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Barbara Ehrenreich

Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America

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From Publishers WeeklyStarred Review. Ehrenreich (_Nickel and Dimed_) delivers a trenchant look into the burgeoning business of positive thinking. A bout with breast cancer puts the author face to face with this new breed of frenetic positive thinking promoted by everyone from scientists to gurus and activists. Chided for her anger and distress by doctors and fellow cancer patients and survivors, Ehrenreich explores the insistence upon optimism as a cultural and national trait, discovering its symbiotic relationship with American capitalism and how poverty, obesity, unemployment and relationship problems are being marketed as obstacles that can be overcome with the right (read: positive) mindset. Building on Max Weber's insights into the relationship between Calvinism and capitalism, Ehrenreich sees the dark roots of positive thinking emerging from 19th-century religious movements. Mary Baker Eddy, William James and Norman Vincent Peale paved the path for today's secular $9.6 billion self-improvement industry and positive psychology institutes. The author concludes by suggesting that the bungled invasion of Iraq and current economic mess may be intricately tied to this reckless national penchant for self-delusion and a lack of anxious vigilance, necessary to societal survival. (Oct.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
FromNo critic completely dismissed Ehrenreich's critique of America's “happiness” culture. But reviewers' enthusiasm for her critique seemed to depend on their assessment of the book's moral urgency. Several critics felt that the message of Bright-Sided was essential to readers in the aftermath of last year's economic meltdown. But others felt that Ehrenreich's ideas, while relevant, had been better expressed by others. They also criticized the author for “cheap shots” and outdated research. For example, she criticizes the book Who Moved My Cheese?, which has long been superseded by other, even sillier titles. But many readers may react like Hanna Rosin, who wrote in the New York Times Book Review that even when she did not agree with Ehrenreich's arguments, she felt less guilty about not sharing in our smiley :-) culture.
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