When pitching Jonathan Haidt's "Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom" to friends, I often find myself explaining away the titlWhen pitching Jonathan Haidt's "Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom" to friends, I often find myself explaining away the title -- no, it's not another self-help book and yes, it's about more than just plastering a silly smile on your face. With that said, the title is appropriate; Haidt is chiefly concerned with what's responsible for making humans happy.
The title fails, however, to convey the breadth and depth of Haidt's search, which touches on philosophy, psychology, economics, evolution, and cognitive science, and skips effortlessly across the centuries, from the Stoics' philosophical minimalism to Ben Franklin's pragmatism to Robert Cialdini's work on Influence.
Haidt documents the evolution of the human mind, producing an overarching narrative that explains everything from the use of gossip and prozac to mental tendencies that steer men away from their stated values and towards self-destruction.
Along with Kluge, this book has profoundly shaped the way I view my brain. Before Haidt, I was aware that our brains appeared to systematically work against our best interest, and that these tendencies manifested in more general cognitive biases. Haidt, however, takes you behind the curtain, and provides a look at what exactly is going on in your brain and the evolutionary logic behind it. This book provided a more systematic take on cognition than the discrete observational work I had previously encountered.
My interest in correcting my cognitive failings largely emanates from my concern with my ability to grasp the truth. Haidt rightly adds that it's profoundly important to happiness in general. Cognitive therapy has allowed many to escape depression by directly attacking distortions in thought. These depressive distortions are direct relatives to those that scare up trouble in all of our lives, and Haidt provides an excellent primer on how to exorcise your cognitive demons through a few different means, thereby improving the way you think and possibly making you happier....more
About half way through. As of now, he has aptly distilled a few hundred of years of the evolution of economic thought, and begun to present a tantalizAbout half way through. As of now, he has aptly distilled a few hundred of years of the evolution of economic thought, and begun to present a tantalizing application of complexity science to economics. I picked the book up on the strength of the topic and the reviews, despite the author's lack of bonafides. I have not been disappointed. This book is light years beyond the standard unorthodox economics fare and has much to offer. I'll post more later....more
Recently went back and re-read this book. As other reviewers mentioned, I am curious to see what Easterly would say of this more optimistic earlier woRecently went back and re-read this book. As other reviewers mentioned, I am curious to see what Easterly would say of this more optimistic earlier work, but regardless this text is an excellent, accessible history of economic development in the 20th century. Easterly explains the progression of economic thought and the fate of the 'latest and greatest' foreign aid ideas spurred by ever changing growth theories.
Contrary to some of the spurious one-line reviews below, this book is definitely not the work of a laissez-faire ideologue. Easterly is, however, quite critical of the aid establishment's record (though, once again, optimistic about the potential for aid as poor gov'ts grow increasingly competent and decreasingly corrupt).
Easterly is concerned with economic growth, and he adroitly explains how aid of all shapes and forms has largely failed to positively impact development. If you'd like to see some of the good aid has done, you will have to look to improvements in quality-of-life, not the subject of this book, which can be found in Charles Kenny's draft "The Success of Development." How much credit should go to NGOs and how much to commercial firms who lowered the price of living well through technological innovation is up for debate, but it's important to remember that Easterly is talking specifically about the aid establishment's impact on economic growth.
Highly recommended, along with White Man's Burden, Daron Acemoglu, Douglas North's new book, Dani Rodrik's articles, and yes -- some Collier too! (Just ignore Sachs)...more