating itself through maddening impotency. That us why the book is subtitled "The Last Self-Help Book." I give 5 stars and permanent respect to Percy for this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Alex Stroshine

    I really wanted to like this book. The first few pages pulled me in and I thought I had stumbled upon what was sure to become one of my favourite reads. Alas, this book was mind-boggling and infuriating and I don't have the patience or desire to appreciate this book. I did not answer any of the questions that Percy offers (mostly because as I read through the possible answers my own answer seemed obvious). Percy writes very academically, with a strong grasp of science, psychology, philosophy and I really wanted to like this book. The first few pages pulled me in and I thought I had stumbled upon what was sure to become one of my favourite reads. Alas, this book was mind-boggling and infuriating and I don't have the patience or desire to appreciate this book. I did not answer any of the questions that Percy offers (mostly because as I read through the possible answers my own answer seemed obvious). Percy writes very academically, with a strong grasp of science, psychology, philosophy and semiotics. He litters the book with cultural allusions and references, some of which I recognize well enough (e.g. Johnny Carson, Freud, my beloved G.K. Chesterton), but most of them are unknown to me and serve only to date the book. "Lost in the Cosmos" is certainly unique, but I did not find it compelling or a good read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ed Erwin

    Part philosophy, part parody of self-help books, part science fiction stories, part exploration of consciousness, meaning-of-life, relation of self to others, .... Sometimes blackly comic and almost nihilistic, but Percy is a committed Christian, so it never goes full nihil. The last chapters take on Carl Sagan for skipping directly from Greece to Galileo in "Cosmos", ignoring centuries of science from Christian and Jewish thinkers, and deals with questions brought up by Sagan's SETI project. Th Part philosophy, part parody of self-help books, part science fiction stories, part exploration of consciousness, meaning-of-life, relation of self to others, .... Sometimes blackly comic and almost nihilistic, but Percy is a committed Christian, so it never goes full nihil. The last chapters take on Carl Sagan for skipping directly from Greece to Galileo in "Cosmos", ignoring centuries of science from Christian and Jewish thinkers, and deals with questions brought up by Sagan's SETI project. The final chapter is a SF story involving characters from A Canticle for Leibowitz. Overall interesting. Reminds me of Vonnegut, but I'd rather read Vonnegut. I wish I'd taken Percy's advice to skip 40 or so pages in the middle.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Darrell Reimer

