Friday, November 20, 2009

if life seems jolly rotten, there's something you've forgotten!

Today's recommendation is Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
. I believe this is the thinking person's book of the year.

My whole life, people have derided me for being "negative" and "pessimistic." Things that happened were dismissed as products of my "negative attitude." This ipso facto logic didn't run my life, but other people's explanation of it dominated it in a fairly upsetting way. Setbacks and tragedies were dismissed by others as mere results of my "negativity." Therefore, I was really interested in Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Bright Sided.

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America is a brilliant exploration of this new Calvinism, the entrenched and uniquely American ideology that explains bad things - like, say, cancer and job loss- away as the results of negative thinking. Ehrenreich, who holds a doctorate in cell biology, turned away from science to work in a career that helps the public; her work, in my opinion, serves this purpose.

I think this is one of the most important books you can read this year, to be honest. I'm not saying this because I'm a pessimist, I'm saying this because this is a well-researched, well-written, intelligent book that explores a unique cultural phenomenon and rationally argues about why it's so dangerous.

Ehrenreich examines several instances wherein the positive thinking fascism has caused dangerous, magical thinking. These examples range from the ridiculous and fairly tangential, like life coaches, to disturbing and upsetting, like the cancer patient online communities that ostracized Ehrenreich for her statement that she felt angry and helpless. While some of the examples seem cherry-picked and I wish she had gone into more detail with some of her more salient observations - such as the infantilizing of breast cancer patients - this book is one of the most important you can read. It expands what has become a useless dichotomy (positive vs. negative thinking) into a disturbing gradient of grays and asks not for despair, but for rational evaluation, and makes the compelling case that the culture of positive thinking has, ironically, extremely negative repercussions that affect all of us.

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book. Obviously, this blog is becoming very popular. Also! If you want me to review and possibly recommend other things, why, I would be delighted! Email me!


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