From Publishers Weekly
History teaches us, contrary to popular belief, that money can buy happiness, drugs are mostly good, low-fat diets may not prevent cancer or heart disease. For Hecht, the assumptions about happiness that guide our actions are distorted by myths, fantasies and "nonsensical" cultural biases. Taking a tour of historical and contemporary ideas of happiness, Hecht (Doubt: A History
) demonstrates that women's clothes shopping is a celebratory act of freedom from the long nights their ancestors spent spinning, and that the shopping mall gives us back some of the social intimacy of group activity that consumerism wiped out of our lives. In the 1830s, Sylvester Graham encouraged Americans to identify whole-grain, home-baked bread with happiness, a notion still embodied today in myriad message-carrying birthday and anniversary cakes. Our love of sports and exercise stems from Southern slaveholders' need to distance themselves from heavy labor and its connotation of slavery, and from the Protestant equation of happiness with aggressive self-control and self-denial. American ambivalence about drugs reflects our fears about unproductive happiness and palliatives that numb us into complacency. Although the erudite Hecht (Doubt: A History
) sometimes loses her audience in verbose, philosophical dissections, her energetic romp through the arbitrariness of history's ideas about happiness is eclectic and entertaining, providing ample perspective on the rituals that make us human. (Apr.)
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Adding to the recent spate of happiness books, Hecht, author of Doubt: A History
(2003), proves a beguiling writer blessed with a most agile mind. She skillfully confronts modern assumptions about what it means to be happy, investigating four factors frequently involved in happiness--drugs, money, bodies, and celebration--historically in sections on the wisdom of happiness through the ages, "good" and "bad" drugs and telling the difference, the relationship of money and happiness, the physicality of the body, and the ritual of celebration. There are three kinds of happiness, she maintains, those roused by a good day, by euphoria, and by a happy life. Not only different, they are often at odds. Her conclusions are often blunt (surprise! Money can
buy happiness) and also practical. She offers suggestions that can conceivably help make a happier life, but her good judgment, common sense, and insightful commentary make the book a pleasure not only to read but also to ponder. June SawyersCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved