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Paperback Lost in the Cosmos : The Last Self-Help Book

ISBN: 0312253990

ISBN13: 9780312253998

Lost in the Cosmos : The Last Self-Help Book

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

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.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings


Walker Percy is very much a modern-day Pascal, in that he is wrapped up in the project of waking up modern man from his numb, jaded, over-entertained stupor into realizing what a predicament he is in. It's an existentialist concern, in the Christian-existentialist sense of Kierkegaard, especially insofar as both Percy and the Melancholy Dane are obsessed with the problem of subjectivity, and our awareness of it, and the paltry ways we try, unsuccessfully, to transcend it. So, this is NOT really a humor/satire book, per se, although the dust jacket's description tries to bill it as such (perhaps to expand the market appeal? Feh!). Early on, though, there is a send-up of the Phil Donahue show that is just *hilarious*. Most of the book is a series of (fairly involved) rhetorical questions, about such things as who in a hypothetical situation you would identify with the most, and why. The way the questions are counterposed, one could accuse Percy of making his points backhandedly via strawman-demolition, but that would be beside the point. Percy's overall aim is to get at the background of all our operating assumptions, and the ways in which we judge and evaluate others in relation to self, and what that says about what kind of thing man is. In the middle of the book is a digression on semiotics, the theory of signs. One of Percy's central ideas here is that man's cardinal innovation over other animals is his use of signs and not just signals. The "sign" usage is essentially triangular, involving subject, object, and the intersubjective sign, whereas an animal "signal" is two-dimensional, such as "danger, run away." All of our thought and communication is predicated on that sign-based three-dimensional framework. The self constantly has to situate oneself with respect to other selves and in the intersubjective framework that marks our communicative network. The main human predicament is that that intersubjective framework is essentially unstable due to our confusion about ourselves, and our desire to cover up our insecurities. No solution to this problem is forced upon the reader, although some suggestion of one is implied. The humanist and religious outlooks are both presented, fairly, I think, and the reader is left to evaluate the human condition as portrayed. The book ends with a couple of arresting sci-fi scenarios, that for thought-provocation, I haven't seen since the likes of Arthur C. Clarke's _Childhood's End._ This is a no-holds-barred look at ourselves that is rewarding as it is unflinchingly realistic, and I highly recommend it.

All about you and me, and he and she, and everyone else

I have just finished reading _Lost in the Cosmos_ and it is not too early to say that I shall never be able to get it entirely out of my mind. Certainly not a history book in the sense that while it touches somewhat upon past civilizations, certain societies, or so-called great men, it does not do so in any great detail. It is, instead, the history of peoples' relationships with one another, and the ramifications of choices that their "selves" make in various situations of their day-to-day lives. Walker Percy delves into the symbols, verbal and otherwise, that human kind uses (called "semiotics") as tools for relating with one another, whether in peace or war, or all the variations thereof. Everyone is self-centered and selfish to a certain extent, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Human nature is what it is; everyone brings into play in his decision-making his or her psychology (not ignoring the psycho-sexual), his current emotional state, as well as religious, economic, and ethno-cultural background. That someone may be a scientist, an artist, a writer, a construction worker, or a housewife is always key to one's decisions. Walker Percy, presenting various possible life scenarios, poses a series of questions to the reader and, depending on who you are and based on the various human factors previously cited, the reader is to ponder, then to check-off one or more choices he would make. Herein comes the self-help premise of the book: what we do tell us not only who we are as individuals but the type of people we can choose to be, for better or worse, for ourselves as well as for others. This magnificient book, often quite humorous (the Phil Donohue Show section is flat out hilarious), and quite often dead serious, mixes scientific method with science fiction expertly and extraordinarily enjoyably. _Lost in the Cosmos_ is the ultimate reality show. Read it and think!


Allow me to shout it to the clouds: "I AM A PRODUCT OF WALKER PERCY!"With Phil Donahue back on the air, Walker Percy's 1983 self-help book seems less dated now then it did in 1995 when I first read it. Now as then, it packs a wallop.Those reviews calling it a satire are being a little misleading. This book actually IS a self-help book. In fact, it is probably the only self-help book out there. While traditional self-help books are full of answers and leave little to question, this one is full of questions and almost entirely empty of answers. The idea is, that life is a journey that does not have a "little instruction book". And maybe, just maybe, there are things in our lives that distract us from even asking those important questions.Are we lost? Not if we're enjoying the journey.I don't want to go into any more detail. This book is something I have a difficult time talking about to other people. I feel like I have an intimate relationship with it that is difficult to describe to the casual outsider. The relationship was a little frustrating at times, but is now the kind of satisfying thing that has become a part of my life that has enriched me.Fans of the work of Tom Robbins will know what I'm talking about when I say that this book is deadly serious and frivolously playful all at the same time.Let's just say that with the sole exception of "What Color Is Your Parachute", this is the only self-help book out there that helped me. After reading this, "Dianetics" made me laugh until tears ran down my face.

A good, long, fun look into the abyss

One of the five subtitles of this impossibly good book reads: "How it is possible for the man who designed Voyager 19, which arrived at Titania, a satellite of Uranus, three seconds off schedule and a hundred yards off course after a flight of six years, to be one of the most screwed-up creatures in California-or the Cosmos"This book defies description. Dr. Percy is unrelenting in forcing the reader to examine the disasters visited upon man through our almost universal refusal to acknowledge our nature, despite the high level of "self-awareness" present in what Percy describes as "the flaky euphoria of the late twentieth century." Although this "self-help" book offers nothing in the way of answers, you will feel after reading (and re-reading (and re-reading)) it that you have been let in on the greatest inside joke of all time. This book is not chicken soup-it will not give you a set of instructions for living or boost your "self-esteem," but it will stun you with Dr. Percy's simple brilliance and it will alter the way you watch the evening news (and Donahue/Springer), cut your grass, shop for groceries, and generally manage to survive another Tuesday afternoon. Percy also offers a concise, thoughtful examination of semiotics, a critical study of the nature of human language which he wanted to devote himself to through his novels and non-fiction, although this material does nothing to dilute the potency of the diabolically simple, yet unanswerable, "quizzes" and "thought experiments."If you are one of those who has ever wondered about how everything started getting horribly off track (including, most importantly, ourselves) about the time that Star Trek reruns stopped regularly appearing on non-cable broadcast stations every weeknight, read this book immediately.

Hopeful angst: Walker Percy explains it all...?

A perfect companion to Carl Sagan's Contact, Lost in the Cosmos takes the reader on a parodic self-help journey from the depths of the human soul to the furthest reaches of outer space. The result is a caustic, witty, existential, and profoundly moving revelation about why we'd rather see our neighbor's house burn down than live through another Wednesday afternoon, among other things. The first part of the book is "the last self help book," satirizing our culture of self exploration. Percy then suggests the reader skip the middle part, a treatise on semiotics where Percy explores the work of Peirce to develop his own semiotic theory, teasing out the irony where humans have, through language, an infinity of ways to express an infinite number of thoughts, but still can't express their deepest needs and fears. Finally, Percy engages the reader in an extended "thought experiment" in the form of a space trip to the nearest star and an encounter with sentient life forms. The results are shockingly radical, challenging every expectation for both the science fiction genre and the self help novel. Percy succeeds in nothing less than the creation of a new language, uniting storytelling with the writing of philosophy seamlessly. It's too mundane to say that Percy's book can change your life, because that's the very attitude he seeks to uncover. If we are but wayfarers, in Percy's words, then Percy himself is both leader, guide, and fellow traveller
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