cover image Self-Made: Creating Our Identities from Da Vinci to the Kardashians

Self-Made: Creating Our Identities from Da Vinci to the Kardashians

Tara Isabella Burton. PublicAffairs, $29 (288p) ISBN 978-1-541-78901-2

In this wide-ranging survey, Burton (Strange Rites) traces the idea of the charismatic “self-made” person through its evolution from the advent of the printing press to the age of social media. Profiling Thomas Edison, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, and other zeitgeist-influencers, Burton demonstrates how their genius at marketing highly curated versions of themselves often obscured or ignored elements that didn’t fit the narrative, and describes the need for self-invention as a quest to become a “god” where “artificiality and authenticity meet.” Renaissance artist and printmaker Albrecht Dürer made his attempt literal, boldly inserting his own image to represent Jesus in his art. Men dominate the first portion of the analysis, but easing social restrictions in the 20th century led to the rise of self-made women. Actor Clara Bow’s celebrated “It” factor launched a fervor to capture that elusive, mesmerizing quality on cinema screens and in increasingly lucrative advertising. Through each era, technology has remained a crucial component in allowing tastemakers to shape their personas and spread their self-promotional messages. With clarity and authority, Burton sheds light on how the self-made indulge in the profitable “fantasy of selling yourself” and provide an escape from reality for their followers. It’s an eye-opener. (Jun.)