This book has consistently influenced me for many years. I read it in connection with my work, but have found the theory of Martin Seligman's of great personal benefit also. It deserves to be better known in the UK. If you are looking at the book having read one of the more recent books, I think this quote might explain its purpose. " Learned helplessness refers to three things: First, an environment in which some important outcome is beyond control, second, the response of giving up, and third, the expection that no voluntary action can control the outcome". Who has not been there at some point?
The case examples given are illuminating, if seemingly extreme, and question preconceptions. "In 1967 a woman entered Baltimore City Hospital a few days before her 23rd birthday. She and two other girls, born to different mothers assisted by the same midwife, in Florida on a Friday 13th. The midwife (voodoo?) cursed all three babies, saying that one would die before her 16th birthday, the second, before her 21st birthday, and the third, before her 23rd birthday. The first, at 15, had died in a car crash, the second was accidentally shot to death on the evening of her 21st birthday. Now she, the third, waited in terror for her own death. The hospital somewhat skeptically admitted her for observation. The next morning, two days before her 23rd birthday, she was found dead in her hospital bed, physical cause unknown."
This example alone demands an explanation. I accept this theory, of learned helplessness, to be the best possible, if not the only rational explanation. To quote Seligman: "Perhaps our modern self will come to see that its inordinate preoccupation with itself, while gratifying in the short run, is destructive of its well-being in the long run". Do not be put off by the textbook style, it is more than worth the effort, it certainly will change your thinking on the power of optimism.