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

Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich
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May 31, 11

Read in May, 2011

The premise of this book -- a critique of positive thinking -- is fantastic. And precisely why I recommended it to my (equally fantastic) book club. And Ehrenreich is funny and pithy and amusing throughout. I just think some chapters are better than others; it's uneven. I thought the first substantive chapter -- on positive thinking and breast cancer -- was great. Turns out that absolutely no science supports the idea that being positive will cure you of cancer. Shocker! And that emphasizing the mind's power to heal may actually be debilitating to those people whose conditions worsen: aren't they being positive enough? What are they doing wrong? Is continued cancer their own fault?

And the chapter that follows on motivational speakers was also really interesting; Ehrenreich attends a conference to train people in how to become motivational speakers and totally debunks most of what they say in very funny ways (especially the physics business, not that I understood most of it). And when she takes on The Secret, I was thrilled. Turns out that imagining that you have a diamond necklace (and putting it on a bulletin board over your desk to help you envision it) does not make it appear around your neck. And if it does, the person who used to own it might complain.

But Ehrenreich's history is way off, it seems to me; that's the chapter that comes next. She skips from Puritan New England (as if that made up the only point of colonial settlement) and its Puritan Calvinist doctrine, straight to the nineteenth century, as if that Calvinism had remained intact through the 18th century. Not so. So her critique of the current "positive thinking" industry is great; her explanations of its origins, less so.

I also liked the chapter on the gospel of prosperity. I had no idea! I am comforted, however, by the fact that more mega-churches may be telling their congregants that God wants them to be rich than that they should hate gays and illegal immigrants.

Bottom line: I agree with almost all of her trenchant criticism, but I think the book was a bit disorganized and uneven.
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