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The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature Paperback – 1 Sep 2014

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[An] enjoyable book... worth reading for its insights into the dark side of human nature and the delightful drawings that turn up periodically in the text. Created by the author's daughter, Rosanna Smith, these depictions-a tortoise raising its arm in victory, Aesop's ant and grasshopper sharing a meal- give the same sense of delight as those drawings that pepper the pages of The New Yorker (The New York Times)

The Joy of Pain presents an enjoyable mix of evidence from experimental psychology, pop culture and literature. (Wall Street Journal)

Smith's portrait of this complex response combines experimental studies with many well-chosen examples drawn from political scandals, biographies, reality-television shows, literature, sitcoms, cartoons and the observations of comedians and satirists. The Joy of Pain is a real joy to read - and completely painless. (Nature)

Smith's The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature, just out from Oxford University Press, is an entertaining explanation of the phenomenon, told through accounts of research as well as Smith's personal experiences and observations of popular culture. (Chronicle Review)

An accessible, fun, schadenfreudean romp through pop culture (a contestant embarrasses himself on American Idol), sports (an opponent suffers injury), politics (an economic crisis during the other guy's term), and, of course, religion (the downfall of an ultramoral Christian evangelist). (Publishers Weekly)

Richard Smith's long-awaited book is a profound, thoughtful meditation on one of the most puzzling and disturbing forms of human emotion. Mixing scientific research, popular culture, striking anecdotes, and personal reflection, it is a stimulating, enjoyable, yet unsettling read. I recommend it to anyone with a serious interest in human emotion and motivation (and to anyone with an abiding curiosity about the peculiar twists and turns of human nature.)

A very enjoyable read; this is the most comprehensive collection of Schadenfreude research to date. Interweaving the science with historical and fictional anecdotes, Smith contextualizes and thereby humanizes the experience of Schadenfreude - a feat unto itself. Readers will undoubtedly relish learning more about when and why another's pain can be cause for pleasure. (Mina Cikara, Assistant Professor, Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University)

Richard Smith's wonderful book gives us new insight into ourselves, and the 'dark' emotions of envy and schadenfreude that we all feel, but like to deny. The book is fun and easy to read, even as it gives us insight into some of our darker emotions. You will learn more about yourself and the world from this book than most any book you have read recently. If you want a book that can improve you as a person, this book is it. Although it focuses on dark emotions, it shows the reasons for these emotions, how very pervasive they are, and how they can be overcome. (Ed Diener, Distinguished Professor of Psychology (Emeritus), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Erudite. Enviable. Engaging stories from popular culture, fiction, history, daily life, sports, and science. This will be the book you wish you had written. But instead of schadenfreude, you will feel admiration and gratitude to the author for his profound contribution. (Susan Fiske, Eugene Higgins Professor, Psychology & Public Affairs, Princeton University, author of Envy Up, Scorn Down)

About the Author

Richard H. Smith is Professor of Psychology at the University of Kentucky. He has published articles on various social emotions such as envy and shame and has pioneered experimental work on schadenfreude. His book Envy: Theory and Research was published by Oxford University Press in 2008.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 16 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Stating the obvious. 24 Mar. 2014
By Marius L. Crowne - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Unfortunately, I feel like this book could have probably been a Twitter post. Each chapter of Prof. Smith's book essentially opens with a very obvious statement and then supports it with a summary of a study or two and endless examples, often from TV shows (he cites "The Simpsons" three times in the first 50 pages). I understand that this book is geared toward the layman, but it seems to be that if one knows the definition of "schadenfreude" and is able to make rudimentary observations on human nature, then reading this book will be superfluous. We prefer to see those "superior" to us fail, rather than those that are "inferior;" it is easier for groups to do bad things than it is for individuals; we love to see hypocrisy exposed; we prefer the bad guy to lose over the good guy; etc.

You should read this book if (a) you've never heard the word "schadenfreude" before, (b) you've heard it, but have no idea what it means and have never heard the word "dictionary" before, (c) you live in a hole, (d) you've written a book on schadenfreude and want to see another author fail, or (e) all of the above.

I highly recommend Jonathan Haidts "The Righteous Mind," which, while it focuses on politics and religion, is a much more interesting study of the light and dark sides of human nature and, more importantly, when and why those two sides manifest.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Entertaining and well-researched 31 July 2013
By Monica J. Kern - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The German language is full of implausibly long words, but one advantage is that these long words can often capture more precisely a concept where the English language fails. An excellent example of this is "Schadenfreude" (pronounced, roughly, as "sha-den-froy-da"), a word that translated means approximately "joy in the pain of others." Essentially, schadenfreude is that guilty feeling of delight we experience when something bad happens to somebody else, usually somebody that we don't like or have a grudge against for some reason.

