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In Pursuit of Happiness : Better Living from Plato to Prozac Hardcover – July 5, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 Amer ed edition (July 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609605356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609605356
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,866,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Mark Kingwell gives new meaning to "the pursuit of happiness." He enrolled in a course on how to be happy, reminiscent of the Ab Fab episode in which Eddie drags Patsy on a retreat, or of David Foster Wallace's brilliant account of going on a cruise in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Ever a game little guinea pig, Kingwell put himself on Prozac and St. John's wort. He hired himself out as an expert to "help" marketers suss out material sources of happiness for the 18 to 29 cohort. He notices little things such as the fact that Pepperidge Farm has added smiley faces to their Goldfish crackers. (And for what? The fish are happy that you are happy when you eat them?) He ranges widely, writing about Roman Stoic Epictetus, Nick Hornby, The Honeymooners, Freud, Sir Thomas More, PMS, Plato, and much more.

Kingwell, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, exceeds at making the personal philosophical--a skill that has earned him mild derision from academic contemporaries, but that lay readers will appreciate. His writing is clear, engaging, and thought-provoking, and, like fellow pop philosopher Alain de Botton (How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Consolations of Philosophy), Kingwell doffs his mortarboard at Montaigne, surely the most loose-limbed and least po-faced of philosophers--human, confused, and curious--who seems to be enjoying something of a revival.

Your happiness does not depend on reading this book. But it's nice to know that for those of us who abjure books with titles like Become Happy in Eight Minutes, there are wry, funny, smart, and even uplifting reads such as In Pursuit of Happiness. --J.R.

From Publishers Weekly

Smoothly splicing together personal narrative, philosophical inquiry and historical analysis, young Canadian academic and frequent Harper's contributor Kingwell (Dreams of Millennium) deconstructs popular conceptions of happiness and presents an invigorating alternative vision of the good life in this witty and incisive cultural critique. Kicking off his personal pursuit of felicity with a week-long stint at a happiness seminar in western Massachusetts, Kingwell plays guinea pig in a caustic examination of the self-realization industry. In another amateur experiment, he locates a month's supply of ProzacAhe is not depressed, and the drug has not been prescribedAand doses himself, investigating the pharmaceutical approach to happiness. Though these two episodes make for amusing storytelling, the insight they yield is slight. It is Kingwell's more abstract reasoning on consumer cultureAin selling happiness, advertising actually manufactures unhappiness; in urging self-affirmation, therapeutic programs push empty solutionsAthat succeeds best. Looking to Plato's The Republic, Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy and Epictetus's Enchiridion for inspiration from the longest-lived happiness manuals, Kingwell, like the ancients, finally concludes that happiness is not a life of hedonistic abandon but rather one of eudaemonistic fulfillment: "the possession of virtuous character and the performance of virtuous action." Grandiose as this may sound, Kingwell wears his learning lightly, and his spirited defense of the life worth living is marred only by an occasional smugness of tone. Riding a wave of Jerome Kern lyrics, rehashed personal gossip and analysis of the movie Shall We Dance, he coasts home on the story of his own struggle for happiness as a junior scholar angling for tenure.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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I truly enjoyed this book and have even reread it.
Misti-210
If you've ever wanted to better understand what it means to be "happy", truly happy, then this is a great place to start.
Caz
He has a good sense of humor, and I liked the way he tied popular culture, philosophy, and personal examples together.
Ms Diva

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Caz on October 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is the first book by Professor Kingwell that I've read, but it certainly wasn't the last. I wait patiently for each new book he puts out (since this, there's been 'Marginalia,' 'Millennium,' and his brand new release 'The World We Want') and am alwasy interested to see his particular bent on the topic he's chosen.
In Pursuit of Happiness is a rare thing - it's readable philosophy and its darn interesting. Kingwell covers lots of ground, always exploring and exposing human nature. This tome has a personal side as well... he discusses his own framework for happiness with the backdrp being his professional career.
The reader will find his work serious, witty, funny, and always engaging. If you've ever wanted to better understand what it means to be "happy", truly happy, then this is a great place to start. Kingwell will engage you and make you think. In true philosophical form, he asks as many (if not more) questions than he answers... but as with classic philosophical pursuit, this isn't nearly as frustrating.
If you're big into cultural philosophy then this author is for you - I highly recommend his writings.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Michael Guttentag on April 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
With "In Pursuit of Happiness" Mark Kingwell takes on one of the quintessential questions in philosophy: what is happiness and how can we achieve it? Unfortunately, this book is more annoying than enlightening.
Kingwell touches on many of the issues that need to be considered, such as the cultural forces of capitalism, the philosophical discourse of Aristotle, Boethius and the like, and the flourishing "new age" movement. But his treatment is more survey than argument. I was never quite sure what Kingwell was trying to say, until I read on to the next chapter where he finally stated what he had "proved" previously. To take on such challenging questions is to commit yourself to a more serious effort than the one here.
For example, Kingwell's investigation of the new age movement appears to be little more than a one-week course he took called "Inward Bound: An Activa Meditation Retreat" in Western Massachusetts. Compare this to Tony Schwartz five-year investigation in "What Really Matters." After the week, Kingwell ends up dismissing the instructor Kaufman's proselytizing to "get happy," even though it actually is quite close to where Kingwell himself finishes at the end of the book. On a similar note, Kingwell's study of Prozac consists of six weeks of unsupervised use, not exactly a comprehensive investigation.
Also troubling was lack of logical integrity in many of his arguments. By example, Kingwell rejects the argument that material wealth is not an important factor in happiness because of his fear that such an argument might be abused to justify wealth inequalities. Just because an argument may be abused is not a basis for dismissing it. Another annoyance is that many of the quotes provided are not properly cited.
All that said there are some nice insights here.
Read more ›
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ms Diva on March 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Kingwell's book is a very interesting exploration of the nature of happiness. He explores a wide variety of theories from different philosophers, as well as some pyschologists. Ultimately, he concludes that Aristotle's definition is best. Aristotle has always confused me, and Kingwell is the first author who has ever explained him in a way that made sense to me.
The author's writing style is clear and concise. He has a good sense of humor, and I liked the way he tied popular culture, philosophy, and personal examples together. The book wasn't dry, dull and boring, the way philosphy can be at times.
There is only one reason that I can't give the book five stars. I found that Kingwell rambled a bit, and he lost track of his point. Overall, however, I think the book is really worthwhile, and I would encourage anyone who is interested in philosophy to pick up a copy of the book.
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