It’s always been fashionable to announce that what Sontag called ‘serious’ intellectual culture is dead or dying. Now, it’s supposed to be a result of what’s inaccurately referred to as ‘the algorithm’, but as Tolentino acknowledges, before she ploughs on with the analysis regardless, ‘people have been carping in this way for many centuries.’ What’s truly amazing about these times is that we have more access than ever before to material that demonstrates the continuity and repetitiveness of history, including evidence of the insistence by critics of all eras that this time is different, yet so many still buy into the pyramid scheme that we are special. It is both self-aggrandising and self-exonerating; it feels right. What seems self-evident to me is that public writing is always at least a little bit self-interested, demanding, controlling and delusional, and that it’s the writer’s responsibility to add enough of something else to tip the scales away from herself. For readers hoping to optimise the process of understanding their own lives, Tolentino’s book will seem ‘productive’. But those are her terms. No one has to accept them.