Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Booknote: Bright-sided

My review from GoodReads:

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I will begin by saying that this book was not as engaging as other books by this author. I found Nickel and Dimed to be more interesting; I read that book and reviewed it here as well. Maybe because that book has the author doing more things rather than just presenting research. Having said that, this is a book that should be read, but it is also a book that you can scan large parts of it and still get the point.

Ehrenreich looks at the cult of the positive thinking in the United States, and it exposes it for what it is: something that actually dulls our edge, and it serves as a social control tool. Yes, the cult of positive thinking can be placed right along things like Stalinism. But getting rid of it is not as easy as it sounds given that, in the U.S., the cult of positivism is a billionaire industry. There are a lot of coaches, speakers, and ministers making a vast fortune over telling you that, if you do not become wealthy yourself, it is your own damn fault. People have pretty much bought into what is basically a con game.

Ehrenreich does a very thorough job of going over the history of positive thinking starting with the Calvinists and Puritans and working up to the modern gurus of today. She leads then from the beginnings to the current financial meltdown and economic mess we are facing. The message is simple: we need a defensive pessimism. It is what keeps us alive and gives us an edge. And we need to be realistic, get some empathy, and help each other out. And we need to be very skeptical. This is something I found appealing given that I am often surrounded by worshipers of the happy thoughts who are more than happy to exclude me if I express what they see as a "negative thought." And in a society where you can be fired for being "too negative," those of us who are realists have to pick our battles. Yet in the end, as the financial mess has proven, it was the naysayers who saw what was coming, but they were disregarded. It is a harsh lesson that needs to be learned and remembered.

I am not saying don't have a positive outlook. I am just saying you should temper it with realism, as Ehrenreich seems to say at the end. If you want a real explanation of why things are as bad as they are, skip all the financial analysis books and such and read this instead. Only reason I did not rate it higher is because it does get a little repetitive at times. The ideas Ehrenreich presents are not really new ones. Anyone with half a brain who has critical thinking skills probably has thought of some of this. Her strength is in taking all that and putting it together in an accessible form.

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