Barbera Ehrenreich - Smile or Die (4 stars)

Barbera Ehrenreich - Smile or Die


What’s wrong with positive thinking? Anyone who’s been forced on a team bonding day or made to sit through the platitudinous drivel of a ‘motivational guru’ by their employers will tell you exactly what’s wrong with it. And that culture of oppressive, enforced positivity gets wonderfully savaged in this sharp, funny and frightening book. Subtitled ‘How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World’, this is a wonderfully readable and meticulously researched look at the all-pervasive cult of positive thinking in American culture. The worlds of medicine, religion, science, national security and, most topically, big business all come under scrutiny, the author exposing the cynicism, delusion and greed of those who punt this stuff at society’s most vulnerable sections.

Barbara Ehrenreich is no detached observer, and begins the book with a frank account of her diagnosis with breast cancer, and subsequent dismay at being engulfed by pink ribbons and therapy sessions in which there was no room for anger or sadness. Contrary to received opinion, there is no scientific link between positive mindset and rates of cancer survival, and Ehrenreich’s questioning of the endlessly cheery therapy resulted in her being ostracised. That picture has been echoed on Wall Street, in factories, in the Pentagon and in the country’s money-grabbing ‘megachurches’, with devastating effect. Advocating a pragmatic defensive pessimism or realism instead, Ehrenreich ruthlessly picks apart the psychology of blind devotion to positivity in US society, in a book full of eye-popping revelations concerning the extent of the problem. Truly worrying, but brilliantly written.

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