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Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World [Paperback]

Barbara Ehrenreich
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 Jan 2010
This brilliant new book from the author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch explores the tyranny of positive thinking, and offers a history of how it came to be the dominant mode in the USA. Ehrenreich conceived of the book when she became ill with breast cancer, and found herself surrounded by pink ribbons and bunny rabbits and platitudes. She balked at the way her anger and sadness about having the disease were seen as unhealthy and dangerous by health professionals and other sufferers. In her droll and incisive analysis of the cult of cheerfulness, Ehrenreich also ranges across contemporary religion, business and the economy, arguing, for example, that undue optimism and a fear of giving bad news sowed the seeds for the current banking crisis. She argues passionately that the insistence on being cheerful actually leads to a lonely focus inwards, a blaming of oneself for any misfortunes, and thus to political apathy. Rigorous, insightful and bracing as always, and also incredibly funny, "Happy Face" uncovers the dark side of the 'have a nice day' nation.

Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (7 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847081355
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847081353
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 280,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`fascinating, very funny and wholly convincing ... A stunningly good a highly entertaining and alarming read' --Sunday Times

`invigoratingly aggressive and lucidly intelligent ... A fine, funny and angry book' --Daily Mail

'Thrilling, succinct and wittily written' --The Times

'A call for the return of common sense ... I can find only positive things to say about it. Damn!'

About the Author

BARBARA EHRENREICH is the author of fourteen books, including the bestselling Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. She lives in Virginia, USA.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
70 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a book with a view 11 Jan 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having read 'Who moved my Cheese?'/ Authentic Happiness etc with makes happiness seem so easy to attain , just an attitude really, it is most refreshing to read 'Smile or Die' which comes across as a well researched and clear thinking explanation of how being a realist is more likely to succeed than the endless Pollyanism of Positive Psychology. I was totally enthralled by Seligman's 'Authentic Happiness' and its ideas,even though it didn't seem to work . It must be me, I thought. However, I realise that all emotions, whether joyful or painful, are markers that point out what is/isn't happening in our lives. In her thought provoking study, Ehrenreich neatly lays out the 'Quo bono' question? Who benefits from Positive Psychology ? Big business and the state! WHo pays for research into Positive Psychology? Big business. Why would they do this apart, from humanitarian motives, wanting to share the 'good' attitudes that got them their megabucks, with the rest of us? Well no actually. The writer points out the rather sinister lining behind the 'positive' facade, showing how brain washing under the Shah and in Korea meant that if you questioned the status quo, the poverty and brutality that existed you were spreading defeatism which was a punishable crime. She points out how financial realists such as Gelbrand, who ran the property section of Lehmans were already pointing out that they seriously needed to rethink their 'positive pollyana' attitude, as early as 2006. The CEO, fired him for being negative! She points out that anxiety and realism are tools that help us to survive rather than hinder us. That unchecked optimism that is not based on fact is an undesirable and often dangerous attitude. After all who would go to sea in a storm without safety rafts,flares etc and feel at ease... a child perhaps ? Read more ›
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When life throws you lemons, get bitter 14 Feb 2010
Barbara Ehrenreich is in danger of becoming an American institution. She's that rare thing, a genuine liberal investigative journalist, one who's prepared to put in the hours and do the legwork to get the story. You get the feeling that there were hundreds like her in the 60s and 70s, digging the dirt on corrupt politicians and exploitative business practices, but now they're a dying breed. So, more power to her elbow.

In her latest book she takes on the global `positive thinking' movement. Successive chapters outline the roots of positive thinking in the reaction to Calvinism, tracing its contemporary manifestations in multinational businesses, academia and religion (NB: to someone who had assumed that all US preachers were encouraging their congregations to strive for Armageddon sooner rather than later, it's actually quite reassuring to know that most of the big churches are in fact run by pseudo-businessmen whose main hook isn't Apocalypse now but a nice car soon if you pray hard enough).

The best chapter in the book demonstrates how psychology departments have come under the spell of so called positive psychology, even though the evidence for its value is weak verging on non-existent. Indeed, I'm tempted to say that in one short chapter she decisively knocks down the claims put forward by Martin Seligman and a host of lesser figures in any number of recent bestsellers. This is something else that sets Ehrenreich apart from most modern journalists - she has a deep and rigorous scientific background, understands the scientific method and clearly cares about getting it right.

You also have to applaud her conclusions.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Happiness: a grown-up perspective 20 Jan 2010
Ever bought a self-help book that didn't deliver what it promised? Then Smile or Die (published in the US as Bright-sided) is for you. This is a forensic diagnosis of why boundless positive thinking turns our minds to mush, deracinates managers, and helps make us willing believers in economic bubbles.

Ehrenreich has several distinct strands to her book. She kicks off with her experience at the age of about sixty when diagnosed with breast cancer. To her amazement she stumbled across on an entire industry in the US devoted to presenting the disease as little short of the best thing that could ever happen to a woman.

Other chapters analyse how the school of mindless optimism was born with Mary Baker Eddy, fed the subprime scandal and has come to infect mainstream corporate management thinking. Anyone who has sat through a toe-curling session by a motivational speaker at a company off-site will chuckle in recognition.

Ehrenreich has evidently survived her brush with cancer without resorting to a whacky, manic outlook. And her book is far from down at the mouth. It is a good read, sceptical but sane, probing yet witty. There are especially amusing interviews with "positive thinking" gurus at various stages of derangement.

One gap is that she does not discuss cognitive behaviour therapy. This is successful in treating depression by eliminating negative thoughts that tend to reinforce themselves - at least the National Health Service, which now stumps up for the treatment, believes so.

In short, this is a book for grown-ups baffled by the credulity of others, and perhaps their own. A life-changing book? No, but its explanation of how fads have entered the mainstream will certainly generate a wry smile.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars a real book
a real book on a real subject matter, people buy into self help books but there mostly a bout the one thing. Read more
Published 1 month ago by denis
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Well argued case for realism in place of over-optimism. The chapter on the lack of business acumen of some CEOs was frightening, but went a long way to explain the crash of '2008.
Published 2 months ago by MarvinPA
5.0 out of 5 stars Courage to go against the grain
I love reading books by those who have the courage to stand against popular opinion.

I'd already come to my own conclusions about positive thinking and how dangerous it... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Frank Mullen - founder of Ultra Self Help
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be compulsory reading for everyone
In this book Ehrenreich describes the completely negative effects of the pseudo religious, positive thinking movement. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Maurellius
3.0 out of 5 stars Talk About a Downer!
If you are ill or seriously ill, then Do NOT read this book. There are some timely and interesting points to be made (long overdue in my opinion) about the commercialization of... Read more
Published 5 months ago by S Winspur
5.0 out of 5 stars Positive thinking is very negative
A book that tell the horrific truth about positive thinking. A book mostly for us that are interested in sociology and psychology.
Published 7 months ago by Svenna Jensen
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book exposing American psychobable smile fascism
Everyone should read this book. It shows, in details, how businesses and governments manipulate people easily by selling the psychobabble therapy-speak lie of 'positive thinking'... Read more
Published 10 months ago by truman jones
5.0 out of 5 stars The best in the best of all possible worlds
This is a fascinating insight into the positive thinking fallacy. How and why Americans brainwashed themselves and the disasters that have ensued. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Ms L Moore
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book
Anyone who has ever been bludgeoned into a near - comatose state by the 'positive thoughts police' will welcome this book. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Jackie
5.0 out of 5 stars All should read this
I have long disputed the 'Think Positive' mantra and this book put into words what I could not. Well worth reading
Published 18 months ago by Ms. S. E. Squire
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