Publishers Weekly — Starred review

The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification

Paul Roberts. Bloomsbury, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-60819-814-6
Veteran journalist Roberts (The End of Oil) cogently analyzes the nation’s self-gratifying socioeconomic system in which individuals, politicians, and CEOs ignore society’s needs in favor of short-term fixes and profits. Whereas a century ago, most economic activity focused on producing necessities, today 70% of the economy centers on consumption, much of it discretionary, driven by our “aspirations and hopes, our identities… anxieties and our boredom.” As Roberts explains, an economy reoriented to giving us what we want “isn’t the best for delivering what we need.” Adept at synthesizing disparate data, Roberts traces the country’s economic history to contextualize what led to our increasingly market-driven behavior. He illustrates how signs of the “impulse society” are everywhere: in the toxic housing bubble and access to easy credit that led to our financial meltdown; corporate profits that go to buying back company stock to preserve share prices and executive compensation; a political system that functions more like a business; the role of the media in sorting us into marketing fragments, leading to our politically polarized culture; and the increase in the number of people being diagnosed with symptoms of clinical narcissism, among other issues. Not all doom and gloom, Roberts highlights promising developments such as the Affordable Care Act and growing bipartisan support for campaign finance reform, and offers plausible suggestions for a way forward. Agent: Heather Schroder, ICM. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 05/26/2014
Release date: 09/02/2014

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