The Era of Choice: The Ability to Choose and Its Transformation of Contemporary Life

Edward C. Rosenthal, Author Bradford Book $32.5 (331p) ISBN 978-0-262-18248-5
The roots of the word decide carry the sense of ""cutting off"" something-that moment when roads diverge and we must move on without unchosen alternatives. We fear the contradictory tugs of many of these choices, and long for simplicity, less confusion, even less freedom-as Dostoevsky's Inquisitor observed. In fact, we now have so much to choose from that a paradoxical ""inversion of choice"" may be what we will be remembered for. Rosenthal believes this exhausting situation is the outcome of the ""acceleration of industrial growth"" and ""the loss of the absolute,"" and when he's finished this survey of twentieth century thought, it's hard not to agree. Rosenthal is a wonderful guide to intellectually demanding material, and he is equally surefooted among such dissimilar subjects as quantum physics, higher mathematics, Existentialism and Saussurean linguistics. And yet, despite the impressive scope of this book, he never indulges in academic preening (there is a good bibliography and index, but no footnotes). His arguments are engaging and almost always persuasive. This is an extremely readable cautionary tale about the ""vicious spiral of choice,"" of how unresolved dualisms have informed modern life, all the way from light's waves and particles and Schrodinger's dead-and-alive cat to the somewhat less mysterious presence of exclusive boutiques inside large, inclusive malls. Some of this material has been covered in books like John Ralston Saul's Voltaire's Bastards or, more recently, in Thomas de Zengotita's Mediated, but not as comprehensively, and hardly ever with such infectious curiosity.
Reviewed on: 09/01/2005
Release date: 09/01/2005
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