    I understand, I think, the adoration some readers have for Walker Percy's Lost In The Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book . But while I might garner an aloof admiration for Percy's project, I can't generate much love for it. This is partially because Percy worked hard to keep the book “cool” (in the McLuhan sense of the word), and thus difficult to love (surely a “hot” response). It's also partially because I kept getting the sense that even Percy was having trouble whipping up affection for the I understand, I think, the adoration some readers have for Walker Percy's Lost In The Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book . But while I might garner an aloof admiration for Percy's project, I can't generate much love for it. This is partially because Percy worked hard to keep the book “cool” (in the McLuhan sense of the word), and thus difficult to love (surely a “hot” response). It's also partially because I kept getting the sense that even Percy was having trouble whipping up affection for the work. The ubiquity of television seems to have rattled some writers the way the internet does writers today. In 1980, three years before Lost In The Cosmos was published, George W.S. Trow released a shrapnel-grenade of ironic observations entitled Within The Context Of No Context . Trow saw television's accommodation of the immediate and argued that this speed-of-light process of adoption and abandonment created an entirely new context for the viewer: that of no context whatsoever. By essay's end, the only whimper Trow could muster was, “Irony has seeped into the felt of any fedora hat I have ever owned — not out of any wish of mine but out of necessity. A fedora hat worn by me without the necessary protective irony would eat through my head and kill me.” Trow's final refuge was a nostalgia for the era and mores of his parents (which he indulged to squirm-inducing effect in his final publications). Percy's observations are somewhat similar, occasionally even in tone: The salvation of art derives in the best of modern times from a celebration of the triumph of the autonomous self — as in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony — and in the worst of times from naming the unspeakable: the strange and feckless movements of the self trying to escape itself. If Kafka's Metamorphosisis presently a more accurate account of the self than Beethoven's Ninth, it is the more exhilarating for being so . . . Further down the same page: Unlike the scientist, the artist has reentry problems that are frequent and catastrophic. And, if the reader needs any help visualizing the problem, Percy offers this cheeky illustration: Percy sees television, and particularly Phil Donahue (the ur-Oprah), as the final embodiment of both expressions — the Celebration of the Unspeakable, you might say (“Man-Turned-Cockroach Marries Childhood Sweetheart: Exclusive Footage — Next!”). Throw in Percy's steely adherence to an all-but-extinct pre-Nietzschean classicism, the absurdity of which he wearily acknowledges, and what's not to love about this blunderbuss of eccentricity? Well, there is the insistence on thought experiments as a genre, some of which fall with an undeniable thud. Witness this bit from “The Last Donahue Show”: DONAHUE: C'mon, Allen. What are ya handing me? What d'ya mean you're happily married? You mean you're happy. ALLEN: No, no. Vera's happy, too. AUDIENCE (mostly women, groaning): Noooooooo. DONAHUE: Okay-okay, ladies, hold it a second. What do you mean, Vera's happy? I mean, how do you manage — help me out, I'm about to get in trouble — hold the letters, folks — Etc, etc. Scenes of this nature tend to generate unintended thought experiments of my own. To wit: Reader rolls eyes, sighs loudly and says, “Yes, yes, Doctor Percy: we get it.” Part of this frustration is generated by a frustration I sense (help me out, I'm about to get in trouble) from the author himself. Here's a passage preceding the one I just quoted, from ALLEN'S Point-Of-View: I'm a good person, I think. I work hard, am happily married, love my wife and family, also support United Way, served in the army. I drink very little, don't do drugs, have never been to a porn movie. My idea of R & R — maybe I got it in the army — is to meet an attractive woman. What a delight it is, to see a handsome mature woman, maybe in the secretarial pool, maybe in a bar, restaurant, anywhere, exchange eye contact, speak to her in a nice way, respect her as a person, invite her to join me for lunch . . . what a joy to go with her up in the elevator of the downtown Holiday Inn, both of you silent, relaxed, smiling, anticipating . . . . Here we have a voice that Percy's readers know intimately: that of a self-satisfied roué who has mastered the ability to overlook the considerable impediments of his own character. It is also jarringly out-of-character with the piece that contains it, the bulk of which reads like an awkward parody of a show that could — within the context of no context — already be seen as self-parody. This bit leaves me wondering if Percy didn't originally attempt to place his larger concerns within the context of a novelist — said novelist having already exploited the many suspensions of disbelief a movie-goer permits himself. Reading on, I have to wonder if Percy didn't also attempt the essayist's context, before giving up on that, as well. Lost In The Cosmos is a strange enough book that it might finally have revealed its relatively unique format to Percy by happy(ish) accident. Whatever the case, there are enough uneven (I'd go so far as to say, “indulgent”) passages to prevent the most trenchant of the book's insights from hitting with the force of authority Percy struggled to muster. But then here am I, struggling to muster a little authority of my own. Whatever you do, don't give me the final word — sharper people than I (Tom Bartlett and Alan Jacobs, for starters) think this book is a terrific read. Get a copy and decide for yourself. I'll be returning to The Moviegoer and Lancelot for what I consider to be the deeper and more disturbing insights Percy has to offer.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laure

    I am just DNFing this one. Really not funny or saying anything worthwhile.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Simon Robs

