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Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World Paperback – 7 Jan 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (7 Jan. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847081355
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847081353
  • Product Dimensions: 13.6 x 2.2 x 21.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 352,995 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jodi-Hummingbird TOP 500 REVIEWER on 28 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback
I just love the concept of this book.

The way that positive thinking is used by some people to spare themselves from having to listen to you, help you or really try to understand the reality of illness when you are seriously ill is something that comes up a lot in the chat groups for ill people I am a member of. On the surface they are being kind and offering you 'positive thoughts' but it is really about this serving their needs rather than yours.

Expressing legitimate anger is helpful and necessary. If you do this it passes quickly! Far better to vent for a little while to friends who understand than to repress all your feelings and so end up feeling unhappy far longer, in the end.

The chapter on positive thinking and illness was good but really only scratched the surface. I was somewhat disappointed by it as there was so much that could have been said on this topic and I'd have loved lots more comments on this topic to have been in the book. But then I am biased and this is a special interest subject of mine and probably this short chapter was more than enough for the average reader, so fair enough.

The way the author ties in positive thinking brainwashing to political apathy in the last chapter was very well done too and I couldn't agree more with her conclusions. As someone involved in trying to fire people up to participate in activism I absolutely find the 'nicey nicey at all costs' mindlessly positive attitude to be an enormous obstacle in effecting real positive change. Just enormous.

I highly recommend at least searching your local library for a copy of this book, it deserves to be widely read.
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77 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Lady Vibart on 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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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By modern life is rubbish on 14 Feb. 2010
Format: Paperback
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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