Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit

Joseph Epstein, Editor
Joseph Epstein. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-618-72194-8
Reviewed on: 06/06/2011
Release date: 11/01/2011
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4526-2546-1
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-0-547-57721-0
MP3 CD - 978-1-4526-5546-8
Compact Disc - 978-1-4526-0546-3
Paperback - 242 pages - 978-0-547-84459-6
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Both educational and dangerous, a form of news and idle speculation—the many facets and history of gossip are explored by Epstein (Snobbery). He explores the transition from private gossip ("The only thing missing from the Garden of Eden was a third person for Adam and Eve to gossip about") to "the professionalism of gossip" with the printing press and changes wrought by the Internet, which has obliterated the divide between "private and public spheres." Delectable firsthand anecdotes and portraits of "great gossips of the Western world"—Saint-Simon, Walter Winchell, Barbara Walters (who asks "the most tasteless questions of famous people... who [are] themselves tasteless enough to answer her"), and Tina Brown (who makes "debased interest, misplaced curiosity, and voyeuristic emotion seem not tacky but perfectly all right, fun, smart") 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. (Dec.)
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