BookBrowse Review - Amy Reading
Barbara Ehrenreich is definitely onto something with Bright-Sided, a
breezy survey of positive thinking as espoused by those in psychology, business,
cancer recovery, mega-churches, and most messianically, self-help books. Her
naturally skeptical mind lances right through the heart of this doctrine to find
its central paradoxes. Positive thinkers believe that the world is only going to
get better, yet they also discipline themselves to only think positive thoughts
in order to help bring that world about, thus admitting a deep anxiety and a
need for self-deception about the state of reality. Ehrenreich is at her best
when she argues that positive thinking prevents other emotions necessary for
progress and prosperity, such as outrage, empathy, and conviction. She
personally embodies this argument in the first chapter, in which takes her
readers along for her own ride through breast cancer and its syrupy culture of
Ehrenreich goes out of her way to state that she does not write the book in "a
spirit of sourness or personal disappointment," but what she does not
acknowledge is the condescension that powers her argument against positive
thinking. For a thinker who has distinguished herself with her theory and
reporting on American class, this is an upsetting tone to take. Positive
thinking likely appeals to a very specific demographic, a less-educated one for
whom doubt and skepticism are not paramount values. Ehrenreich is very clear how
she feels about this lack of critical thinking: she feels as if whole swathes of
people have let themselves be brainwashed by the positive thinking gurus, quite
against their own best self-interests. But it never occurs to her to ask those
people how they perceive their own self-interests and why this philosophy has so
compelled them. She simply assumes her readers will agree with her that such
thinking is déclassé.
Bright-Sided began life as two essays for Harper's ("Welcome to Cancerland"
and "Pathologies of Hope" (only available to subscribers) but the book does not
thicken those essays with sympathetic analysis or substantive history. This is,
alas, Ehrenreich-lite and she leaves much more to be said on a timely and
"Starred Review. Building on Max Weber's insights into the relationship between Calvinism and capitalism, Ehrenreich [invesitigates] today's secular $9.6 billion self-improvement industry and positive psychology institutes." - Publishers Weekly
"Bright, incisive, provocative thinking from a top-notch nonfiction writer." - Kirkus Reviews
"Starred Review." - Booklist
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