9. Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich

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9. Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich

Post  wmeisel on Thu May 27, 2010 4:33 pm

The subtitle is "How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America".

This is another one of those books that I suspect will only be read by people who are already sympathetic to its views, like me. Ehrenreich (most famously author of Nickel and Dimed) surveys the history and spread of Positive Thinking in America since its founding. The most interesting chapters were Chapter 1, about her own experiences with "forced positive thinking" while she was fighting cancer, Chapter 5, about mega-churches and the prosperity gospel, Chapter 6, a skeptical look at the science of happiness and Martin Seligman in particular, and Chapter 7, about the role of positive thinking in the downfall of the economy.

A recurring theme is the dark side of positive thinking and books like The Secret; if you really can attract anything you want into your life by "manifesting" it, then everything bad that happens to you is your own fault. There is no "bad luck" or "bad decisions" or "being screwed over by the big company you work for". It's all your fault. A heartbreaking example is the woman with cancer that keeps recurring who assumes that she is not being positive enough, or her cancer would not keep coming back.

I skimmed the historical chapters on positive thinking in America, since I was already familiar with that material. All in all this is a brisk, easy read if you are sympathetic to its thesis.

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