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Audiobook Downloadable / ISBN-13: 9781529364729

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An exceptional history of ideas and a contemporary critique on the story of self-making: from the Renaissance to the present day

Today’s defining celebrities have crafted public personae that walk the tightrope between authenticity and artificiality. Ordinary people now follow suit: lovingly tending our ‘personal brands’ for economic gain and self-expression alike.

Instagram culture is part of a story that goes back centuries. The vision that we not only can but should ‘make’ our own selves to shape our own destiny is an inextricable part of the formation of the modern world.

As traditional powers of pre-modernity – church and throne – waned, a new myth took their place: that of the ‘self-made man’, whose unique powers of personality – or canny self-presentation – give him not just the opportunity, but the obligation, to remake reality in the image of what he wants it to be.

From the Renaissance genius to the Regency dandy, the American prophets of capitalism to the aspirational übermensch of European fascism, Hollywood’s Golden Age to today’s Silicon Valley, Self-Made takes us on a dazzling tour of modern history’s most prominent self-makers, uncovering both self-making’s liberatory power, and the dangers this idea can unleash.

‘This funny, startling, insightful story of the selfie, from Dürer to the Kardashians, is a must read if you want to understand how we reinvent ourselves every time we reveal ourselves’ PETER POMERANTSEV

Self-Made is both revelatory and a warning about the ways that focus on the self distorts our individual lives and the broader society’ FRANCIS FUKUYAMA

(P) 2023 PublicAffairs


In the spirit of Kurt Andersen's Fantasyland and Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright Sided, Tara Isabella Burton delivers a fascinating intellectual and cultural history of our never-ending quest to reinvent ourselves. She masterfully balances high and low culture, ranging from Renaissance sculptors and Parisian Dandies, to American hucksters and Instagram selfies. Self-Made clears through the fog of our current moment and lets us see the methods behind our collective madness. An essential read for our era of Late-Stage Everything
Jamie Wheal, author of <i>Recapture the Rapture</i>
Self-Made takes the reader on an incredible journey that begins in the Renaissance and ends with the Kardashians, Donald Trump, and Silicon Valley's extropians, tracing the peculiarly modern phenomenon of people who make themselves the objects of their life's work. It is both revelatory and a warning about the ways that focus on the self distorts our individual lives and the broader society
Francis Fukuyama, author of <i>The Origins of Political Order</i>
This funny, startling, insightful story of the selfie, from Dürer to the Kardashians, is a must read if you want to understand how we reinvent ourselves every time we reveal ourselves
Peter Pomerantsev, author of <i>This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality</i>
Tara Isabella Burton's thoughtful, beautifully written book charts the engrossing history of the self-made man (and woman) from the geniuses of the Renaissance to present-day reality TV stars. Philosophical, ethical and pragmatic by turns, Burton urgently interrogates the culturally dominant myths of individualism and self-realisation, asking what we lose when we gain what we think we really want: when we make ourselves into gods
Carolyne Larrington, author of <i>The Norse Myths: A Guide to Viking and Scandinavian Gods and Heroes</i>
Ranging from Aristotle to OnlyFans by way of the Marquis de Sade and Frederick Douglass, Tara Isabella Burton delights, infuriates and instructs while offering some of the sharpest and most insightful social commentary being written today. This is a book you will not forget
Walter Russell Mead, author of <i>The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People</i>
What does the Marquis de Sade have to do with David Bowie? Oscar Wilde with Oprah Winfrey? Montaigne with Donald Trump? Learn the fascinating historical and philosophical connections over the past five centuries in this erudite and wildly entertaining study on the fine art of self-creation, one of the modern era's defining cultural traits long before Instagram made it a daily universal habit
Tony Perrottet, author of <i>The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe</i>
Since the rise of Instagram and Facebook, how we present ourselves to the world has become a contemporary obsession. But as Tara Isabella Burton shows in her new book, Self-Made, it has a long history, from Beau Brummel to the Kardashians. The result is a fascinating, deeply researched and entertaining tour de force
Simon Worrall, author of <i>Starcrossed: A True Romeo and Juliet Story in Hitler’s Paris</i>
Looking around at the strange terrain of American politics, religion, culture, and media, almost everyone is asking, "What happened?" and "What's next?" This book tells us the story behind those questions. Those who wonder why almost every aspect of life seems to be, at best, a reality television series and, at worst, a dark science fiction drama, will need this important work. This book will shift the conversation, at perhaps just the right time
Russell Moore, author of <i>Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America</i>
Burton is that rare cultural critic who delivers insight with sass and wears her deep knowledge of history and philosophy with a lightness and grace. A dazzling cast of characters struts across these pages, but Burton is always fully in control; every case study and example accretes to build her argument, for we are not merely self-stylists but shapeshifters, not just makers, but gods
Marina Benjamin, author of <i>Insomnia</i>
Wide-ranging . . . With clarity and authority, Burton sheds light on how the self-made indulge in the profitable "fantasy of selling yourself" and provide an escape from reality for their followers. It's an eye-opener
Publishers Weekly
A fun, insightful romp . . . we're all now self-makers, whether we like it or not - and this witty, sceptical book is the thought-provoking story of how we got here
Rachel Aspden, Guardian
A fast-moving train of a book . . . Burton is a confident conductor
New York Times
Burton concludes that our search for self-definition is ultimately a search for what it means to be human: vulnerable and inextricably interconnected. A thoughtful, well-grounded cultural history
It's a remarkable journey we humans have been on . . . The heights of self-aggrandisement Burton encounters are dizzying . . . she does not condemn outright the modern urge for self-expression. Bounding from one historical anecdote to the next, she reveals the human ingenuity that is unleashed when God's plan for us is taken out of the equation
Rachel Cunliffe, New Statesman
Burton is right and brave to surmise that hollow self-making offers the wrong kind of answers to the modern bourgeois or digital peasant who wants to live a happy or meaningful life
Wall Street Journal
Throughout her gripping account Burton homes in on the tensions at the heart of all self-making acts: between authenticity and artificiality, and between the self that is given and the self that is desired
Times Literary Supplement