    Nicht wah Ozymandias I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, y Nicht wah Ozymandias I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.” Byron [Percy] Shelley If, as analysand character prop. "..that the very unformulability of your self is the only clue you have to the uniqueness of yourself, that otherwise one will become yet another Ralph among a thousand Ralphs, or worse still, become an imitation of the psychotherapist." Seventy-five or so pages later: "The self has no sign of itself. No signifier applies. All signifiers apply equally. You are Ralph to me and I am Walker to you, but you are not Ralph to you and I am not Walker to me. (Have you ever wondered why the Ralphs you know look as if they ought to be called Ralph and not Robert?)" What's with these "Ralph" bits I wonder? Why did not a Ralph enter his fiction so far as I can recall. Oh well on with the show.... "Lost in the Cosmos" THE LAST SELF-HELP BOOK reads like an admixture of galactic "Hitchhikers Guide" and one of these new-fangled psychological matrix examination/test/profile questionnaire where both Q&A get lathered up for a rinsing of higher order thinking/consciousness/emergent epiphany. Published in early 80's with Johnny Carson/Phil Donahue inserts this book yet is currently topical and ways prophetic. Though ironically hokey "Cosmos" also calls to mind a Wittgenstein approach, ladder Q&A of meaning, dialectic obfuscating "satori" of existence. There's a forty-page disquisition on semiotics and explication of triadic communication diagrams in the rise of civilizations ... oh but you'll just have to read it yourself. Speaking of triangulations of signifiers ... Percy in all his writing/books explores this anomie associated with man brought forth in Modernist literature and as he describes through his Binx Bolling character in his first book "The Moviegoer" and so too in all subsequent books. This existential "boredom" plagues these characters while undergirding their pathologies. As nutty as this may sound I see a connection to insanity playing out front/center in US today. Percy's sick modern man drenched in this "anomie".."malaise" .. "disapointment".. not knowing how to evolve beyond it and acting out seemingly incoherent to check - I'm talking the mass murderer in Vegas without ANY as yet plausible motive, and I'm talking a President who tweets early morning tell all's along with idiotic/paranoid denouncements and/or proclamations of destructions etc., yet nobody seems to know what he's really "thinking" OR what he might actually DO. From NY Times obit: "Thomas Nagel, a professor of philosophy at New York University, wrote in The New York Review of Books that ''The Moviegoer'' offered a pure and precise ''description of that malady of extreme detachment from perception and action which allows the victim to make contact with reality only when he is first dislodged, with greater or less violence, from his accustomed perch.'' From "LitC" "The fact is that, by virtue of its peculiar relationship to the world, to others, and to its own organism, the autonomous self in a modern technological society is possessed. It is possessed by the spirit of the erotic and the secret love of violence." This book is anything BUT a simple "self-help" triviality, it is, rather, a canary call of the first order to WAKE-UP the guard(s) and call to mind our humanity before [it] under the guise of some bored gambler or president gets us all killed and, it's as timely today as when written - technology changes "things" but we remain fixed in our dilemma of self/consciousness remained. Tack-on: re~Rorty https://thepointmag.com/2017/politics...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stela

    Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos. The Last Self-Help Book is a birthday gift from my best friend who always forces me to exit my comfort zone and try something different than my usual readings. And as usual, it was an interesting experience, this book with its eclectic structure that ironically tries many genres: psychology (the classification of various types of self – almost 20), the philosophical quiz (a modern way of the Socratic method), semiotics (this part I liked best), the short story Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos. The Last Self-Help Book is a birthday gift from my best friend who always forces me to exit my comfort zone and try something different than my usual readings. And as usual, it was an interesting experience, this book with its eclectic structure that ironically tries many genres: psychology (the classification of various types of self – almost 20), the philosophical quiz (a modern way of the Socratic method), semiotics (this part I liked best), the short story (the last part, named in pastiche, A Space Odyssey). Here is a quote from the semiotic part, where a short study is done regarding the difficulty experienced by the artist and the art-receiver to re-enter the ordinary world after the act of creation, respectively after the reception of the work of art: It is one thing to write The Sound and the Fury, to achieve the artistic transcendence of discerning meaning in the madness of the twentieth century, then to finish it, then to find oneself at Reed’s drugstore the next morning. A major problem of re-entry, not solved, but anaesthetized by alcohol. It is something else to listen to a superb performance of Mozart’s Twenty-first Piano Concerto, to walk out into Columbus Circle afterwards. At best, a moderately sustained exaltation; at worst, a mild letdown.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sherri

