A Matter of Taste Book Summary - A Matter of Taste Book explained in key points

A Matter of Taste summary

Stanley Lieberson

How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change

19 mins

Brief summary

'A Matter of Taste' by Stanley Lieberson explores the role of cultural taste in shaping social class. It examines how our preferences for art, music, and literature are influenced by our upbringing and how they affect our standing in society.

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    A Matter of Taste
    Summary of 11 key ideas

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    Different from customs, fashion is regularly undergoing change for novelty’s sake.

    When we hear the word fashion, the first thing that springs to mind are catwalks and designer labels. But the term describes far more than that. Fashion is a phenomenon that can be found in all aspects of society.

    Changes in fashion usually happen for novelty’s sake, not to enhance or alter an object or concept. In other words, a fashion is something new for the sake of its novelty as well as aesthetic reasons: last season’s sweater still fits and keeps you warm, but you’ll buy a new one anyway simply because it’s the latest “thing.”

    However, we don’t only buy new things because of fashion: we’ll also buy something because it’s objectively enhanced, e.g., a smartphone with a longer battery life. This doesn’t qualify as a fashion since the change hasn’t occurred purely for novelty’s sake.

    It’s also important to distinguish fashions from customs – though customs can develop into fashions.

    Different cultures may have distinctive habits of dressing, furnishing, etc. that aren’t “purely utilitarian,” but as long as these habits don’t change regularly, they’re customs and not a fashion. For example, the kimono might be a distinctive clothing style that doesn’t serve a direct purpose, but for a long period of time it was the traditional dress in Japan, hence it is a custom rather than a fashion.

    But if at some point the kimono makes a comeback among Japanese designers, it would be considered a fashion. That's because dressing habits first become a matter of fashion when there's a regular change in styles for the sake of novelty.

    Finally, fashion also has an influence on non-material things. Fashions change over time and an actress’s hairdo or a piece of music from the early 20th century no longer have the same impact on an audience today. Even Beethoven’s most famous symphony that enthused a whole generation isn't played in every concert house today.

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    What is A Matter of Taste about?

    A Matter of Taste examines how and why fashions and tastes in things like baby names change over time.

    A Matter of Taste Review

    A Matter of Taste (2000) delves into the dynamics of taste and its impact on our everyday lives. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Explores how personal preferences are shaped by various factors such as culture, social class, and upbringing, offering intriguing insights into human behavior.
    • Examines the subjectivity of taste and challenges the notion of a universal standard of beauty, prompting readers to question their own beliefs and judgments.
    • Through a rich blend of case studies, interviews, and data analysis, the book provides a well-rounded understanding of taste, making it an intellectually stimulating read.

    Best quote from A Matter of Taste

    The development of fashion in names, such that they are increasingly given to children because of aesthetic measures, is a relatively recent development.

    —Stanley Lieberson
    example alt text

    Who should read A Matter of Taste?

    • Anyone interested in how fashions develop
    • Anyone who wants to know why we pick the baby names we do
    • Anyone looking for inspiration in choosing a child’s name

    About the Author

    Stanley Lieberson is a Canadian sociologist and research professor at Harvard University. Besides first names and fashions, he has studied language conflicts, race and ethnic relations.

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    A Matter of Taste FAQs 

    What is the main message of A Matter of Taste?

    The main message of A Matter of Taste is the cultural significance of our food choices and how they reflect our identity and values.

    How long does it take to read A Matter of Taste?

    The reading time for A Matter of Taste varies, but it will generally take a few hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is A Matter of Taste a good book? Is it worth reading?

    A Matter of Taste is worth reading as it sheds light on the hidden complexities of our food preferences and explores the social factors that shape our taste.

    Who is the author of A Matter of Taste?

    A Matter of Taste is written by Stanley Lieberson.