K's Reviews > Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

Bright-sided by Barbara Ehrenreich
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's review
Sep 06, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: audiobooks, readablenonfiction, thought-provoking, we-re-all-going-to-hell

Disclaimer: This book deserves a more thoughtful review than the one I'm going to write (I highly recommend Lena's review, http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). I listened to this book as I frantically cooked for a 3-day holiday for 16 people and, as such, did not give it enough attention. But I'll try.

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America challenges prevailing American optimism and the notion that positive thinking has the power to alter outcomes. Ehrenreich begins by describing her experience with breast cancer, where she was encouraged to stay positive about her diagnosis. She points out that the militant emphasis on positive thinking with regard to the real trauma of a cancer diagnosis gives rise to denial, losing touch with one's feelings, and victim-blaming when failure to recover is presumed to be a function of failure of attitude. These effects of unsupported optimism pervade additional areas of life as well.

In an interesting historical review, Ehrenreich traces the roots of our assumptions about positive mental attitude and its influence on one's fate, showing that these beliefs are far from well-founded. Ehrenreich also traces the impact of these pervasive assumptions on business (are motivational speakers truly a worthy expense for a business? should a worker be fired for a less-than-Pollyannish response to the company's developments, or should they perhaps be listened to?), on the economy (one word: mortgages), on religion and self-help, and even on my field of psychology (ouch) where the positive psychology movement is sadly lacking in scientific backing.

It's hard to evaluate this book without comparing it to Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, another widely read book by Barbara Ehrenreich. Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America had a lot of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America's strengths -- good topic, articulate writing, fun cynical snarkiness, provocative arguments. It also had some of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America's shortcomings, namely a prominent agenda and a lack of nuance. Additionally, as an avid consumer of skeptical literature like Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless, I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help, Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness --- and Liberalism --- to the Women of America, and Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before, I found that many of Barbara's points echoed criticisms of our society which were already familiar to me. Yeah, yeah, we're all going to hell, I found myself thinking.

With that said, though, I did mostly appreciate Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. I'm all for easy reads that give the reader something to contemplate, which is exactly what this was.
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02/14/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by M (new)

M You can always count on Babs for some good ol cynicism. I tried reading this but it didn't sustain my interest; maybe its best in snippets.

message 2: by K (new) - rated it 4 stars

K Whenever I listen to an audiobook while I work I always end up spacing out a little, and I'm never sure how much to blame the book itself vs. the medium and distracting setting. I'm still finishing the first chapter, which some gr reviewers said was the best one, so the fact that my interest has been maintained so far may not be indicative. But it's good to get back to non-fiction after some disappointing audio fiction.

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