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Why Grow Up?

Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age

Susan Neiman

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Why Grow Up? Download image

ISBN10: 0374536147
ISBN13: 9780374536145

Trade Paperback

256 Pages


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Our culture is obsessed with youth—and why not? What's the appeal of growing old, of gaining responsibilities and giving up on dreams, of steadily trading possibility for experience?

The philosopher Susan Neiman argues that the absence of appealing models of maturity is not an accident: by describing life as a downhill process, we prepare young people to expect1and demand—very little from it. In Why Grow Up?, she challenges our culture of permanent adolescence, turning to thinkers including Kant, Rousseau, and Arendt to find a model of maturity that is not a matter of resignation. In growing up, we move from the boundless trust of childhood to the peculiar mixture of disappointment and exhilaration that comes with adolescence. Maturity, however, means finding the courage to live in a world of painful uncertainty without giving in to dogma or despair. A grown-up, Neiman writes, helps to move the world closer to what it should be while never losing sight of what it is.

Why Grow Up? is a witty and concise argument for the value of maturity as a subversive ideal: a goal rarely achieved in its entirety, and all the more worth striving for.


Praise for Why Grow Up?

“Exemplary and unusual . . . [Why Grow Up? is] a case for philosophy of an admirably old-fashioned kind.”—A.O. Scott, The New York Times Book Review

“Susan Neiman's Why Grow Up is a spirited defence of the aspiration to maturity. As she sagely observes, by clinging impotently to youth, we impoverish youth and maturity alike . . . So how, when the force of an entire culture seems to be ranged against maturity, can we make a serious case for growing up? The question takes Neiman to debates at the heart of Enlightenment moral philosophy . . . Neiman is an impassioned and lucid expositor of some very recondite concepts, with that rare ability . . . to convey the continued relevance and urgency of philosophy for our distracted times.”—Josh Cohen, The Guardian

“An excellent work of popular, applied philosophy. Parts are as thought-provoking as reading Kant himself—and a damned sight easier.”—Brandon Robshaw, The Independent

“This elegant and accessible book is the philosophical kick up the arse my generation desperately needs.”—Tom Slater, Spiked

"To the barricades, armed with reason: Susan Neiman makes the case for toppling society's infantilism. Plumbing the depths of philosophy, she has written the most important book of the hour.”—Katrin Schuhmacher, MDR Figaro

“Neiman makes the case not only for thinking but for political engagement. Her passion eliminates any sort of pedantry.”—Birgit Schmidt, Tagesanzeiger

“The way Neiman interprets the Kantian idea of growing up—that of a never-ending task—has something subversive, and that's almost enough to make one young again.”—Peter Praschl, Die Welt

“Accessible philosophy doesn't get much better than this . . . Neiman's sense of humor is a plus, but her greatest strength is her ability to distill centuries of thought to their essence, provoking her readers along the way. Neiman convincingly makes the case that growing up is not tantamount to 'inevitable decline,' and that the hard work to make maturity fulfilling is worth the effort."—Publishers Weekly

“Neiman's view on using philosophy to guide ourselves into adulthood is a wonderful example of how the writings of past philosophers can be applied to our current lives. Her writing is accessible for those without a background in philosophy, and her book is a pleasant introduction to those unfamiliar with Kant and Rousseau.”—Scott Duimstra, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

1. Historical Backgrounds

Possible Worlds

It's fair to ask whether philosophy can say much at all about a process as diverse as coming of age. Philosophers trade in general truths - some still seek necessary or universal...

About the author

Susan Neiman

Susan Neiman is the director of the Einstein Forum. Her previous books, translated into many languages, include Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists, Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy, The Unity of Reason: Rereading Kant, and Slow Fire: Jewish Notes from Berlin. She also writes cultural and political commentary for diverse media in the United States, Germany, and Great Britain. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Neiman studied philosophy at Harvard and the Free University of Berlin and was a professor of philosophy at Yale and Tel Aviv Universities. She is the mother of three grown children and lives in Berlin.

Cindy Konig

Susan Neiman

Official Links

Read Articles by the Author at the Guardian