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Self-Made: Exploring the Evolution of Personal Branding Through History


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In her captivating book “Self-Made: Creating Our Identities from da Vinci to the Kardashians,” Tara Isabella Burton takes readers on a whirlwind journey through history, examining the individuals who have profoundly influenced the way we perceive and present ourselves. From Oscar Wilde to Kim Kardashian, Burton delves into the concept of personal branding and its evolution over time.

Burton contends that in today’s increasingly secular society, where traditional religious structures have waned, individuals have taken on the role of creators and shapers of their own identities. She explores how people have embraced the power and responsibility to construct their own narratives, particularly through the rise of social media and online platforms. From cultivating a personal aesthetic to curating an online persona, individuals have become active participants in the creation and portrayal of their identities.

The book opens with an examination of Albrecht Dürer, a German artist who pioneered self-portraiture and blended his image with that of Jesus Christ, symbolizing his desire to be seen as both artist and a divine figure. Burton draws parallels between Dürer’s self-portraits and the self-centered nature of contemporary figures like Kim Kardashian, whose book “Selfish” exemplifies her dedication to self-promotion and self-creation.

Burton also highlights the influence of iconic individuals such as Oscar Wilde, who championed artistic creation as the highest form of self-expression, and Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist who emphasized the idea of the “self-made man.” Through these figures, Burton showcases the intertwined relationship between individual identity and societal advancements, from Thomas Edison’s mastery of electricity to the transformative power of television and tape recordings.

While “Self-Made” offers a fascinating exploration of personal branding throughout history, it tends to overlook the contributions of women, except as subjects of scrutiny in Hollywood’s “It Girl” phenomenon. Nevertheless, the book uncovers intriguing anecdotes from the past, shedding light on lesser-known figures like futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and the Extropians, who envisioned the possibility of uploading consciousness into computers.

Burton’s work is a concise and engaging tour through the history of personal branding, leaving readers with a sense of both familiarity and curiosity. While it could benefit from more focus, “Self-Made” serves as a thought-provoking introduction to the subject, particularly for those navigating the complexities of self-representation in the digital age.

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