The Antidote

Oliver Burkeman's book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking is by turns clever and frustrating, slow and insightful, repetitive and credulous. It could be called The Anecdote for all its reliance on unsupported seems-like-it-should-be argument based on idiosyncratic one-of-a-kind experience.

But what's it all about? The Antidote grew out of Burkeman's "This Column Will Change Your Life" series of essays in the British newspaper The Guardian. It focuses on "negative thinking", the notion that perhaps by looking at the worst-case and meditating on the bad, one could come to better appreciate what's really good in the world. Key front-and-center classical examples of this? The philosophies of Stoicism and Buddhism, which feature prominently in early chapters and to which Burkeman often returns in his analysis of New Age movements, self-improvement gurus, success counselors, and the like.

There's much to salute in The Antidote. Unfortunately, there's also much to criticize. Most frustrating: a general lack of crisp, metaphorical-lovely language and imagery. Secondarily: after a few (dozen) uses, the turn-it-on-its-head device of finding the negative in every positive gets rather predictable. Burkeman's tales of his personal expense-account travels and meetings with various semi-celebrities also fail to persuade. And it's a stretch, ill-connected to the book's central theme, to devote a chapter to failed business products (some of which actually succeeded at different places and times).

Perhaps, as wise friend Dana B gently points out, I've already read too much on some of these topics and I come to The Antidote wish glazed eyes? And yes, there are exceptional quotes worth remembering; examples to follow in later posts here.

^z - 2013-06-28