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The Optimist: One Man's Search for the Brighter Side of Life Paperback – 7 Jan 2010
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"If you're feeling pessimistic about the year ahead, this book does cheer you up." (Sunday Times)
"Witty writer . . . restore[s] a little faith in humanity's future." (Financial Times 2009-01-10)
"Shorter is a snappy writer - fast, compelling, sympathetic and seemingly honest." (Observer 2009-01-25)
"Deliciously quirky and enormously funny, it brims over with the sort of joie de vivre that would brighten the darkest day." (Good Book Guide)
"Amusing and intriguing." (Mail On Sunday)
"Learning how Richard Branson remains eternally cheerful or how a Buddhist monk became known as 'the happiest man in the world' is pretty inspiring." (Metro)
"[An] anti-misery memoir." (Evening Standard)
"Funny and inspiring . . . a book that's a reason to be cheerful in itself." (Waterstone's Books Quarterly 2009-01-01)
"Shorter is a snappy writer - fast, compelling, sympathetic and . . . honest." (Observer)
"After depressing himself listening to the news, Laurence Shorter resolves to save the world and his sanity by reinventing optimism." (Sunday Herald 2010-01-10)
The hilarious story of one man's search for optimism - the perfect antidote to the January BluesSee all Product description
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After the talk I bought a different book by the author - this one. It seemed to be better value and I wasn't disappointed. His quest for happiness and meaning in life is something most of us can relate to and his connections (which weren't explained but I am guessing are due to his family and Oxbridge background) meant that he had access to meetings with many illustrious people and opportunities to travel which are denied to most of us, while pursuing his quest. He had many interesting insights, which he has shared within these pages. Anyway, I am pleased he wrote the book and glad that I read it and I have now passed it on to my daughter to read - it is a sort of potted summary of optimism and how to attain happiness, along with the honest admission that he doesn't really have all the answers and of course, plenty of humour and a glimpse into his own personal life. A spoiler - at the literary festival talk I alluded to earlier were his very pretty wife and adorable baby son. So Laurence did find the thing he was looking for - hurray! - a family of his own. I am sure he realises by now that this too is just another step on the journey - but obviously for him (as for many of us) a very important step. I hope he plays with his son often...that sounds a bit weird but I know what I am saying! - just that happiness often visits in those moments. I hope Laurence continues to write and I will look out for him on stage/TV too.
Author of Surviving Schizophrenia, a Memoir
Yet the book is less about the thoughts, opinions and insights he is given from these people, than his own, far less interesting, reactions to having 'pulled it off' and met them.
Some of the interviewees seem extremely eccentric, even vacuous, some come across as self-serving self-publicists, and some come across as wise and intelligent people with real insights into the nature of the sources of happiness, from whom I would love to have heard more. I suspect the choice of which interviewee belongs in which category will vary from reader; however all of them are far more interesting than Mr. Shorter himself - yet he devotes far more space to his own ill-formed musings than to the results of his own research!
Having discovered, early on, that he can find no interviewees to support his original presupposition, he does not form a coherent plan of investigation, but flits randomly from one idea to another, as his moods take him. This is not a book written by someone with something to say; it is a frantic search for ideas by someone who has decided 'to write a book'.
If this seems like a personal attack on the author, it is not meant as such. It is simply that by making himself, and his thoughts, the subject of the book, Mr. Shorter reduces one's reaction to his book to how well one warms to him personally. (This prossibly explains the wide variation in rating from other reviewers.)
It should be pointed out that he is blithely far more dismissive himself, of any interviewee whose answers do not match his current preconceptions. There is no attempt at open-mindedness - anyone who espouses views that he was not expecting are dismissed as "not a true optimist"; the implication therefore being that he wasted his time talking to them!
When he persuades a young woman, who has gone through unbelievably traumatic experiences, to talk to him about them and explain how she has managed to maintain a positive outlook despite all this, only to dismiss her in a few paragraphs as he 'realises she is not an optimist', I found myself seething!
I had the impression that some of the more reflective of his interviewees also felt offended that their juvenile interviewer wanted to probe their experiences of torture, or bereavement, to help him cope with the terrible trauma of having a girlfriend who doesn't want to commit to him. It left a nasty taste.
Mr. Shorter is, of course, perfectly entitled to his own opinions on this, or any other subject. What made me hate this book was his arrogant assumption that his opinions were of far more interest than those of any of the people he met.
The only thing I, personally, got out of this book, other than a sense of frustration, were some references in the end papers to works by people whose well-reasoned theories sounded like a promising investigation into the subject of optimism as a philosophy.
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