The Power of Glamour

The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion, by Virginia Postrel

What exactly is glamour?  Is it personal style?  Charisma?  Envy?  Does it involve sparkles and lipstick?  Is it shallow and frivolous, or does it reveal deeper insights about human nature? Virginia Postrel embarks on a quest to define and chronicle glamour.  She calls it a moment of longing, in which we look at an image and project ourselves into a better life -- one that isn't messy and awkward, but instead clear and graceful.

Glamour comes in all sorts of flavors; the earliest may have been military glamour, and Postrel uses Achilles as a primary example.  But so many things have glamour: princesses, suntans, wind turbines, airplanes, horses, and the Mysterious East.  They are dissected and analyzed for what it is that makes them glamorous.  Some elements seem to be important; glamour tends to attach much more to static images than to things that move, for example, and it has to be a bit distant and unknown.

The book is filled with beautiful images and photographs, and usually, if Postrel describes something, there will be a picture of it nearby.  One of my favorite things was a chart showing the difference between glamour and charisma; first a set of characteristics, and then a set of people. Barack Obama, Che, Spock, and Joan of Arc dead are all glamorous, while Bill Clinton, Castro, Kirk, and Joan of Arc alive are charismatic.

An intriguing analysis, and I enjoyed reading it quite a bit.  Readers of non-fiction and those interested in rhetoric, style, or psychology should add it to the list.


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