The Pequod Review:
James English’s The Economy of Prestige is an intelligent sociological review of the role of prizes and awards (such as the Oscars, Pulitzers, etc.) in modern society. Borrowing heavily from Pierre Bourdieu, English goes beyond the superficial observations to show the complex and contradictory ways prizes function — e.g., the way we as consumers form identities and exhibit taste by either supporting or mocking winners, the way the media uses awards and best-of lists to encourage consumption, the commercial impulses driving the proliferation of prizes, and how those at the top of the prize hierarchy seek to maintain their positions. The book also has detailed discussions on the administrators and bureaucrats behind such prizes, as well as the financial, political and social pressures that impact how they ultimately choose winners. While English’s narrative could use a bit more analytical rigor (the statistical analyses in the appendix hint at paths a superior book could have taken), this is an enormously fascinating topic and English covers it quite well.