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Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream

Carl Elliott
Introduction by Peter D. Kramer

In the tradition of The Culture of Narcissism and Listening to Prozac, a resonant exploration of the paradoxes of self-improvement.

Americans have always been the world's most anxiously enthusiastic consumers of "enhancement technologies." There is nothing novel about our use of Prozac and Viagra, or in our yearning toward cosmetic surgery and Botox injections, except the names of the drugs and the procedures. With the success of each new medical technology, a familiar pattern of response surfaces: public hand-wringing, an occasional congressional hearing, calls for self-reliance. "We have created in America a culture of drugs." The speaker? Richard Nixon.

Better Than Well offers a diagnosis rather than an argument. Why do we feel uneasy about these drugs, procedures, and therapies even while we embrace them? Where do we draw the line between self and society? Why do we seek self-realization in ways so heavily influenced by cultural conformity?

This wise, humane, and provocative book traces the fault lines in our peculiarly obsessive pursuit of happiness.


"Elliott has produced a powerful meditation - moving, sardonic, humorous, and startling by turns - on the role the 'enhancement technologies' of American medicine have to come to play in shaping our sense of who we are or wish to be. In the grand tradition of Thorstein Veblen, David Riesman, Walker Percy, and Erving Goffman, this is an observant, offbeat description of how we live now that is also a biting critique of it."
- Clifford Geertz, Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton

"Better Than Well is a superbly crafted book. Lucidly written, often funny, it offers a penetrating look at our self-obsessed, over-medicalized, enhancement-addicted society."
- Shannon Brownlee, Washington Post Book World

"Elliott's capacious and learned intellect is well suited to this discursive approach; he is able to tug on the thread of a single enhancement technique and unravel what seems to be the whole of American culture."
- Gary Greenberg, Mother Jones

"A refreshingly quirky journey, its twists and turns dotted with cultural and literary references."
- Marilyn Gardner, Christian Science Monitor


Carl Elliott is a professor of bioethics and philosophy at the University of Minnesota. He lives in Minneapolis.










Cover of Better than Well
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