Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined AmericaDo you believe that positive thinking can improve your health?  Does God take an interest in your prosperity?  Can you think your way to success?  SUCKER!!!

Barbara Ehrenreich's latest title in a long series of non-fiction semi-satirical socialogical observations (see Nickel and Dimed), is a skeptic's dream.  If you are sick to death of your doctor, friends, family, religious personnel, boss, co-workers, or strangers telling you that you can improve your life by being more positive - this book is a must.

Packed with amusing and snarky anecdotes (as well as the occasional serious observation), and backed up by plenty of documentation, Ehrenreich demonstrates convincingly that positivism, as preached and practiced by everyone from Dale Carnegie to Megapreacher Joel Osteen to Tony Robbins, is at best a crock, and at worst a con game.

The author reveals the intriguing underpinnings of this movement through American history, from the dour Calvinism of the early settlers through the reactionary New Thought movement and Christian Science to the insipid mouthings of Norman Vincent Peale in the mid-20th century, showing the constant trend of superstitious magical thinking up to the present.

More importantly, she reveals why there is such an emphasis on positivity in life today - because it serves the interests of business.  In everything from making downsized personnel feel good about losing their jobs, to "pastors" convincing greedy supplicants of their entitlement while taking their money, to "coaches", who offer meaningless programs of advice at high cost, the underlying belief is a bunch of deluded, grasping people seeking a free lunch.
There's a lot more here to engage one's interest - questions of physical health, the efficacy of prayer, the nature of organized religion in America - all presented with plenty of humor.  Highly recommended to skeptics of all stripes (fundamendalists should avoid).

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