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on 21 February 2017
It's an interesting read and gives some resources and work you can do on your past but the people I'd really recommend this book to are new parents. It's a better guide to developing emotional health in a child than it is to an adult.
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on 30 October 2016
I loved the other "School of Life" book I had read previously. (How to stay sane about money). While that one seemed full of clever insights and interesting new ways to look at things, this one left me rather confused. The most important problem to me was that I am not sure whom it is meant to address. Most of the examples were really extreme and centered around people who had been mistreated, physically abused etc as children. They ended up as drug addicts or murderers. Well, as far as I understood the concept of the "school of life", the books are actually meant to help you, the reader, with your life issues. But as I was reading the book, expectantly with a marker in my hand, I found almost nothing that I could relate to, that had anything to do with me or my life. So it might be interesting for drug addicts with mothers who didn't love them or schizophrenic ax murderers, but for other people not so much. ...
Mmmh, I also had some other issues with the book. It relies heavily on studies. I am sure that psychologists are fascinated with them, but for me, they did nothing. Also, the uncritical way they were presented and the conclusions that were drawn from them made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. The whole book had a 50s-vibe to it, I am afraid. There was something very conservative and dogmatic about it, especially when it came to divorce and marriage. Snide remarks about therapists who chose a different approach than the author were also unnecessary in my opinion. (I am not a therapist or in any way associated with psychology, this is not my personal vendetta against child psychologist or anything, the book just really made me feel uncomfortable.) All in all everything in this book comes down to "If you have issues with your partner, with yourself, it was probably because as a baby you were not cared for or even mistreated". Well, as mentioned before I could neither recognize myself nor relate to any of the descriptions.
Made me think of something one of my teachers at university always said to us: To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
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on 13 April 2017
I really liked aspects of this book. It had some interesting points and ideas about how to be emotionally healthy. Could be longer
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on 7 July 2017
“It is very abnormal for an adult in any developed nation to be completely emotionally healthy. Indeed, it may be rare in all urbanized, industrialized settings.” So says our author near the start of this book, adding, “Nor should emotional health be conflated with ideas like ‘life satisfaction’ or ‘well-being’, nor with happiness. This latter is usually a fleeting state, the feeling of pleasure you gain from sex or a cigarette, or the satisfaction on hearing of a successful exam result. Beware of authors bearing gifts of happiness. It is psychological snake oil.”

James is certainly in no danger of sugar coating his point, and overall he has taken an incredibly lucid and refreshing approach to the self-help genre. He cites some genuinely fascinating case studies from the likes of Henry, who killed many members of his mentally ill family, to Archie, a convicted football hooligan with a chilling relationship to women, and Gloria, an Indian born billionaire with a borderline sociopathic personality. He illustrates through these people and many others, his theories and beliefs in relation to emotional well-being, dispelling many myths along the way. He also references some other thinkers, the likes of Anthony Storr and Donald Winnicott as well as the results from the Human Genome Project.

This book is immensely readable and is packed with many erudite and insightful revelations and observations, like a “A Nigerian is six times less likely than an American to suffer a mental illness, and a Singaporean child is ten times less likely to be illiterate than a British one. Yet none of these things is as important to emotional health as our early care.”

At one point he pays particular attention to the USA, saying, “It is no coincidence that the highest rates of personality disorder are in ultra-individualistic America-many times higher than in Asian nations.” He goes on further, “There is good evidence that in America disagreeable people end up being paid more than friendly, likeable ones. This finding might seem surprising-you would have thought that popular people would do best-but in America shoving others out of your way or climbing on their backs is almost essential for success. There is also good evidence that narcissism is rampant among American high achievers. Full-blown narcissism is a state of ‘me-me-me’ attention seeking grandiosity. The individual compensates for feelings of worthlessness and invisibility by exhibiting their opposite.”

He draws on a number of studies done from the likes of 200 celebrities and MBA graduates, and ones between Americans and Danes with some telling results. He says, “The truth is that people who get to the top or into the public eye in America tend to be narcissists. But this is only the tip of their cultural iceberg. The majority of Americans hold unrealistically positive views on themselves, believing they are much better than average in a variety of ways.”

