A Slap in the Face by William B. Irvine
Why Insults Hurt--And Why They Shouldn't

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The second half of the book plods off in the direction of self-help, arguing that the best way to respond to insults is by learning from the Stoic philosophers...
-Guardian

Synopsis

Insults are part of the fabric of daily life. But why do we insult each other? Why do insults cause us such pain? Can we do anything to prevent or lessen this pain? Most importantly, how can we overcome our inclination to insult others?

In A Slap in the Face, William Irvine undertakes a wide-ranging investigation of insults, their history, the role they play in social relationships, and the science behind them. He examines not just memorable zingers, such as Elizabeth Bowen's description of Aldous Huxley as "The stupid person's idea of a clever person," but subtle insults as well, such as when someone insults us by reporting the insulting things others have said about us: "I never read bad reviews about myself," wrote entertainer Oscar Levant, "because my best friends invariably tell me about them." Irvine also considers the role insults play in our society: they can be used to cement relations, as when a woman playfully teases her husband, or to enforce a social hierarchy, as when a boss publicly berates an employee. He goes on to investigate the many ways society has tried to deal with insults-by adopting codes of politeness, for example, and outlawing hate speech-but concludes that the best way to deal with insults is to immunize ourselves against them: We need to transform ourselves in the manner recommended by Stoic philosophers. We should, more precisely, become insult pacifists, trying hard not to insult others and laughing off their attempts to insult us.

A rousing follow-up to A Guide to the Good Life, A Slap in the Face will interest anyone who's ever delivered an insult or felt the sting of one--in other words, everyone.
 

About William B. Irvine

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William B. Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. His books include A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (OUP 2008) and On Desire: Why We Want What We Want (OUP 2007).
 
Published February 1, 2013 by Oxford University Press. 254 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for A Slap in the Face
All: 4 | Positive: 1 | Negative: 3

Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Andrew Anthony on Aug 17 2013

Names do hurt, as much as we might try to pretend they don't. Sometimes, the best response is not speech pacifism but a really viciously clever retort. But if you're looking on tips on wit, this book is not the place to start.

Read Full Review of A Slap in the Face: Why Insul... | See more reviews from Guardian

Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Sam Leith on Jul 10 2013

The second half of the book plods off in the direction of self-help, arguing that the best way to respond to insults is by learning from the Stoic philosophers...

Read Full Review of A Slap in the Face: Why Insul... | See more reviews from Guardian

Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Sam Leith on Jul 10 2013

All in all this is a pretty feeble book, and its author is a bit of a drongo. That's not an insult, by the way. That's a considered opinion.

Read Full Review of A Slap in the Face: Why Insul... | See more reviews from Guardian

WSJ online

Above average
Reviewed by Daniel Akst on Mar 01 2013

The usefulness of "A Slap in the Face" is...in explaining why such barbs are so ubiquitous in the first place and, more important, how we can retain our dignity when they are aimed in our direction.

Read Full Review of A Slap in the Face: Why Insul... | See more reviews from WSJ online

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