Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book: "Bright-Sided" by Barbara Ehrenreich

A few months ago, I blogged about seeing Barbara Ehrenreich on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, promoting her new book, "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America." I bought the book when it came out & finally got around to reading it while I was visiting my parents recently.

Ehrenreich illustrates her thesis through a series of examples, beginning with her own diagnosis of breast cancer some years ago. This is, perhaps, the part of the book that holds the most relevance -- and is of most interest -- for those of us who have dealt with infertility &/or pregnancy loss, or any kind of illness or medical condition.

She traces the history of positive thinking in American culture, and particularly its impact on American corporate culture -- moving through Dale Carnegie & Norman Vincent Peale to "The Secret" and the "prosperity gospel" preached by the likes of Joel Osteen and, finally, an examination of how an over-reliance on positive thinking may have contributed to the recent near-collapse of the global economy. There were people who recognized that their bank's subprime mortgage portfolios were crap and about to go down the toilet, but nobody wanted to spoil the party by speaking up -- and the few who did so either found their words falling on deaf ears ("lalalala....") or out of a job.

I have thought a lot about this book as I've read the headlines about the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Nobody seems to know how to fix the damned thing, because it appears that nobody gave serious consideration to the possibility that there might be negative consequences to their plans. Naysayers were drowned out by the chants of "drill, baby, drill." Ehrenreich isn't advocating that we all become Debbie Downers -- just that a healthy dose of skepticism and critical thinking might be in order.

As I mentioned above, some chapters were more interesting than others, & the book did drag a little in the middle. If you're not sure this book appeals to you, you might want to borrow it from the library or wait for the paperback before dropping $23 ($29.50 Canadian). Nevertheless, I found it to be a fascinating read, and an argument that made a lot of sense, for the most part.


  1. I don't know if this is addressed in the book at all, but it seems related to the thought in the education world that every student is headed to college. It's just not the case, and I think it does a disservice to the students who are not planning to go to college. We offer nothing to help them after high school because all courses are designed with college-bound students in mind.

  2. I think i will read this before much longer. Probably from the library, however.

    Besides infertility/loss, i have a chronic illness that now looks to be a life-long struggle, so it probably will be good.

    Current culture doesn't like "real reality" however. They like it more in doses from "reality shows."

    Thanks for bringing this to mind, again. :)

  3. This is great. I've got to read it. Thanks for the review!

  4. I'm reading this right now, and I agree that it does drag in some chapters, but the chapters on breast cancer and prosperity religion were great. And I saw a huge, huge parallel to infertility: think positive and you shall overcome, which leads to "just relax"; the total refusal of most people to acknowledge costs and lack of insurance as a real hindrance (how many people told me that we really could "find some way" to pay for a second round of IVF?); and of course the very strong message that if you stop pursuing your dream, for whatever reason, you really didn't want it that much, so you don't deserve any sympathy.

  5. It sure makes sense....I am not myself ready to see everything with rose-tinted glasses. God did invent other colours.

  6. I really liked this book, and thought in many cases I could substitute "grief" for what she was talking about. In a way, my IL's made much more sense to me after reading this, as did all those anonymous people who comment on child-loss in public forums and say really stupid-ass crap. I thought the last couple of chapters were a bit of a stretch, but the rest really resonated. Oh, and that center for positive psychology? The one that sounds a bit loony? In the same building as my RE and OB. I kept hoping when I was dragging this book to my appointments that the elevator would open on their floor and I could get into it with one of them.