Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book

Percy, Walker

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: May-17-1999


The book begins with a "Twenty Question Multiple Choice Self-Help Quiz." Each question is actually a short chapter. For example, the first chapter deals with the "amnesic self" and asks why amnesia is a favorite device in fiction and especially soap operas. Other chapters deal with the nowhere self, the fearful self, the promiscuous self, and so forth.

The second part of the book is an essay on the nature of the self, complete with numerous diagrams and arrows. The third section presents discussions of various manifestations of the self as transcendent, orbiting, exempted, lonely, and demoniac. The last part is called "A Space Odyssey" and is captioned "What to do if there is no man Friday out there and we really are alone?"

Obviously, this summary says virtually nothing about what the book is about. Suffice it to say that Percy brings his playful humor to the central existential question of human meaning and he presents it in the form of a self-help manual.


This book is an imaginative mixture of fact and fiction, science and religion, history and current affairs, all of which are served up in a ruefully humorous style. The last two chapters ("A Space Odyssey") are particularly innovative. In them Percy spins yarns about two spaceships from Earth, one of which encounters sentient beings in a different star system, but has to turn back because human beings are considered too violent to make contact with. The other spaceship discovers no alien civilizations, but returns home to a devastated Earth 457 years after it took off.


Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Place Published

New York



Page Count