Toward the end James summarises by saying, “Focussing on happiness as a goal is destructive: it is unattainable. The same goes for mental health: there are no completely mentally healthy people. Improved emotional health is much more realistic.” He compiles a strong and thought provoking homework section at the back, which has a nice and appealing range of sources to follow up on. I’ve read most of the books from the “School of Life” series now and I’d say that this is up there with Philippa Perry’s and Roman Krznaric’s contributions as the cream of the crop. The world is all the better for clear thinking books like this and the world could do with more of them and the people who write them.
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on 5 February 2016
I read through a lot of this very quickly while sitting in bookshop waiting for my girlfriend to get out of work. The insights provided are useful and James obviously understands much about child development. As I went through I found many descriptions that could, in part at least, be applied to myself or people I know. Being emotionally flexible is healthy and James is clear about this. Understanding your past helps you to get on with the present; James is clear about this also.

The point where it all comes crashing down is when you've got to the end of the interesting anecdotes and are eagerly awaiting the advice that you so desperately need, namely, how to become more emotionally healthy, and the book stops.

It was with a growing sense of trepidation that I continued to read towards the end before leafing through a tiny section of practical tips and discovering that the advice given was shallow at best, and nothing more helpful than what a good friend could recommend. And I suppose it says something about myself that I found James's comments on early childhood and its significance faintly alarming to begin with.

I suppose one could say that dealing with people's mental illness via the proxy of a tiny book like this is a ridiculous concept, and they'd be right, but for a title such as the one given, I expected a lot more information in the practical vein.

Giving away too much useful information would have a negative impact on sales of these kinds of books, because the people reading them would get better. That is assuming that such a book could be written anyway.

My advice is to talk to friends if you can, talk to family if you can, CHALLENGE the negative assumptions you make, watch for a feeling of anxiety in your chest which will let you know when you're going wrong, and find a good therapist. I'm not so sure about books like these - maybe I'm a cynic.

Try to notice sadness and happiness and cultivate them both.

Keep trying.
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on 7 December 2014
What the hell... This might be a good read for people that are generally well but definitely this book won't give you any guidance on how to actually change your thinking if you are having any mental health issues. And then again, if you are perfectly fine and just need a boost of positive thinking - this book is simply a compilation of shallow 'how I struggled but now I am invincible' and really gives you no food for thought...
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on 7 July 2016
Massively disappointing. While the author makes reference to a number of relevant studies to support his broad argument, the narrative he constructs around empirical evidence amounts to little more than pop psychology. I hated the arrogance of the tone, and the construction of the heteronormative family. The man is clearly 50 years behind sociological research on the family, or sexuality for that matter. I was disgusted on page 45 when he suggests that women engage in 'criminality' by entering prostituon - a view completely lacking in empathy or understanding.The book is staggeringly anachronistic in its views overall - if I could take it back I would.
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on 4 July 2016
Having read Oliver's new book which intertwined David Bowies life with a psychodynamic perspective on mental health (a fantastic read) I couldn't wait to see what else he had to say.

I guess this may have been aimed more at the self help market, but it was exactly that. Just anecdote after anecdote discussing the developmental stressors leading to the demise of mental and emotional health. Not one for someone more academically inclined

Its not the worst book I've ever read, and I would rather read it than nothing. But was a massive let down having read 'Up your Ziggy'.
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on 14 June 2016
This book is a small snippet of how to develop emotional health, rather than a bible or full reference on the subject. Most of the chapters deal with early childhood and the effects it has on us and the effects us repeating or reacting against this has on our children.

It does make some good points in that we can't be fully emotionally healthy unless we have a good sense of self and that insight is one of the best tools we have in our emotional armoury, however it seems limited in what it actually offers. Other books I've read on emotional health go much more into your current thoughts and brain activity and how you can learn to change them rather than how your upbringing reflects on how you turned out as a person.

I did find the book a decent read overall, but it's not left me wanting to run out and buy my own copy after I return this one to the library.
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on 17 August 2014
Great insights, plain, clear & concise. Not wrapped in riddles, great price. Could do with more female theorist contributions. Happy
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