Top critical review
6 people found this helpful
self-regarding time wasting
on 22 February 2010
Although, in the course of writing this book, Mr. Shorter has - often by lying about, or at best misrepresenting, his motives and credentials - gained access to and interviewed an extremely extensive, and eclectic, group of people.
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.