A sharp-witted knockdown of America’s love affair with positive thinking and an urgent call for a new commitment to realism
Americans are a “positive” people—cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: this is our reputation as well as our self-image. But more than a temperament, being positive, we are told, is the key to success and prosperity.
In this utterly original take on the American frame of mind, Barbara Ehrenreich traces the strange career of our sunny outlook from its origins as a marginal nineteenth-century healing technique to its enshrinement as a dominant, almost mandatory, cultural attitude. Evangelical mega-churches preach the good news that you only have to want something to get it, because God wants to “prosper” you. The medical profession prescribes positive thinking for its presumed health benefits. Academia has made room for new departments of “positive psychology” and the “science of happiness.” Nowhere, though, has bright-siding taken firmer root than within the business community, where, as Ehrenreich shows, the refusal even to consider negative outcomes—like mortgage defaults—contributed directly to the current economic crisis.
With the mythbusting powers for which she is acclaimed, Ehrenreich exposes the downside of America’s penchant for positive thinking: On a personal level, it leads to self-blame and a morbid preoccupation with stamping out “negative” thoughts. On a national level, it’s brought us an era of irrational optimism resulting in disaster. This is Ehrenreich at her provocative best—poking holes in conventional wisdom and faux science, and ending with a call for existential clarity and courage.
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"Unless you keep on saying that you believe in fairies, Tinkerbelle will check out, and what’s more, her sad demise will be your fault! Barbara Ehrenreich scores again for the independent-minded in resisting this drool and all those who wallow in it."
—Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
"We're always being told that looking on the bright side is good for us, but now we see that it's a great way to brush off poverty, disease, and unemployment, to rationalize an order where all the rewards go to those on top. The people who are sick or jobless—why, they just aren't thinking positively. They have no one to blame but themselves. Barbara Ehrenreich has put the menace of positive thinking under the microscope. Anyone who's ever been told to brighten up needs to read this book." —Thomas Frank, author of The Wrecking Crew and What's the Matter with Kansas?
"Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil: please read this relentlessly sensible book. It’s never too late to begin thinking clearly." —Frederick Crews, author of Follies of the Wise: Dissenting Essays
"Barbara Ehrenreich’s skeptical common sense is just what we need to penetrate the cloying fog that passes for happiness in America." —Alan Wolfe, author of The Future of Liberalism
"In this hilarious and devastating critique, Barbara Ehrenreich applies some much needed negativity to the zillion-dollar business of positive thinking. This is truly a text for the times." —Katha Pollitt, author of The Mind-Body Problem: Poems
"The self-esteem/positive thinking/self-help movement has turned out to be one grand failed experiment in psychology. You can't just tell people (or yourself) that they/you are esteemed, accomplished, and happy. You actually have to do something to earn the respect of others and yourself, and in the real world the doing also involves failure. In this hard-hitting but honest appraisal, America’s cultural skeptic Barbara Ehrenreich turns her focus on the muddled American phenomenon of positive thinking. She exposes the pseudoscience and pseudointellectual foundation of the positive-thinking movement for what it is: a house of cards. This is a mind-opening read." —Michael Shermer, author of Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time
"Once again, Barbara Ehrenreich has written an invaluable and timely book, offering a brilliant analysis of the causes and dimensions of our current cultural and economic crises. She shows how deeply positive thinking is embedded in our history and how crippling it is as a habit of mind." —Thomas Bender, author of A Nation Among Nations: America’s Place in World History
"Ehrenreich convinced me completely. . . I hesitate to say anything so positive as that this book will change the way you see absolutely everything; but it just might." —Nora Ephron, The Daily Beast
"Bright, incisive, provocative thinking from a top-notch nonfiction writer." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Ehrenreich explores the insistence upon optimism as a cultural and national trait, discovering its ‘symbiotic relationship with American capitalism’ and how poverty, obesity, unemployment and relationship problems are being marketed as obstacles that can be overcome with the right (read: positive) mindset." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"In this wide-ranging and stinging look at the pervasiveness of positive thinking, Ehrenreich warns against a ‘reckless optimism’ that causes individuals—and nations—not to plan for inevitable downturns and disasters." —Booklist, starred review
Think Before You Pink™, a project of Breast Cancer Action, launched in 2002 in response to the growing concern about the number of pink ribbon products on the market. The campaign calls for more transparency and accountability by companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising, and encourages consumers to ask critical questions about pink ribbon promotions.
Published by Picador
Paperback / $15.00
Published by Metropolitan Books
Hardcover / $23.00