    I wanted to love this book. Maybe that was the problem, because I decidedly didn't. It was written in a style I didn't care for at all -- too flip? I felt the style obscured what was good and worthwhile in the book. And there were a few gems. I loved The Moviegoer, the only other book of his I have read. But this, I conked out before the end, which is rare. I put it on my bookshelf, hoping that maybe someday I will come back to it with different, more appreciative eyes. I wanted to love this book. Maybe that was the problem, because I decidedly didn't. It was written in a style I didn't care for at all -- too flip? I felt the style obscured what was good and worthwhile in the book. And there were a few gems. I loved The Moviegoer, the only other book of his I have read. But this, I conked out before the end, which is rare. I put it on my bookshelf, hoping that maybe someday I will come back to it with different, more appreciative eyes.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Henn

    ? ? ? Such a strange book. I liked it at first, so odd did it flow. I waited for Percy to answer the riddle of our existence. No answers did he put forth. Semiotics. Somehow or other, semiotics and strong drink are important. I am now more lost in the Cosmos than before I read the book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Corey

    Eloquent and savage, with a haunting conclusion (“A Space Odyssey”). Read this, then follow it up with Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz. Make sure you’re sitting down.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jana Light

    Wow. What a weird and fascinating book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Schildbach

    I read this several years ago and was really drawn in, and loved the tone and organization of the book. On reading it again, I got bogged down in the middle, shelved it for a while, then came back to it and quite enjoyed pushing through to the end. It's hard to explain exactly what this book IS. It's definitely not a self-help book in the sense of offering a theory on how to fix one's life. It's far more provocative and funny than that. Instead, Percy sets up scenarios, throws out a bunch of ide I read this several years ago and was really drawn in, and loved the tone and organization of the book. On reading it again, I got bogged down in the middle, shelved it for a while, then came back to it and quite enjoyed pushing through to the end. It's hard to explain exactly what this book IS. It's definitely not a self-help book in the sense of offering a theory on how to fix one's life. It's far more provocative and funny than that. Instead, Percy sets up scenarios, throws out a bunch of ideas, follows that with questions, and moves on. There is a section on langauge theory in the middle, and Percy's own comments about it kind of sum up much of the book: for those who aren't really into the more technical (scientific, semantic, etc.) aspects, it will seem far too technical, and for those who are into the technical aspects, it will seem far too simplified. Percy discusses various philosophical issues related to modern life, and our sense of self in a world that essentially encourages alienation from self. There is much about the tension between people clinging to old religious ideas, and people embracing science as a "quasi-religion," and Percy points out that in a lot of instances, people are essentially just naming the same concept in a different way; i.e. the big bang versus God calling everything into creation. Percy makes up hypothetical situations, plops in various characters, and encourages the reader to consider the various possible perspectives using a humourous multiple-choice strategy. Perhaps the end result can be simplified by saying that there is no definitive right and wrong, only different choices and different ways to view those choices. And Percy points out that most of us spend a lot more time engaging in activities that ensure we will continue to avoid knowing ourselves, rather than in trying to understand ourselves. There are things in the book that are outdated (it was written in 1983). For instance, much of Percy's discussion of sexual behavior revolves around the idea of people being bored and so exploring things that had previously been taboo, following from the sexual revolution and its aftermath, which fits in with his overall thesis, but not with more modern understandings of gender and orientation. There's also some racist language, which was delivered with a completely different intent then, but which just sounds ugly now--especially being delivered in the context of future scenarios. Overall, though, the book is worth checking out, definitely thought-provoking and often very funny.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Muntz

