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Bitter morning after pill of a book
on 27 March 2013
I bought this book from Tesco when it was published in 2007, and revisited it recently to see whether it has any more resonance now than it seemed to have at the time. Its message is basically that people in the US and the UK are messed up more than anyone else in the world. Its problem is that the author has a complex personal agenda, which spills into an almost unrelated political invective in 'Part 3'.
In 2007 I agreed with the idea of Selfish Capitalism, that our values as a society needed revisiting, and that other countries might be healthier places to live. But I did not get past the stereotypes on first reading, at whom I thought the book was aimed (but who would never read it). Since then, the financial meltdown has corrected some behaviour out of necessity, the BBC has been exposed by the Jimmy Saville revelation, and the Blair government has gone. But the central message of this rather awkward (and overly long, Part 1 is barely readable) book remains valid. Do we see it?
You are not likely to consider yourself one of the drones infected with Selfish Capitalism who are discovered, interviewed and diagnosed to a greater or lesser extent during his World Tour Of The Mind. But the trouble is you are. Whether you think so or not. The point of the book is that because we live in the UK so many of us need professional help, and he (as a clinical psychologist) can offer some kind of hope, which he does in odd token form at the end of each chapter. With this random hybrid of self-help and political sociology, Oliver James is actually making a very important point, but at the same time distracting attention and seeking it himself. We learn that he grew up in Chelsea, was educated at Cambridge, and considers himself as a member of the British elite.
His chapters are thematic but so loosely drawn that he frequently has to remind the reader (and himself) what they are and how they are supposed to relate as he goes along. The cartoon characters he 'meets' during his World Tour of The Mind (all the usual suspects...) are supposed to be the source of his insights. However, given that some insights are quite profound (describing the effect of social conditions on a woman's anatomy and disentangling your parents' values from your own) and some so basic (looking like Britney Spears is not a good measure of a woman's character and stop reading women's magazines), I doubt very much that he needed to leave his own bathroom to reach many of them.
What different readers find interesting will be what applies to their own lives, which is why the book is worth reading, despite the many infuriating stereotypes. Some points apply to everyone, some to men, some to women, some won't apply to you (or do they?). There surely is something for everyone. That is the great strength of this book.