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Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit [Hardcover]

Joseph Epstein
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Nov. 29 2011

A dishy, incisive exploration of gossip—from celebrity rumors to literary romans à clef, from personal sniping to political slander—by one of our “great essayists” (David Brooks)

To his successful examinations of some of the most powerful forces in modern life—envy, ambition, snobbery, friendship—the keen observer and critic Joseph Epstein now adds Gossip. No trivial matter, despite its reputation, gossip is eternal and necessary. Himself a master of the art, Epstein serves up delightful mini-biographies of the Great Gossips of the Western World along with many choice bits from his own experience. He also makes a powerful case that gossip has morphed from its old-fashioned best—clever, mocking, a great private pleasure—to a corrosive new-school version, thanks to the reach of the mass media and the Internet. Gossip has even invaded politics and journalism, causing unsubstantiated information to be presented as fact. Contemporary gossip claims to reveal truth, but as Epstein shows, it’s our belief in truth itself that may be destroyed by gossip.

Written in his trademark erudite and witty style, Gossip captures the complexity of this immensely entertaining subject.


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Review

"While Epstein’s ruminations on how we became a nation of gawkers ring painfully true, it is his willingness to analyze delectable tidbits regarding authors, intellectuals and other luminaries that enlivens the narrative... Amusing and serious in equal measures, Epstein grants readers the pleasurable company of a master observer of humanity’s foibles."
-Kirkus, starred

"Delectable firsthad anecdotes and portraits...add to the pleasures of this serious appraisal. Readers who share Epstein's concern about gossip's power 'to invade privacy, to wreck lives' and his reluctance to wholly condemn it 'because I enjoy it too much' will find him disquieting and delightful."
-Publishers Weekly

"[Epstein has] a literary tone that makes you think of venerable Manhattan editors with mid-Atlantic accents...like a good stand-up comedian (or a discoverer), he inspires confidence [in his writing]." -Wall Street Journal

About the Author

JOSEPH EPSTEIN is the author of the best-selling Snobbery and of Friendship, among other books, and was formerly editor of the American Scholar. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.


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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Did You Hear...? Nov. 30 2013
By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Epstein has a great style and is a prolific writer based on his observations of human behaviour. He makes the case that Gossip has impact both negative and positive and it will never be eradicated. After reading I made the case to colleagues that gossip is important to businesses and marketers because it is a ‘channel’ of communications that can be harnessed. There are risks associated with this idea but it is definitely worth examining. If you do not buy the business angle, then read the book solely for the enjoyment of this peculiar human practice.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fun book, though a bit of a trifle Nov. 26 2011
By Nathan Webster - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I love gossip, and since I work in academia I have plenty of opportunity to practice it - and I'm sure be the target (in fact, I hope I am, because if nobody's gossiping about you, it means you're irrelevant!). There are some good "how-to's" I'll take from this book, though I'm not sure that was really author Joseph Epstein's intention.

Epstein's a very entertaining writer, and the examples give a historical context to something we probably don't consider as a serious method of conversation - I'm not saying it's a valuable or useful method, but it IS communication. I appreciated the Talmudic quote to not say anything good about your friends, because it often leads to the negative, and I think that's very true.

I agree with a previous reviewer that this feels like a series of collected magazine articles that analyze gossip from a series of perspectives. Unlike that reviewer, I do feel each example was effectively and interestingly connected.

Ultimately, while I was entertained and impressed by Epstein's amusing writing skills, the book itself doesn't add up to that much. It feels very light, even if the subject matter is serious at times; I'm not sure it demands much deep thinking. Although the section that explores how journalism = gossip is meaningful and interesting. Still, as a book to get for yourself, it's fun but not memorable.

But I do think this would be a great holiday or birthday gift - especially to an academic, or someone who works in a back-bitey office enviornment. It would let them put a little researched spin on the behavior they likely practice but never seriously think about.

Plus, if you buy it for someone, then the two of you can talk about it, which is the whole point anyway!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dispenses a lot of and about the ART of Gossip! Nov. 11 2011
By D_shrink - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I have enjoyed reading the writings of this author since I first read his essay in the 7/12/2000 edition of the WSJ called "I'm Eppy, but Call Me Mr. Epstein".