    this book actually had a pretty huge effect on my worldview when i was young. going back, i was sort of surprised to see how great it really was--percy develops a sophisticated semiotic theory of the self, sexuality, and pretty much everything in modern culture, and does it in one of the best essay styles i've ever read, with lots of humor and frequent forays into metafiction. there are things i read in this book when i was like 15 that i still think about now, especially percy's model of the se this book actually had a pretty huge effect on my worldview when i was young. going back, i was sort of surprised to see how great it really was--percy develops a sophisticated semiotic theory of the self, sexuality, and pretty much everything in modern culture, and does it in one of the best essay styles i've ever read, with lots of humor and frequent forays into metafiction. there are things i read in this book when i was like 15 that i still think about now, especially percy's model of the self as a black hole, and a long time ago this was where i was initially introduced to semiotics, which has been a big thing for me ever since. this book is smart, funny, and at times percy sort of feels like a much more intellectual vonnegut. i definitely want to read some of his novels in the near future as well

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rick Davis

    I disagree enough with Percy on some issues that I would, in other circumstances, give this book 4 stars. However, Percy is relentless and devastating in his assault on the problems with our postmodern culture. The fact that he offers this critique in a series of "multiple choice" Socratic thought questions makes the reader work that much harder to get the message. The fact that he cloaks his profundity in the guise of a self-help book, that genre from which we expect the least profundity, is hi I disagree enough with Percy on some issues that I would, in other circumstances, give this book 4 stars. However, Percy is relentless and devastating in his assault on the problems with our postmodern culture. The fact that he offers this critique in a series of "multiple choice" Socratic thought questions makes the reader work that much harder to get the message. The fact that he cloaks his profundity in the guise of a self-help book, that genre from which we expect the least profundity, is hilarious. Another interesting observation is that that the core of this odd book is a 40 page essay on philosophy and semiotics. This book is fantastic and should definitely be read for cultural engagement. If you can walk away from reading this unscathed, then you're probably not human.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    Such a shame that Percy and David Foster Wallace didn't get to team up to co-author a book on soul-searching. They would have either found the soul, or would have proved its nonexistence. Both men had a special gift for self-exploration and for getting readers to go deeper inside their own heads (readers') than they had been before. This was a fantastic book. Very insightful. Such a shame that Percy and David Foster Wallace didn't get to team up to co-author a book on soul-searching. They would have either found the soul, or would have proved its nonexistence. Both men had a special gift for self-exploration and for getting readers to go deeper inside their own heads (readers') than they had been before. This was a fantastic book. Very insightful.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jamiewas

    Hilaroius account of the problem of man's consciousness of self. Hilaroius account of the problem of man's consciousness of self.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Adam Marischuk

