You’re Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery (Get your copy on Amazon.)
The history of flattery – and why it’s an art form well worth studying. Ranging from the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt, an outrageous form of physical self-flattery to the publication of “How To Win Friends and Influence People”. It looks at flattery during the Renaissance and President Clinton on the opening day of his impeachment inquiry: “I trust the American people. They almost always get it right”.
Not so long ago, someone with too much time on his hands conducted a study that indicated that waiters who drew little smiley faces at the bottom of their checks received tips that were, on average, 10 percent higher than those of waiters who just brought their customers an unadorned check. This practice makes use of flattery insofar as it makes us feel that our waiter was happy to serve us, instead of just doing his job. We feel good about ourselves. We feel good about the waiter. We give him money.
Over the years, people have offered many different definitions of and opinions on flattery, and flattery itself has changed “from flattery as a technique for persuading a whole class of people to flattery as a technique for influencing a single person.” Is it venal? Is it a victimless crime? Is it a diluted form of praise? Is it merely, as Lord Chesterfield suggested, “a complaisant indulgence for people’s weaknesses”? Or is it just lying? In his book You’re Too Kind, Richard Stengel ponders the meaning of flattery and charts a droll and whimsical history, starting with the Egyptians (“Laugh after he laughs, and it will be very pleasing to his heart,” recommends Vizier Ptahhotep), and concluding with handy hints on how to flatter without getting caught: “Never be candid when a person asks you to be candid.” In between, he asks questions such as “What is circumcision, really, but a kind of divinely enforced flattery?” in an irreverent discourse around the covenant with the Israelites, and looks at everyone from troubadours to Dale Carnegie, Puritans to Hollywood D-girls.
The dust jacket sports plaudits by impresario of flattery Jay Leno and spinmeister George Stephanopoulos, who vouch that You’re Too Kind is indeed a diverting book for the reader–like yourself–with taste, discretion, and, ahem, humor. –J. Riches
From Library Journal
Charting the uses of flattery and the social contexts in which it is used from biblical times to the present, Stengel (a senior editor at Time magazine) illustrates that more than mere praise, flattery is praise with a motive, be it benign or grasping. In his introduction, Stengel admits that some of the examples of flattery throughout the ages that he chooses to describe may be more inclusive rather than exclusive for some tastes (in the humorous chapter about the God of the Old Testament, he argues that the “insecure” God craves adulation from his chosen people, the Israelites, so that He can feel “powerful” and “revered”), but his expansive view of flattery doesn’t diminish the fun. Beware: After reading this book, you may look at the subject of strategic praise in a whole new light, and it may not be a flattering one, either. Enjoyable and informative; for popular culture collections and larger public libraries.DKimberly L. Clarke, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis