To Have Or To Be? Book Summary - To Have Or To Be? Book explained in key points
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To Have Or To Be? summary

Erich Fromm

A classic about the psyche and socioeconomic change

4.5 (133 ratings)
21 mins
Table of Contents

    To Have Or To Be?
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    Economic progress doesn’t guarantee happiness or wealth.

    Everywhere we look, another product promises to better our lives: a new car to make us feel successful, a phone to help us manage our responsibilities. But if a better life is readily available, why are so many of us overwhelmed, lonely, disillusioned, and discontented? 

    Contrary to what we often hear, there’s more to life than unbridled consumption. 

    In fact, Western civilization’s “pursuit of happiness” has produced anxiety, depression, and addictions like never before. The urge to compete and compare leaves many of us isolated, and convinced that we need to be more and have more. Ironically, as long as accumulation is our primary ambition, we’ll never accumulate enough. We’ll grow more and more unfulfilled. But the consequences of unbridled consumption don’t stop at the level of the individual.

    There are societal consequences, too. One of these is the consolidation of wealth in the hands of the few.

    Because our capitalistic, “every-man-for-himself” system rewards selfishness and greed, things like solidarity, sharing, and contentment are devalued. Over time, this increases the disparity between economic classes, and can even cause wars. Historically speaking, greed has factored into almost every international war—from the French and Indian War to World War I.

    When greed drives society, everyone loses. Employers seek to deceive their customers, destroy their competition, and exploit their workers. So, where does that leave us? Is communism the solution? No, because, like capitalism, communism doesn’t seek to curb consumption.

    Nevertheless, drastic social and economic changes are necessary to reshape a society that no longer benefits the majority. Otherwise, our cycle of dissatisfaction will continue.

    Every day, we’re inundated with ideas about what we need to buy in order to be happy, and what we need to think in order to belong. But how does this affect the way we relate to ourselves and others? Is there a better way? Let’s explore those questions next. 

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    What is To Have Or To Be? about?

    To Have or To Be (1976) challenges the consumerist motivations that drive us “to have” and instead invites readers to embrace a new ideal: “to be.” This way of life provides the fulfillment that power, status, and keeping up with the Joneses promise don’t deliver.

    Who should read To Have Or To Be??

    • Busy people tired of the “rat race.” 
    • Weary workers seeking fulfillment beyond materialism, power, and status.
    • Mindful people  who desire a life of purposeful productivity.

    About the Author

    Erich Fromm (1900-1980) was a world-renowned psychologist, sociologist, and philosopher. Born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Fromm was the child of Orthodox Jewish parents. When the Nazis took power in 1934, he moved to New York; later, he became a US citizen and professor at several universities, among them Columbia and Yale.

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