    This is not a funny book It is an insightful, challenging, cunning, creative, humourous, cutting and confrontational book. But it is definitely not a funny book. After years of having this book on my birthday/Christmas wishlist my wife finally bought it for me for Christmas and I brought it on our tropical winter vacation to the Canary Islands thinking it would make light beach-reading material. This is not the case. The book is much heavier than I anticipated, (perhaps I anticipated something li This is not a funny book It is an insightful, challenging, cunning, creative, humourous, cutting and confrontational book. But it is definitely not a funny book. After years of having this book on my birthday/Christmas wishlist my wife finally bought it for me for Christmas and I brought it on our tropical winter vacation to the Canary Islands thinking it would make light beach-reading material. This is not the case. The book is much heavier than I anticipated, (perhaps I anticipated something like Asimov's The Sensuous Dirty Old Man) in that it deals with core human concerns and values in a profound manner. It is arranged as a series of twenty questions, each with multiple choice answers. The answers to the questions are all clever, reflective of a particular perspective, philosophical, psychological, flawed and incomplete. They reveal the absurdity of the human experience, reflect the depths of the abyss, the shallowness of the self, the anxiety of being found out, the pride of the ego and the general displacement of the human in the cosmos. Without spoiling too much, the chapters (each chapter contains a question and the various answers form the body of the chapter) are as follows: 1) The Amnesic Self: Why the Self Wants to Get Ride of Itself 2) The Self as Nought: How the Self Tries to Inform Itself by Possessing Things which do not Look like the Things they're used as 3) The Nowhere Self: How the Self, which Usually Experiences Itself as Living Nowhere, is Surprised to find that it Loves Somewhere 4) The Fearful Self: Why the Self is so Afraid of Being Found Out 5) The Fearful Self (II): Why the Self is so Afraid of being Stuck with Another Self 6) The Fearful Self (III): How the Self Tries to Escape its Predicament 7) The Misplaced Self: How Two Selves Confronting Eachother can Miscalculate, Each Attributing a Putative and Spurious Reality to the Other and Trying to Match it, with the Consequences that both Selves become Non-Selves 8) The Promiscuous Self: Why is it that One's Self often not only does not Prefer Sex with One's Chosen Mate, Chosen for his or Her Attractiveness and Suitability, even when the Mate is a Person well known to one, knowing of one, loved by one, with a Life, Time, Family in common, but rather prefers Sex with a New Person, even a Total Stranger, or even Vicariously Through Pornography 9) The Envious Self (in the root sense of envy: invidere, to look at with malice): Why is it that the Self- Though it Professes to be Loving, Caring, to Prefer Peace to War, Concord to Discord, Life to Death; to With Other Selves Well, not Ill- in Fact Secretly Relishes Wars and Rumours of Wars, News of Plane Crashes, Assassinations, Mass Murders, Obituaries, to say nothing about Local News about Acquaintances Dropping Dead in the Street, Gossip about Neighbors Getting in Fights or being Detected in Sexual Scandals, Embezzlements, and Other Disgraces 10) The Bored Self: Why the Self is the Only Object in the Cosmos Which Gets Bored ... The Last two Chapter are Space Odessy Themed (one roughly based on one of the best books of all times, A Canticle for Leibowitz) By some random chance, I had read Mortimer Adler's The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes previous to reading this book and the two dovetail incredibly. Essentially, the postulation of both books is that man differs radically from other animals and even the rest of the cosmos. For Adler, Man differs as the only conceptual animal, which has many parallels to Percy's notion that man differs are the only Semiotic Animal. Percy's optional (but highly valualbe) primer on Semiotics stached in the middle of the book is a heavy aside, deep read but well worth the effort. I have a feeling I will be reading this one again. I don't know if I would have appreciated it as much when I was younger but I wish I would have read it sooner.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Drew Norwood

    Lost in the Cosmos starts slow, and it forces you to adjust to its unusual format, but it is one of Walker Percy’s funniest books. I don’t laugh when reading books often but this one gave me serval hard laughs. On top of its humor, the book, more importantly, offers an unconventional method for exposing the emptiness of the modern self, who is “lost in the cosmos.” In rejecting Christianity and ultimate truth, modern man has not solved his problem, as he supposed, but made it worse. He has cut h Lost in the Cosmos starts slow, and it forces you to adjust to its unusual format, but it is one of Walker Percy’s funniest books. I don’t laugh when reading books often but this one gave me serval hard laughs. On top of its humor, the book, more importantly, offers an unconventional method for exposing the emptiness of the modern self, who is “lost in the cosmos.” In rejecting Christianity and ultimate truth, modern man has not solved his problem, as he supposed, but made it worse. He has cut himself off from the ability to know himself and to know his desires—such as the desire to transcend the created world (transcendence) while also living in it (immanence). Percy is a perceptive sociologist and gives us a brilliant critique of the post-Christian, post-truth Western man, and he does so in a winsome way.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Richey

    If you've read or want to read Charles Taylor's 'Secular Age" you should read this book and you'll enjoy it. This book is a satrical wrestling with the echoes of transcendence trapped in an immanent frame that recognizes the absurdity or it all. Written in 1983 but so relevant to today it might almost be called prophetic. If you've read or want to read Charles Taylor's 'Secular Age" you should read this book and you'll enjoy it. This book is a satrical wrestling with the echoes of transcendence trapped in an immanent frame that recognizes the absurdity or it all. Written in 1983 but so relevant to today it might almost be called prophetic.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Barry

    A philosophy book about the consciousness of self, masquerading as a self-help parody, this book explores the feelings of alienation, and longing for some type of meaning or transcendence that are so common in our Secular Age. It illustrates, often hilariously, modern man's central dilemma, which is analyzed in more didactic form by Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, et al. A philosophy book about the consciousness of self, masquerading as a self-help parody, this book explores the feelings of alienation, and longing for some type of meaning or transcendence that are so common in our Secular Age. It illustrates, often hilariously, modern man's central dilemma, which is analyzed in more didactic form by Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, et al.

