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Britain on the Couch: Why We're Unhappier Compared with 1950, Despite Being Richer - A Treatment for the Low-serotonin Society Hardcover – 18 Sep 1997

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Century; 1st ed. edition (18 Sept. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712678859
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712678858
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 3.3 x 16.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 677,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'A fascinating book' --Sunday Times

‘[James’] calm rationality and the care for precise truth shown in his analysis of available evidence about status and politics (sexual and not) reminded me that this book… is about defining, and then seeking, a changed way of life … his book's time has come’ --The Guardian

‘If anything, more relevant now than it was in 1998’ --London Evening Standard

'Vital questions are explored in this stimulating tract for our times, which deserves to be widely read, especially by those who govern us' --Anthony Storr

'Well worth reading ... the author has recognised important social phenomena which have escaped less astute or honest observers' --Sunday Telegraph

'Oliver James is a necessary and powerful voice in our culture, and Britain on the Couch is a fabulous exposure of the failure of the neo-liberal project' --Tom Hodgkinson, editor of The Idler --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

Why we're unhappier compared with 1950, despite being richer - from bestselling author of Affluenza, Oliver James --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mister Kim on 5 May 2009
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book a great deal and found it thought provoking and stimulated a great deal of discussion among my friends. The main thread that I picked up on was the point that as a society we need to be unhappy to be productive. Marketing is a way of creating a desire and to truly stoke the desire to earn and consume it is essential to make people dissatisfied with their lives. It's not exactly a revelation out of the blue, but Oliver James does frame this argument well and offers the opportunity for the reader to view the world around them from a slightly different angle.

I did not feel it was overtly nostalgic for a "golden age" which is what some other reviewers seem to infer. However, James did refer back 50 years to an era when there was manifestly less marketing and gave a compelling, if not irrefutable, case for mass-marketing being a core reason why we are less happy now.

I suggest you read this book, but do not expect it to make you happy or fulfilled. If, however, you are unhappy then it may help you contextualise some of your dissatisfaction with consumer society. It is also a healthy book to read if you have young children - know how advertising works, how it influences and what it does. It may make you alter some aspects of your kids' telly viewing, that's for sure.
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151 of 177 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 13 Feb. 2006
Format: Hardcover
In this book Oliver James argues that, though the British people are materially better off than in the 1950s, they are also unhappier. James’ explanation for this is the way advanced capitalism has developed. He argues that consumerism creates expectations that cannot be met. He quotes from statistics showing that the incidence of stress, depression, suicides, violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, and marriage breakdown have all increased compared with the 1950s despite the increase in material wealth of the majority of the population.
But are James’ arguments valid? It is possible to disagree with many of James’ points. Firstly, statistics can be used to demonstrate almost anything and many of those cited by James are misleading and exaggerate the increase in mental health difficulties and social problems.
Secondly, it can be said that he emphasizes today’s problems and minimizes those of previous times; is it really true, that the feudal serf was not so discontented; or that Japanese women do not suffer unhappiness because of their low status? And is the author really saying that people in 1950s – or earlier – did not aspire to better status and compared themselves unfavorably with others?
Thirdly, both the awareness and diagnosis of mental health conditions have changed since the 1950s; many normal processes and activities, which are part and parcel of being human, have been pathologised and medicalised by an ever expanding army of mental health professionals with careers and positions to protect.
Fourthly, James cites the increase in the incidence of divorces as a cause of increasing unhappiness; but the situation that existed when divorce was not easily available, when people were trapped in unhappy marriages – caused untold misery.
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68 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Robert Jenkins on 3 Jan. 2008
Format: Paperback
I agree with the main thesis of this book - that too many of us have failed to adapt ourselves, particularly in our emotional responsiveness, to the peculiar stresses of advanced capitalism. However, much of the case is so overstated and over-evidenced that much of the time I had the impression I was reading someone's PhD thesis. The chapters on gender rancour are definitely overkill. Yes, this stuff needs saying, but could have been condensed into a quarter of the space. Indeed, the whole book is severely let down not just by James' considerable over-detailing but also the lack of even the most basic visual representations of the mass of data he puts before us.
In the later chapters James becomes more opinionated, particularly as he starts to give advice about what sort of therapy the serotonin-deficient among us might go for. Admittedly, evidence for the effectiveness of particular therapies is scant, but this does not deter James from emphasising psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioural approaches at the expense of what he calls, oddly and with no elaboration, 'middle' therapies. In his enthusiasm to distinguish counselling from psychotherapy, he virtually dismisses the former as 'something you do when someone close to you has died'. A lot of effort has gone into describing psychoanalysis, even though it is hardly available outside London and is rarely indicated these days except for the super-rich.
Some of the suggestions James puts forward in his last chapter for treating the low-serotonin society verge on the authoritarian. I happen to agree with him about some of these [e.g. limiting certain types of advertising] but his case has the character of a rant, which detracts somewhat from the erudition and rationality of the preceding chapters.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dr. T. J. Worrall on 27 Oct. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After finishing the last page, I closed the book with a feeling of uneasiness. Reading the other (more negative) reviews, I could sympathise with the criticisms. This book could probably have been half as long, particularly as facts gave way to increasingly unsubstantiated opinion that felt a lot like padding, and while it is ostensibly packed with evidence (at least in the first half), I couldn't help but feel at times somewhat submerged in the data - with a sneaky feeling it might just be distracting the reader from holes in the initial premises?
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