Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Barbara Ehrenreich: Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

From Publishers Weekly: 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.

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 They also criticized the author for "cheap shots" and outdated research. For example, she criticizes the book Who Moved My Cheese?, which has long been superseded by other, even sillier titles.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.

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Barbara Ehrenreich (born August 26, 1941, Butte, Montana) is an American feminist, democratic socialist, sociologist and political activist, a prominent figure in the Democratic Socialists of America. She is a widely read columnist and essayist, and the author of nearly 20 books. Ehrenreich was born Barbara Alexander to Isabelle Oxley and Ben Alexander. Her father was a copper miner who went on to study at Carnegie Mellon University and who eventually became an executive at the Gillette Corporation. Ehrenreich studied physics at Reed College, graduating in 1963. Her senior thesis was entitled Electrochemical oscillations of the silicon anode. In 1968, she received a Ph.D in cellular biology from Rockefeller University. Citing her interest in social change, she opted for political activism instead of pursuing a scientific career. She met her first husband, John Ehrenreich, during an anti-war activism campaign in New York City. In 1970, her first child, Rosa (now Rosa Brooks), was born. Her second child, Benjamin, was born in 1972. Barbara and John divorced and in 1983 she married Gary Stevenson, a warehouse employee who later became a union organizer. She divorced Stevenson in the early 1990s. From 1991 to 1997, Ehrenreich was a regular columnist for Time magazine.

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Currently, the author contributes regularly to The Progressive and has also written for the New York Times, Mother Jones, The Atlantic Monthly, Ms, The New Republic, Z Magazine, In These Times, Salon.com, and other publications. In 1998, the American Humanist Association named her the Humanist of the Year. In 1998 and 2000, she taught essay writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2004, Ehrenreich wrote a month-long guest column for the New York Times while regular columnist Thomas Friedman was on leave and she was invited to stay on as a columnist. She declined, saying that she preferred to spend her time more on long-term activities, such as book-writing. Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after the release of her book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. In her article "Welcome to Cancerland," published in the November 2001 issue of Harper's Magazine, she describes her breast cancer experience and debates the medical industry's problems with the issue of breast cancer. In 2006, Ehrenreich founded United Professionals, an organization described as "a nonprofit, non-partisan membership organization for white-collar workers, regardless of profession or employment status. We reach out to all unemployed, underemployed, and anxiously employed workers — people who bought the American dream that education and credentials could lead to a secure middle class life, but now find their lives disrupted by forces beyond their control." Ehrenreich is currently an honorary co-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America. She also serves on the NORML Board of Directors and The Nation's Editorial Board. In 2000 Ehrenreich endorsed the Presidential campaign of Ralph Nader. In February 2008, Ehrenreich expressed support for Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.

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