  24. 4 out of 5

    John

    There was enough clever to bother finishing this, but is is very dated and becoming more so. Unlike his novels, this book is only marginally interesting. I had such high hopes for a satire on self-help books, and a little of it is amusing, enough up front for me to have bought the book. All in all, though, a sadly disappointing effort.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jon Beadle

    4.5 stars! Excellent read. I do not know how he did it. But it was, at times, a difficult “provocation” to ingest. (The semiotics portion nearly destroyed my will to finish this book.)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katie Marquette

    "The Strange Case of the Self, your Self, the Ghost which Haunts the Cosmos." This is one of the most profound, enlightening, and honest books I have ever read. Written with wit, intelligence, and compassion, Percy takes readers on a bizarre journey into the unknowable self. Presented in the forms of questions (many rhetorical) and strange hypotheticals, Percy deftly reveals the absurdity of modern man. The answers may still be unclear - but the questions (and the importance of those questions) h "The Strange Case of the Self, your Self, the Ghost which Haunts the Cosmos." This is one of the most profound, enlightening, and honest books I have ever read. Written with wit, intelligence, and compassion, Percy takes readers on a bizarre journey into the unknowable self. Presented in the forms of questions (many rhetorical) and strange hypotheticals, Percy deftly reveals the absurdity of modern man. The answers may still be unclear - but the questions (and the importance of those questions) has become eminently clear. Percy's ability to distill the problems of modern life are uncanny... My copy of this book is heavily underlined... I will undoubtedly return to it time and again. A truly mind-altering work - recommended to all. "Why is it that the look of another person looking at you is different from everything else in the Cosmos? That is to say, looking at lions or tigers or Saturn or the Ring Nebula or at an owl or at another person from the side is one thing, but finding yourself looking into the eyes of another person looking at you is something else. And why is it that one can look at a lion or a planet or an owl or at someone's finger as long as one pleases, but looking into the eye of another person is, if prolonged past a second, a perilous affair?" "Every advance in an objective understanding of the Cosmos and in its technological control further distances the self from the Cosmos precisely in the degree of the advance - so that in the end the self becomes a space-bound ghost which roams the very Cosmos it understands perfectly." "Question: Why is it no other species but man gets bored? Under the circumstances in which a man gets bored, a dog goes to sleep." "It has been observed that artists live longer and drink less than writers. Perhaps they are rescued from the ghostliness of self by the things and the doing of their art. The painter and the sculptor are the Catholics of art, the writer is the Protestant. The former have the sacramentals, the concrete intermediaries between themselves and creation - the paint, the brushes, the fruit, the bowl, the table, the model, the mountain, the handling and muscling of clay. The writer is the Protestant. He works alone in a room as bare as a Quaker meeting hours with nothing between him and his art but a Script pencil, like God's finger touching Adam. It is harder on the nerves." "The deception may come from concealing from oneself the inevitable nature of sexuality in a post-Christian and technological society by substituting for the lost god and the lost commandment such surrogate goals as 'responsible sexuality,' 'commitment,' 'sharing,' and so on."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Tucker

