Asking for a Friend: Three Centuries of Advice on Life, Love, Money, and Other Burning Questions from a Nation Obsessed

Asking for a Friend: Three Centuries of Advice on Life, Love, Money, and Other Burning Questions from a Nation Obsessed

by Jessica Weisberg


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A delightful history of Americans' obsession with advice — from Poor Richard to Dr. Spock to Miss Manners

Americans, for all our talk of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, obsessively seek advice on matters large and small. Perhaps precisely because we believe in bettering ourselves and our circumstances in life, we ask for guidance constantly. And this has been true since our nation's earliest days: from the colonial era on, there have always been people eager to step up and offer advice, some of it lousy, some of it thoughtful, but all of it read and debated by generations of Americans.

Jessica Weisberg takes readers on a tour of the advice-givers who have made their names, and sometimes their fortunes, by telling Americans what to do. You probably don't want to follow all the advice they proffered. Eating graham crackers will not make you a better person, and wearing blue to work won't guarantee a promotion. But for all that has changed in American life, it's a comfort to know that our hang-ups, fears, and hopes have not. We've always loved seeking advice — so long as it's anonymous, and as long as it's clear that we're not asking for ourselves; we're just asking for a friend.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781568585345
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Publication date: 04/03/2018
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Jessica Weisberg is an award-winning writer and producer. Her writing has appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times, Harper's, and Atavist, among other publications, and been nominated for a National Magazine Award. She was a producer on the podcast Serial and runs the features unit at Vice News Tonight on HBO, for which she's been nominated for an Emmy. She lives in Brooklyn.

Table of Contents

Preface 1

Part 1 Old, Wise Men 11

1 In Praise of the Maggot John Dunton 15

2 Politeness vs. Honesty, Part 1 Lord Chesterfield 27

3 Funny Business Benjamin Franklin 43

4 American Guru William Alcott 55

Part 2 As a Friend 67

5 Sob Sister Dorothy Dix 71

6 Happy Thoughts Dale Carnegie 85

7 Everything Changes Dear Abby Ann Landers 97

8 Indulgence Is a Virtue Mildred Newman 111

Part 3 Experts Among Us 123

9 Honorary Pants Sylvia Porter 127

10 Doctor's Orders Benjamin Spock 139

11 Death's Best Friend Elisabeth Kübler-Ross 155

12 Guide to the Stars Joan Quigley 171

Part 4 Advice for All, by All 189

13 Stand by Me Harville Hendrix Helen Hunt 193

14 Politeness vs. Honesty, Part 2 Judith Martin 207

15 How to Coach a Life Coach Martha Beck 219

16 The King of Quora Michael King 233

Conclusion 247

Acknowledgments 251

Notes 253

Index 289

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