The author spends the first few introductory chapters defining gossip and some closely allied synonyms. One of his definitions of gossip is "One party telling another what a third party doesn't want known." The mere fact that it may actually be true makes it all the more destructive. He then gives an example of how a "News Leak" is different from pure gossip in saying that gossip may start out as nothing more than entertainment while a leak always has an underling serious motive to it. He even goes into trying to explain the derivation of the word gossip attributing it at one point to the information operatives [spies] of the Revolutionary War, who were told to go-sip [some booze] with the enemy to derive the necessary information sought. I found that informative, as interesting minds always want to know.

My favorite chapter in the book was on Walter Winchell, which even knowing who he was dates me a bit. It seems that he began his career in vaudeville as a tap dancer before becoming the progenitor of all gossip columnists of today. With a nice turn of phrase the author so succinctly puts it, "A hoofer by trade, he was a hustler in spirit and he hustled much better than he hoofed...Before long, Winchell would give up his tap shoes for tapping out words on a typewriter."

He also gossips on Lady Christina Brown Evans who is the editor of the Daily Beast and Newsweek. You will get the real low down on her methods of ascension to those lofty pedestals of society. This was even better than the chapter on Barbara Walters.

He also dishes on other antediluvians of the ancient world of storied Romans and Greeks plus merely the more recent "gossipists" as Dorothy Killgallen, Liz Smith, Seymour Hersh [reported the My Lai massacre of 1968 Viet Nam], Bob Woodward of Watergate fame, Walter Cronkite, Arthur Miller, and more modern purveyors of prurient interests as TMZ, Page Six [NY Times], Politico.Com, Matt Drudge and too many others to note.

For Epstein fans or those simply interested in gossip as entertainment, this book doesn't disappoint. You will be hilariously surprised at what some of the famous and not to famous had to say about others.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun and Gossip-Filled Book Dec 11 2011
By Inna Tysoe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This is a really fun book to read. It is well written, provides you with an inside look into various celebrities (Barbara Walters, Monica Lewinsky, and Tina Brown to name but a few), yet somehow it (to use Epstein's own words) it succeeds in not making you demeaned by your own low curiosity. In short, according to Epstein, the book succeeds in producing buzz (buzz not just about contemporaries by the way, but about luminaries such as Louis XIV and H.L. Mencken as well). All of which makes it a great read.

But that also makes it a problem for Epstein's larger point. For, while he is perfectly willing to concede gossip's positive uses (it enforces social mores, tells you what you really need to know about your fellow human beings, and helps your social skills), the larger point he is trying to make is that the Internet has given us too much gossip. His wants us to come away shaking our collective heads at the un-seriousness of the information we are presented even in serious publications. Because that information is so filled with gossip as to be merely a distraction. He wants us to absorb the Talmudic lessons that we are not to even start talking well of our fellow man because we will, in the end speak badly of him and the Talmudic lesson of Lashon hara or the evil tongue. Or at least he says he does.

For, in the end, these moral lessons (sprinkled as they are in between juicy pieces of gossip) are what prevent you from thinking that your own voyeuristic interest in this book degrades you. But, let's be honest, it's not the moral lessons that keep you turning the pages. It's the one about what Senator Moynihan's assistant would say when the late Senator was completely drunk or the one about Marlene Dietrich making it with JFK less than an hour before receiving an award for her wartime work with Jewish refugees.

In the end, this book delivers exactly what it preaches (although it can't be said to preach all that terribly hard) against. Which, of course is what makes it such a fun read. So, if you're looking for a fun, gossip-filled read about celebrities modern and not-so-modern this book's perfect. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a serious book about gossip, you may want to look elsewhere.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute delight! Feb. 3 2012
By J. Arena - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Gossip is the first book I've ever read by this author. However, after reading it, I've gone back and ordered a few more. I found myself reading passages out loud, making notes for future reference, and definitely planning on a second read of Joseph Epstein's analysis of everyone's favorite hobby. Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit is worthy of your most careful attention!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you need a hot pink book for your library look no further... April 10 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I prefer Joseph Epstein's essay collections and short stories to his single subject books, but this one is still worth having. I especially enjoyed the chapters on Barbara Walters and Tina Brown-- what Epstein says about them is all one needs to know, and explains much about the evolution of popular media and the high and low arbiters of taste over the years. The chapter on Leo Lerman and homosexual gossip was also funny.

The hot pink cover and graphics are just great. Seeing the book on my bedside table always made me smile.
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