    The first self-help book to ask "what is the self, and how can I help it?" Prepare to laugh, prepare to think, prepare to grow. The first self-help book to ask "what is the self, and how can I help it?" Prepare to laugh, prepare to think, prepare to grow.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Um, well, that was quite a trip. I can't remember who or where I came across this book though I do recall it being mentioned in another book at one point. This is again a read that I began a while before but never had a chance to devote much attention to until now. 'Lost in the Cosmos is not so much a book as it is a series of hypothetical questions that Percy poses in order to make the reader question, well, I'm not sure exactly what. I'm inclined to say it offers the reader a look at one's own s Um, well, that was quite a trip. I can't remember who or where I came across this book though I do recall it being mentioned in another book at one point. This is again a read that I began a while before but never had a chance to devote much attention to until now. 'Lost in the Cosmos is not so much a book as it is a series of hypothetical questions that Percy poses in order to make the reader question, well, I'm not sure exactly what. I'm inclined to say it offers the reader a look at one's own self but at the same time, it sort of propes humanity as a whole. Perhaps as a student of both Psychology (the individual) and Sociology (the collective) this is why I enjoyed it so much. While some of the book was simply over my head, meaning I didn't feel like devoting the time to truly understanding what he was getting at, Percy does bring up the wildly interesting notion of Transendence, and subsequently, Re-entry. I'm sure that this topic alone could, if not has, elicited a number of graduate thesis papers. Even so, I can't really imagine one every becoming 'bored' with this sort of notion. It's almost like one of those small revelations that once you are aware of, you never stop noticing. Almost like gravity. Is transendence really an issue? Is that even really a question? If so, could this simple, goofy concept have any implication for not only the way I live my life but the way that I should, if I am to be satisfied? I fear looking to deeply into this book as it might bring about a personal transendence that not even Percy himself would know how to come out of. So, in the meantime, I'll just stay in my low altitude orbit, skipping in and out of the atmosphere's surface every few days.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten Jensen

    How often do you come across a writer who wants to raise dozens of questions about life and then completely refrains from giving you his opinion of the answer? One's immediate reaction when discovering this is what Walker Percy is doing here is to exclaim, "yes, Mr. Percy, but what do you think!" When followed my silence the only think left is to shrug and say, "well, I suppose I could figure out what I think." And I believe that was the point all along. Rather clever, eh--a "self-help" book tha How often do you come across a writer who wants to raise dozens of questions about life and then completely refrains from giving you his opinion of the answer? One's immediate reaction when discovering this is what Walker Percy is doing here is to exclaim, "yes, Mr. Percy, but what do you think!" When followed my silence the only think left is to shrug and say, "well, I suppose I could figure out what I think." And I believe that was the point all along. Rather clever, eh--a "self-help" book that tricks the reader into thinking. Of course Lost in the Cosmos isn't really a self-help book. If you didn't catch the irony in the title do so now. It is more of an exploration of the dilemma of the post modern self, particularly the self-hood of the post modern self. Sound philosophical? It is, moderately but not inaccessibly. Bear that in mind if you're wondering whether you'd like to read it. One final note: Percy is very funny. Rain clouds put vast odds against a successful picnic and it's a similar story when too much gravity is put against an author's intensions to laugh at himself some. This book is good for a chuckle and a thought.

  30. 4 out of 5

    John

    I've read Walker Percy's novels and I enjoy them. This book is not a novel. It helps to sum explain his other books. He posits that Man is lost. Man has no idea who he is or what he believes. He drifts along with no real purpose. Sometimes Man sleeps around or drinks or travels in order to escape what is his reality. Man is an absolute mess. From a Christian perspective, man is fallen. This book is a series of discussions and questions. Percy was a Catholic so I expected him to point in that dir I've read Walker Percy's novels and I enjoy them. This book is not a novel. It helps to sum explain his other books. He posits that Man is lost. Man has no idea who he is or what he believes. He drifts along with no real purpose. Sometimes Man sleeps around or drinks or travels in order to escape what is his reality. Man is an absolute mess. From a Christian perspective, man is fallen. This book is a series of discussions and questions. Percy was a Catholic so I expected him to point in that direction. But he just asks the questions and lets the reader figure things out. As a Catholic, I see the answer to be Christianity but that's just my take. I need to give this another read, and a much slower read. And I almost forgot: at times, it's really funny. Highly recommended.

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