On Balance

Adam Phillips




Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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"Balancing acts," writes Adam Phillips, "are entertaining because they are risky, but there are situations in which it is more dangerous to keep your balance than to lose it." In these essays, the philosopher and psychoanalyst examines literature, fairy tales, works of art, and case studies to reveal the paradoxes inherent in our appetites and fears. How do we know when enough is enough? Are there times when too much is just right? Why is Cinderella’s biggest problem not the prince but other women? What can Richard III’s furious sense of his own helplessness tell us of our own desires? On Balance shows Phillips’s bravura gift for linking disparate ideas and the dreamers that dreamed them into something beautiful, revelatory, and essential.


Praise for On Balance

"The curious thing about reading Phillips is that he makes you feel smart and above the daily grind at the same time as he reassures you that you are not alone in your primal anxieties about whether you are lovable or nuts or, perhaps, merely boring."—Daphne Merkin, The New York Times Magazine
"A refreshing, invigorating experience . . . Adam Phillips is one of the richest and most rewarding essayists of our time."—Los Angeles Times

"Highly pragmatic . . . Phillips's authority as it comes in no small part from his own experience as a highly regarded therapist . . . Like a priest, he is concerned with damnation and salvation, under the secular names of sickness and cure."—Adam Kirsche, The Boston Globe
"Gently provocative reading on themes of need and desire . . . Phillips's ideas are fresh and inventive, casting new light on counterintuitive topics from the psychological importance of punishment to the questionable pursuit of happiness."—Financial Times (UK)

"Transformative . . . Phillips can tease out contradictions with extraordinary delicacy . . . He shows that pleasure and desire are not simple; they can be feared . . . and used to hide things we should really see."—The Guardian (London)
"One of the finest prose stylists at work in the language, an Emerson of our time.”—John Banville
"A set of beguiling essays . . . The author provides polished ponderables for all readers."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Five Short Talks on Excess* It is very stretchy. Kay Ryan, ‘The Fabric of Life’
I In Excess Nothing makes people more excessive than talking about excess. We tend to become either extremely disapproving or unusually enthusiastic and excited about the most recently reported celebrity orgy, or managing director’s pay rise. No one can be indifferent to binge drinking, or the amount of pornography on the internet; everyone knows someone now who has a so-called eating disorder, and everyone knows about the huge numbers of people in the world who are starving. Excess
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  • Adam Phillips

  • Adam Phillips is a psychoanalyst and a visiting professor in the English department at the University of York. He is the author of many acclaimed books, including On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored; Going Sane; and On Kindness (with Barbara Taylor).