by Will Storr

Finally, a book that speaks to an audience uncomfortable with the narcissism that masquerades as self-esteem. Social media is partly to blame, although journalist Will Storr argues that who we are today has been influenced by a range of teachings, such as those that came out of the Esalen Institute in 1960s California. Ideas of individualism, however, go even further back, to the ancient Greeks. Storr explores these ideas in trying to find answers for our discontent today.

Self-obsession, which in the 21st century manifests in the ways we make our private lives public, can lead many to feel like failures when they compare themselves to an ideal self, and suicide is sometimes the result. Pulling together philosophy, history and science, and using interviews with experts in various fields, Storr has written a book that threatens to be unwieldy yet always manages to return to its focus, which is to show that the perfect self is a cultural construct. The lie at the centre of the age of perfectionism, he says, is that we can be anything we want to be.

Accept that we’re limited and imperfect, and we’d lead less anxious, happier lives. Amen.