cover image What Price Fame?

What Price Fame?

Tyler Cowen. Harvard University Press, $24 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-674-00155-8

Primarily a look at the economic implications of our fame-driven culture, this compelling book, which reads like a long essay, also offers a philosophical meditation on the social and moral impact of fame on our public and private lives. Drawing on such diverse thinkers as Plato, St. Augustine, Jurgan Habermas and Pierre Bourdieu to bolster his arguments, Cowan, an economics professor at George Mason University, rambles through a wide variety of interrelated topics with varying success. While he engages the reader with some provocative ideas (such as that ""diminishing privacy limits the creativity of performers and the diversity of society"") and plenty of quirky facts (there are more than 3,000 Halls of Fame in the U.S., 30 of them for bowling alone; in 1986, the 10 public figures admired most by teenagers were entertainers), Cowan's view of fame itself is defined so loosely as to have little analytical or critical meaning. Many of his points are indefinite because they are either obvious or their basic terms are too vague: ""Music stars,"" we are told, ""use haircuts, styles of dress, and outrageous gimmicks to make themselves focal""; ""the diminution of surprise plagues the aesthetic realm""; and ""we can no longer look at Leonardo's Mona Lisa... with full freshness."" Still, his graceful prose and refreshing perspective on the occasionally bizarre effects of capitalism will be enough to engage thoughtful readers. (Mar.)