• Having and Being Had

  • By: Eula Biss
  • Narrated by: Alex McKenna
  • Length: 7 hrs and 15 mins
  • 4.0 out of 5 stars (55 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

New York Times Editors’ Choice 

Named a Best Book of The Year by Time, NPR, InStyle, and Good Housekeeping

"A sensational new book [that] tries to figure out whether it’s possible to live an ethical life in a capitalist society.... The results are enthralling." (Associated Press)

"A timely and arresting new look at affluence by the New York Times best-selling author, “one of the leading lights of the modern American essay." (Financial Times)

“My adult life can be divided into two distinct parts”, Eula Biss writes, “the time before I owned a washing machine and the time after.” Having just purchased her first home, the poet and essayist now embarks on a provocative exploration of the value system she has bought into. Through a series of engaging exchanges - in libraries and laundromats, over barstools and backyard fences - she examines our assumptions about class and property and the ways we internalize the demands of capitalism. Described by the New York Times as a writer who “advances from all sides, like a chess player,” Biss offers an uncommonly immersive and deeply revealing new portrait of work and luxury, of accumulation and consumption, of the value of time and how we spend it. Ranging from IKEA to Beyoncé to Pokemon, Biss asks, of both herself and her class, “In what have we invested?”

©2020 Eula Biss (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“Compulsively readable ... blends research, reflection and richly rendered personal experience.... This is a book that asks to be read, absorbed and read again.” (BookPage)

“[A] strong new meditation on buying and owning in a society as a white woman where some people descend from Americans once considered property themselves.... This is an essential book for our out-of-control times.” (Lit Hub)

“A stylish, meditative inquiry into the function and meaning of twenty-first-century capitalism.... Biss doesn’t shy away from acknowledging her own privilege, and laces her reflections with unexpected insights and a sharp yet ingratiating sense of humor. . . . this eloquent, well-informed account recasts the everyday world in a sharp new light.” (Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about Having and Being Had

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Not Very Deep

The book feels like the banter college educated adults might have over a few drinks, sharing bits of insight, personal experience, and humor, but not deep research. There were occasional interesting anecdotes, but I don't expect most people who have thought about their own socioeconomic positions and sought out this book to learn very much. It is more about painting a picture of the author's feelings of privilege (the author refers to herself as an artist), rather than a deep dive into issues and solutions. That's not necessarily bad, but not what I was looking for and not what I expected before starting the book.

4 people found this helpful

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self-indulgent, snarky, entitled rant

I really tried to endure this audiobook until 2;22 to try to understand why it gets such accolades. I found it to be a self-indulgent rant by a privileged white woman and narrated in an equally-offensive tone. The author officially 'lost' me when she launched into the entitled rant about the 'Mexican woman' who knocked on her door asking if she would rent an apparently empty room in her house and the author's snarky retort 'I live here!' My entire book club agreed with my take on this book. Disappointing.

3 people found this helpful

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Musings of the Brahmin left

The author is a self-described artist who often seems to go to great lengths to stress how uncomfortable with money she is, despite having a fair amount of it in New York. She waxes on about her daily life and relationships and how she feels disconnected from the capital she owns.

Her narrative is that of what Thomas Pikkety calls “the Brahmin left”- those who are highly educated and invested in cultural/artistic pursuits, and who may or may not hold significant capital (she does, even if it’s not explicitly monetary). She references multiple prominent intellectual authors (including Pikkety) with whom I assume most readers are already familiar.

While opining of her sympathies with the poor and working classes, how she lived so frugally in her early years, how her husband considers his own background as “trash”, etc., her overtures ultimately fall flat in conveying any genuine connection to the poor. Perhaps this wasn’t the intent of the book, but it detracts from it nonetheless.

This book does contain some interesting (albeit unoriginal) reflections on how capitalism manifests itself in her daily life, but it is ultimately just another personal musing on the unfulfilling workings of capitalism, written by a member of the ruling class.

If all you want is a collection of slice-of-life essays by an upper-class white woman artist pondering her place in a capitalist society, then this book delivers. If you’re looking for more than this, there are more comprehensive works available.

2 people found this helpful

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A beautifully written and read meditation on capitalism

This book reads like a string of poems, sometimes repetitive and circular but also meditative and beautiful. Unlike many books about capitalism which feature policy recommendations and calls to action alongside their critiques, To Have and Be Had instead draws us into the messiness of a dehumanizing economic system and asks to stay in the discomfort of examining how complicit we are in what we see. I’ll be buying a print version of this to peruse when I’m questioning the unpaid labor of being a mother and an artist.

2 people found this helpful

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Thought provoking content, poor microphone

Interesting essays about money, wish the speaker used better audio equipment for recording (voice was okay, but sounded tinny and had too bright tenor)

1 person found this helpful

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Sometimes Interesting

I was really excited to get this audiobook after hearing the author on an NPR interview. It sounded light a very insightful look at modern day capitalism. I was disappointed to find that at many times, I found myself being annoyed by the author’s seemingly constant complaining about her desires and obstacles she faces during her interactions with others. The flow seemed frequently scattered, and I would often feel lost amongst her stream of consciousness. Perhaps it was due to the performance of the narrator (which seemed repetitive in her delivery), but I could help feeling as if she was on a constant rant of privilege. That said, there were some good nuggets of information here and there, and some insights that allowed me to challenge my own thinking and lived experience. I guess I just expected many more of those moments.

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a book contract book for money

Author’s admission that she wrote it for money to write was an unctuous self indulgence leaving me emptier than when I started it. maybe this book will clear out her collegiate cliff notes stuck in her brain so she can integrate and speak from the grit that almost surfaces in her point of view. prediction: she longs for hardship and when it arrives she will then become a real person who writes.

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Blather

Like listening to an actress reading the transcription of a month’s worth of a child’s dreams as if she were reading the Gettysburg Address.