Lost in the Cosmos

Lost in the Cosmos

The Last Self-help Book

Book - 1983
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Baker & Taylor
A distinguished novelist presents his observations on the cosmos, the self, the relationship between them, and present and prospective events, circumstances, and developments affecting that relationship

McMillan Palgrave
Percy's second work of non-fiction is provocative, funny, infuriating and engaging, answering such questions as, why is it possible to learn more in ten minutes about the Crab Nebula, which is 6,000 light years away, than you presently know about yourself?


Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus & Giroux, c1983
ISBN: 9780374191658
0374191654
Characteristics: 262 p. : ill. ; 22 cm

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dennismmiller
Mar 05, 2019

Walker Percy begins with a question. Why is it that you (assuming you are reasonably well-educated by 1983 standards) are likely to identify a picture of Saturn or the Horsehead Nebula with less hesitation than a photo of yourself? Why is it that distant objects which will never - despite the fantastic imaginings of astrologers and space travel enthusiasts alike - in any meaningful way affect your life are in some way more familiar than your own face? Why is it that in many ways you are more mysterious to yourself than are the cores of faraway stars? His answer is that there is an essential difference between yourself and the rest of the cosmos - unlike everything else, you live in an internal world of signs and symbols, related to but not identical with your external environment. In this internal world it is your self which alone eludes all lasting signification - so far as we know, the human consciousness is "unique in its ability to understand the world but not itself."

Having thus laid out the problem, Percy invites the reader to explore different strategies to resolve it through a series of multiple-choice questions, many of them based on imaginary scenarios. It is here that Percy's brilliance as a novelist has free play, and his vignettes are both incisive and wickedly funny, directly involving the reader and demanding that he make concrete decisions. Although some of the specifics have dated badly (remember Donahue?), the issues involved remain immediate.

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lukasevansherman
Aug 05, 2014

"Boredom is the self stuffed with itself." The great Southern writer Walker Percy wrote some of the best novels of the second half of the 20th century, including "The Moviegoer" and "Lancelot," and was also instrumental in getting "A Confederacy of Dunces" published. Perhaps lesser known is his non-ficiton. This volume, cheekily subtitled "The Last Self-Help Book," takes on weighty topics like God, art, the self, boredom, sex, and science. Percy brings great erudition (without being pretentious), wit, and insight to these big themes, deftly weaving in philosophical ideas with droll commentary on contemporary society. The title is a play on Carl Sagan's show/book "Cosmos." Though released in the early 80s, it has lost little of its relevance or impact.

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neherring
Jul 18, 2011

Regarding the fear of public speaking: "Is it because you know that what you present to the world is a persona, a mask, that it is a very fragile disguise, that God alone knows what is underneath since you clearly do not..." (p 30)

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neherring
Jul 18, 2011

"Why is it that no other species but man gets bored? Under the circumstances in which a man gets bored, a dog goes to sleep." (p 71)

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