A Best Book of 2023 by Inc.
Social psychologist and Stanford professor Brian Lowery presents a provocative, powerful theory of identity, arguing that there is no essential "self"—our selves are social creations of those with whom we interact —exploring what that means for who we can be and who we allow others to be.
There’s nothing we spend more time with, but understand less, than ourselves. You’ve been with yourself every waking moment of your life. But who—or, rather, what—are you? In Selfless, Brian Lowery argues for the radical idea that the “self” as we know it—that “voice in your head”—is a social construct, created in our relationships and social interactions. We are unique because our individual pattern of relationships is unique. We change because our relationships change. Your self isn’t just you, it’s all around you.
Lowery uses this research-driven perspective of selfhood to explore questions of inequity, race, gender, politics, and power structures, transforming our perceptions of how the world is and how it could be. His theory offers insight into how powerful people manage their environment in sophisticated, often unconscious, ways to maintain the status quo; explains our competing drives for deep social connection and personal freedom; and answers profound, personal questions such as: Why has my sense of self evolved over time? Why do I sometimes stop short of changes that I want to make in life?
In Selfless, Lowery persuasively breaks down common assumptions and beliefs; his insights are humbling. Despite what many may think, we aren’t islands unto ourselves; we are the creation of the many hands that touch us. We don’t just exist in communities, we are created and shaped by them. Our highs and lows are not only our own but belong to others as well. By recognizing that we are products of relationships—from fleeting transactions to deep associations—we shatter the myth of individualism and free ourselves to make our lives and the world accordingly.
BRIAN LOWERY, PhD, is the Walter Kenneth Kilpatrick Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Lowery’s research has been published in major scholarly journals and has been covered by media outlets such as the Washington Post, GQ, Psychology Today, Pacific Standard, Quartz, the Huffington Post, and NPR’s All Things Considered. He also hosts the podcast Know What You See.
“An unusually insightful look at how our social world shapes who we become. This book will challenge you to rethink many of your assumptions about what drives your decisions, your actions, and your identity.” — Adam Grant, author of Think Again and Originals
“This powerful book is guaranteed to change the way you see yourself and the world around you. Lowery masterfully weaves science and stories together to expose that we are all selfless – shaped in each moment and over years by our social situations. Selfless is a gift – an engaging and important book that will help you better understand the influence of the web of relationships you inhabit.” — Katy Milkman, author of How to Change
“[Lowery] investigates many commonly held assumptions that selfhood is, for the most part, a privately malleable entity originating within us at birth, and that absolute liberty in defining it might be both possible and desirable. We know ourselves better and can improve our chances at self-improvement, the author explains convincingly, if we accept that our identities are fluid, socially determined phenomena…. An informed, thought-provoking consideration of the relational dimensions of our lives.” — Kirkus Reviews
"Blending psychology, philosophy, and sociology, Lowery relays the exploration of what a self is into questions about how selfhood relates to personal autonomy, the consequences of our actions, and the desire for a meaningful life. Lowery is remarkably skillful at making these potentially heady themes clear and accessible, and engaging with them makes for a rewarding journey." — Mindful