Anthony Weiner getting caught, yet again, sexting photos of his penis? Schadenfreude.
J.J. Redick, former Duke basketball star, getting arrested on a DUI? For this UK (and bitter foe of Duke) basketball fan, schadenfreude.
Ted Haggard, the minister who loudly supported anti-gay legislation, getting caught with a male prostitute? Off-the-top-of-the-scale schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude is one of the most human of emotions, and it is an emotion we don't like to admit we possess. After all, when something bad happens to somebody, principles of most major religions, secular humanism, and moral philosophy would demand that we offer understanding and compassion, not selfish and sneaky delight. Yet that impulse to feel good when others experience a downfall or disaster is often difficult to suppress.

This book written by Richard Smith, a social psychologist at the University of Kentucky, is one of the few scholarly works on the topic of this complex human emotion. In 11 expertly written chapters, Smith reviews what causes the emotion of schadenfreude, and the crucial role played by personal gain, envy, deservingness, and hypocrisy. In short, we are particularly prone to feel schadenfreude when we stand to personally benefit from the other's downfall, when we envy the other--whom we also believe to be a hypocrite--and we believe the other person to have deserved his or her downfall. These conclusions have all been supported through various studies conducted by Smith and other psychologists, with the studies being described in clear, not overly technical, detail. He closes the volume with a discussion of ways in which we can minimize or try to prevent schadenfreude.

As a social psychologist myself (and--full disclosure--a former colleague of Smith's), I have read lots of trade books and pop psychology books. What sets this book apart from the crowd is the quality of Smith's writing and the broad intellectual foundation that he brings to the book. Smith has a background in literature and journalism that is unusual for an academic psychologist. He is a true Renaissance scholar, well read in a variety of disciplines, and it shows in his writing, which is peppered with examples from great literature, film, current events, and popular culture (his first chapter begins with an example from the Simpsons). The breadth of Smith's background also makes the book a delight to read; his writing style is informal, not stuffy, and the reader will find little or no academic jargon in its pages. As such, while I am sure this book will appear on the syllabi for countless graduate seminars in psychology, I think it will also make a welcome contribution to the general nonfiction literature. I am guessing that fans of Malcolm Gladwell, for example, would similarly enjoy this book greatly.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Psychology, Psychiatry, Medical Student Education, Psychatry Resident Education 17 Sept. 2014
By Mickey Grossman - Published on
Format: Paperback
|TITLE| “The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature”
|AUTHOR| Professor of Psychology Richard H. Smith Ph.D.
|REVIEWER| Josh Grossman, Colonel [r} U.S. Army Medical Corps, M.D., FACP
|BOOK FORMAT| Hard cover
|BOOK PAGES| 236 pages
|BOOK PUBLISHER| Oxford University Press 2013
|BOOK ISBN| 978-0-19-973454-2
“Schadenfreude: A Feeling of enjoyment that comes out of the misfortures of others”
“Schadenfreude:: Shameful Joy!”
This outstanding well-researched, provocative text appeals directly to me as I am an Eastern European American Caucasian Ashkenazi Jew reasonably mindful of twentieth century history and thus humbly and respectfully appreciative of the information re: Simon Wisenthal (1908 – 2005).
Further I am a Duke Dad humbly and respectfully appreciative of Coach Mike Krcyzewski and his Duke Basketball Blue Devils. With humble apologies to the outstanding University of Kentucky Wildcats, Go Duke!
Lastly it is magnificantly written, far above my own meager and imperfect writing of my book reviews noted below. (1, 2, 3, 4).
All public libraries and all University libraries should have a copy of this book. All incoming Students in our Colleges of Medicine, and first year Psychiatry Residents should be given a copy to discuss with their Mentors.

1. Grossman, Joshua B. Book Review: “The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story,” Tennessee Medicine, page 11. January 2009
2. Grossman, Joshua B. “Book Review: “The Johns Hopkins Internal Medicine Board Review”: 2008 – 2009, 2nd Edition (Certification and Recertification) Tennessee Medicine page 08, August 2010
3. Grossman, Joshua B. Book Review: Mayo Clinic Internal Medicine Review 2006 – 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association {J.A.M.A.}, pages 685—686, 08 August 2007
4. Grossman, Joshua B. Book Review: Treating the Aching Heart: A Guide to Depression, Stress, and Heart Disease, Tennessee Medicine, page 13, October 2007.
as does the author of this excellent book. Buy it 31 Dec. 2014
By Lyle Walter - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book presents one of the most profound insights on basic human nature more so than any other book that I've ever read; identifying and explaining the nuances of ENVY and JEALOUSY: how these emotions are infused into the social fabric of our world, revealing how they influence us in ways that we can't even begin to understand, unless ... someone explains how these powerful emotions personally affect us, as does the author of this excellent book.

Buy it. Read it. And buy the audible version and listen to it.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A great book that explores one frequently unspoken human condition... 8 Feb. 2014
By Marcus E. Sharpe - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have received and read this text from cover-to-cover. While there are some historical factors that do so a bit unnecessary, I was impressed with the read and that contemporary references that clearly highlight this interesting condition and its implications for interaction with others. A great read and addition to one's personal/professional library...
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