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Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America Hardcover – October 13, 2009


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Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America + Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1 edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805087494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805087499
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (193 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed) delivers a trenchant look into the burgeoning business of positive thinking. A bout with breast cancer puts the author face to face with this new breed of frenetic positive thinking promoted by everyone from scientists to gurus and activists. Chided for her anger and distress by doctors and fellow cancer patients and survivors, 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. Building on Max Weber's insights into the relationship between Calvinism and capitalism, Ehrenreich sees the dark roots of positive thinking emerging from 19th-century religious movements. Mary Baker Eddy, William James and Norman Vincent Peale paved the path for today's secular $9.6 billion self-improvement industry and positive psychology institutes. The author concludes by suggesting that the bungled invasion of Iraq and current economic mess may be intricately tied to this reckless national penchant for self-delusion and a lack of anxious vigilance, necessary to societal survival. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

No critic completely dismissed Ehrenreich's critique of America's "happiness" culture. But reviewers' enthusiasm for her critique seemed to depend on their assessment of the book's moral urgency. Several critics felt that the message of Bright-Sided was essential to readers in the aftermath of last year's economic meltdown. But others felt that Ehrenreich's ideas, while relevant, had been better expressed by others. They also criticized the author for "cheap shots" and outdated research. For example, she criticizes the book Who Moved My Cheese?, which has long been superseded by other, even sillier titles. But many readers may react like Hanna Rosin, who wrote in the New York Times Book Review that even when she did not agree with Ehrenreich's arguments, she felt less guilty about not sharing in our smiley :-) culture.

More About the Author

BARBARA EHRENREICH is the author of fourteen books, including the bestselling Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. She lives in Virginia, USA.

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Customer Reviews

This book is well written and contains a very different perspective than the one I had.
Jill Massengill
Her statement that there is no true science to support mind/body connection is simply incorrect, and she loses credibility for that alone.
J. Power
Let me just say, though, that, if you are someone that believes in positive psychology, you will hate this book.
StrangePegs

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

292 of 302 people found the following review helpful By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Barbara Ehrenreich is not the kind of person you're likely to find brandishing a sign reading "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade"; you're more likely to find her picketing the vendors, demanding a more varied and tasty supply of fruit. If you're thinking of picking up any of her books, be prepared for Ehrenreich's typical trenchant and skeptical (but never cynical attitude to be applied to whatever topic she's tackling. In this case, that is the whole universe of the phenomenon known as positive thinking, which she debunks with gusto and flair.

In the past, Ehrenreich has sometimes gone out to encounter her stories; in this case, the subject for her book came to her, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and found herself uncomfortably sharing her new world with people so eager to put a positive spin on a horrible phenomena that even women facing a terminal diagnosis were bullied into labeling themselves breast cancer "survivors", since 'victim' was simply too negative a word to be used. Dissenting from this perspective is a kind of treason, she writes, and apt to provoke the professionally-sunny tempered to suggest that she somehow earned the cancer by not being upbeat enough. More important than her personal observations and experiences, however, are the broader conclusions she draws from this experience. "The effect of all this positive thinking is to transform breast cancer into a rite of passage," she writes, "not an injustice or a tragedy to rail against but a normal marker in the life cycle, like menopause or grandmotherhood."

That's the important message of this book -- that by being relentlessly upbeat (to the point of becoming self-delusional) we miss out on what is authentic.
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390 of 413 people found the following review helpful By Todd Bartholomew TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
With "Bright-Sided" Barbara Ehrenreich delivers the same sharp assessments she delivered in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, in this case a trenchant look into America's obsession with presenting a "positive" image at all times and at all costs. Spurred by her own reaction to a bout of breast cancer Ehrenreich came face-to-face with the near obsessive culture of positivity, which led to her questioning not only what purpose it serves, but how it came to exist. While Americans like to project a "positive" cheerful, optimistic and upbeat image we seldom reflect on why our culture insists upon this particular norm. Ehrenreich traces the origins of this "cult of optimism" from its origins in 19th Century American life up to the present prevalence of the "gospel of prosperity" in churches, "positive psychology" and the "science of happiness" in academia and in literature. Ehrenreich points out it is most pervasively rooted in business culture where the refusal to deal with negativity (potential and real) has resulted in a rash of negative outcomes, from the S&L crisis of the 1980s/1990s to the current mortgage led economic downturn. As with "Nickel and Dimed" Ehrenreich revels in not just mythbusting but in exploring corners of society seldom plumbed or contemplated. For Ehrenreich this lack of introspection and dealing with negativity in an appropriate manner has led us individually and as a society to "irrational exuberance" and now near disaster.Read more ›
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258 of 276 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Locke on October 15, 2009
Format: Audio CD
Ehrenreich makes the point (and it can't be made too often) that the Law of Attraction, as promulgated via such works of irrationalist pseudoscience as The Secret and the books of Esther and Jerry Hicks, has the down-side effect of making out-of-work, poor, sick, and otherwise "unlucky" people responsible for their own condition. She tells how Rhonda Byrne (The Secret) opined that tsunami victims had attracted their own misfortune. Ehrenreich also spells out how convenient this "philosophy" is to the greed heads that have lately been so busy raping America and the global economy. Don't revolt, don't complain, it's all your own fault.

She covers how Emerson and the Transcendentalists attempted to break free from the toxic effects of Calvinism on early American life, but how that attempt got sidetracked into New Thought (Phineas Quimby, Mary Baker Eddy, etc), with its increasingly laser-like focus on "prosperity" and get-rich-quick schemes. The scholarship that went into this intellectual/cultural history is impressive. Closer to present time, she unpacks how many evangelical mega-churches have leveraged this new, and very un-Christian, gospel in the style of huckster marketeers and predatory CEOs. But my favorite is the number she does on Martin Seligman and his "Positive Psychology" boondoggle. This isn't just a good book, it's an important one and much needed. I hope it will shape attitudes and change minds.
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60 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Adrienne on October 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
A lot of folks either are so invested in their own personal universe where they get all the ice cream and cake they want or they heard what the book was about, read the dust-jacket and decided they knew what was in the book. This is an important book, along the same lines and for much the same reasons as Susan Jacoby's "The Age of American Unreason", Charles Pierce's "Idiot America" or Wendy Kaminer's "Sleeping with Extra-terrestials". What I found so wonderful about the book is the way she calls out the purveyor's of various misunderstood bastardizations of quantum theory for missing the whole point and for the hypocritical way they use and discard science as it is rhetorically convenient. What's more, she is spot on that this is a worldview that, no matter how fuzzy, soft, kind and gentle it tries to make itself out to be is ultimately selfish, harsh and, dare I say, callous.

I say this as someone who was a practitioner, in the 80's and very early 90's, of just this kind of thinking. I read Shakti Gawain and Starhawk. I clutched my crystals and thought to 'attract to myself' all the things that I thought I deserved or wanted. What made the difference, however, was not wishing the Universe to deliver but going out and *doing* something about my life. Ultimately, that deep encounter with reality made me a more compassionate person. What's more, although my introduction to QM was through New Age books, the more I read, the more intrigued I became and then when I actually started to read some *actual* material written by people who *actually* spent their adult lifetimes studying QM I found a theory that was, in reality, far more elegant and beautiful than the people who invoke it to give their fantasies a patina of scientific legitimacy.
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