Man Alone: Alienation in Modern Society is a collection of writings that survey the theme of alienation. Alienation has, of course, been a major theme in art and literature of the 20th century and all its many facets are covered here. Actually, much of the writing in the book goes back beyond the 20th century.
The book is separated into several sections. Alienation and Identity includes Erich Fromm’s Alienation under Capitalism and Ernest G. Schachtel’s On Alienated Concepts of Identity. Fromm’s selection is especially enlightening.
Work and Leisure examines alienation from the point of view of working and having fun. Selections here include works by the esteemed Karl Marx, Alienated Labor, as well as such lesser known writers as Alan Harrington. The best selection here, aside from Marx’s, is probably The Myth of the Happy Worker by Harvey Swados.
Mass Culture presents a series of writings that undermine the idea that advertisers pound into us constantly that constant consumption and acquisition will make us happy. The standout here is Of Happiness and of Despair We Have No Measure by Ernest van den Haag, though equally interesting and trenchant are The Metropolis and Mental Life by George Simmel and Wasteland by Marya Mannes.
Politics is a section which cries out for writing about alienation. Who has not felt alienated from politicians and their lies and lies and lies? C. Wright Mills’ The Mass Society ranks not only as the best of the lot here, but maybe the highlight of the entire book, though Anxiety and Politics by Franz Neumann is good as well.
Science and War is oddly short with only two entries and neither are particularly original.
Social Isolation is a sort of umbrella section featuring various essays dealing with, well, social isolation; how we’re isolated from each other. Again, there really isn’t any one particularly strong standout here, but all are worth a read.
Rebels, Deviants and Retreatists is probably the most interesting section if only because of subject matter: alcoholics, bums, psychotics, hookers, suicides. Only Dostoevsky’s masterpiece Notes from Underground (an excerpt) is well written, but you can’t call any of these boring, that’s for sure.
Integration is strangely titled and is really all over the place. Featured in this section are works by Frederick Weiss, Joseph Eaton and William Whyte. Harriett Mills’ Thought Reform: Ideological Remolding in China is interesting for its hysterical tone.
This is an anthology featuring a theme that permeates all 20th century media, yet has found itself centralized in very few books of this kind. It’s well worth a look, even if you don’t necessarily find everything in it of use.