Vital Signs

Remembering Christopher Lasch

Christopher Lasch, who for many years served as chairman of the history department at the University of Rochester and who was famous for his commentaries on American social history, including such books as The Culture of Narcissism and Haven in a Heartless World, died in March 1994 at the age of 61. Those who knew him only through his printed works knew one sort of person, and those who had personal dealings with him knew another. Those who, like many of his colleagues here, knew both the man and his works, sometimes had trouble reconciling Christopher Lasch, the author, with "Kit Lasch," the gentle and soft-spoken professor.

His books were bitter and ironic; he saw a world on the edge of collapse. Where it was poor, people were starving or killing one another for bread. Where it was rich, it squandered its substance on cars and houses and calories—all unneeded—urged on by what he saw as dishonest advertisers using the latest scientific brainwashing techniques. And while the well-to-do spent their evenings and weekends mindlessly watching television, or pursuing an elusive security, whether of finance or of love, the poor in our country, while doing much the same (though with smaller cars and houses), were being taught by the producers of televised love and death to envy their richer neighbors and maybe even to kill them.

Lasch began his academic career as a socialist of the "New...

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