We are currently making improvements to the Audible site. In an effort to enhance the accessibility experience for our customers, we have created a page to more easily navigate the new experience, available at the web address www.audible.com/access .
Bright-sided Audiobook

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

Regular Price:$23.93
  • Membership Details:
    • First book free with 30-day trial
    • $14.95/month thereafter for your choice of 1 new book each month
    • Cancel easily anytime
    • Exchange books you don't like
    • All selected books are yours to keep, even if you cancel
  • - or -

Audible Editor Reviews

Liberal essayist Barbara Ehrenreich has been cranking out a fresh book on some aspect of the follies and failings in American social justice every few years since 1969. Twenty books later, she brings us this gem addressing the perils of positive thinking. Named a "Voice of the Century" by AudioFile magazine, Kate Reading has given voice to well over a hundred books and is one of Audible's featured narrators. This is Reading's first time at bat with Ehrenreich's work, and predictably, she knocks it out of the park.

The majority of Ehrenreich's books tend to focus on a large institution or systemic national problem, such as health care or concerns of the middle class. Bright-sided tackles the increasingly fashionable idea that "the power of positive thinking" can guide Americans through any type of crisis. Unlike some of her previous work, this book aligns all of Ehrenreich's interests and brings each facet of her expertise to bear on one very nebulous and fluffy opponent. Across this shady and shifting psychological battlefield, Reading keeps up every step of the way. Her tone is terrifically authoritative and methodical in the opening chapters where Ehrenreich uses her degree in microbiology to knock down the pseudoscientific studies and rationales for promoting optimism one by one. Reading softens the critical edge without getting overly syrupy when Ehrenreich moves into her more personal anecdotes about struggling to defeat breast cancer without the aid of cheerfulness.

Where both author and narrator really shine is the second half of the book, which attacks the three-headed zombie of academic, religious, and economic blindness created by this new culture of "optimism at all costs". Reading's witty account of Ehrenreich's reluctant participation in a set of terrifyingly solipsistic corporate motivation seminars is laugh-out-loud funny. Her sly report of the author's attempt to interview one of the most renowned psychologists in the positive thinking industry and her indignant take on the author's visitation to an evangelical mega-church will leave your blood boiling. After all the piling up of mortgage defaults and other assorted hardships that stem from too much happy talk and not enough material consideration, Ehrenreich's call to vigilant realism is as inevitable as it is refreshing. Kate Reading's crafty rendering of Ehrenreich's latest myth-busting book is sure to lift the spirits of all who feel guilty for finding little to smile about in these uncertain times. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

A sharp-witted knockdown of America's love affair with positive thinking and an urgent call for a new commitment to realism.

Americans are a "positive" people - cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: this is our reputation as well as our self-image. But more than a temperament, being positive, we are told, is the key to success and prosperity.

In this utterly original take on the American frame of mind, Barbara Ehrenreich traces the strange career of our sunny outlook from its origins as a marginal 19th-century healing technique to its enshrinement as a dominant, almost mandatory, cultural attitude. Evangelical mega-churches preach the good news that you only have to want something to get it, because God wants to "prosper" you. The medical profession prescribes positive thinking for its presumed health benefits. Academia has made room for new departments of "positive psychology" and the "science of happiness." Nowhere, though, has bright-siding taken firmer root than within the business community, where, as Ehrenreich shows, the refusal even to consider negative outcomes - like mortgage defaults - contributed directly to the current economic crisis.

With the mythbusting powers for which she is acclaimed, Ehrenreich exposes the downside of America's penchant for positive thinking: On a personal level, it leads to self-blame and a morbid preoccupation with stamping out "negative" thoughts. On a national level, it's brought us an era of irrational optimism resulting in disaster. This is Ehrenreich at her provocative best - poking holes in conventional wisdom and faux science, and ending with a call for existential clarity and courage.

©2009 Barbara Ehrenreich; (P)2009 Macmillan Audio

What the Critics Say

"In this hilarious and devastating critique, Barbara Ehrenreich applies some much needed negativity to the zillion-dollar business of positive thinking. This is truly a text for the times." (Katha Pollitt)
"Unless you keep on saying that you believe in fairies, Tinker Bell will check out, and what's more, her sad demise will be your fault! Barbara Ehrenreich scores again for the independent-minded in resisting this drool and all those who wallow in it." (Christopher Hitchens)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (290 )
5 star
 (121)
4 star
 (89)
3 star
 (49)
2 star
 (17)
1 star
 (14)
Overall
4.1 (139 )
5 star
 (64)
4 star
 (48)
3 star
 (15)
2 star
 (7)
1 star
 (5)
Story
4.1 (138 )
5 star
 (57)
4 star
 (53)
3 star
 (20)
2 star
 (3)
1 star
 (5)
Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Dave San Jose, CA, United States 11-03-09
    Dave San Jose, CA, United States 11-03-09 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    37
    4
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Great research"

    At times when listening to this book I wonder who Barbara Ehrenreich is trying to impress. Some sentences are packed full of impressive-sounding words which would be great for a game of Scrabble but give her tone a lofty and pedantic air.

    That being said, I love some of the history uncovered by the book and found it to be a great tempering to the extremism of "positive thinking" I've encountered with some people.

    0 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tomas Vastervik, Sweden 04-01-11
    Tomas Vastervik, Sweden 04-01-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    1
    1
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Not what the title says it is"

    In her eager to spread her dislike of positive thinking, the author doesn't follow her own advice to "look at the world the way it is". As "typical positive thinkers" she takes extremists in the religion and among motivational speakers who have found a way to make big money of the human weakness of hunger for money without effort.
    The title of the book is misleading, because what she mostly writes about is "The Law of Attraction", the belief held by some that money and success comes from pure wishing. And to make the conclusion that the financial crisis and the fall of Lehmann Brothers was caused by positive thinking seems to me a mix-up of positive thinking with the human weakness called greed.
    To talk about "see the world as it is" I find a bit presumptuos. Is there any "the world as it is"? Doesn't that depend on if you are an american or an african? Or if you ask a christian or a muslim?
    I expected more of this book, and even if the author spent a lot of time trying to find historical evidence about the consequences of positive thinking, it was too evident that the purpose was only to support her own purpose of miscrediting positiveness in society.
    If criticizing a phenomenon like positive thinking, an alternative way of thinking or acting is expected. Nothing of that came out as a result of this book.

    4 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. L. Tucker Redmond, WA USA 06-17-16
    J. L. Tucker Redmond, WA USA 06-17-16 Member Since 2016

    datagal

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    72
    11
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "I LOVE this book!"

    Finally an honest evaluation of the profiteering, predatory, and often destructive nature of the flapdoodle pseudoscience of the positive thinking cult.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Justine 11-16-15
    Justine 11-16-15 Member Since 2011
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    2
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    ":( disappointing"

    The content sounded angry or perhaps it was the tone of the narrator. I stopped listening half way through.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CathyK 10-24-15
    CathyK 10-24-15 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    14
    4
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Mind Blown"

    I was so impressed by this social critique of the the modern cult of positive thinking in America. It literally blew my mind. I was a political philosophy major in college, and found this on equal par with many mainstream and academic critiques. It was a comprehensive and researched critique of politics, economics, religion, and society under the spell of purely positive, and new age, magical thinking. Even in the FB world, anything or anyone not entirely positive gets marginalized. She doesn't argue against positive thinking, just that we need to stay realistic if we're going to solve our problems. This is an important and valid critique, and very much worth a read.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Suma 09-10-15
    Suma 09-10-15
    HELPFUL VOTES
    7
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    182
    5
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Miss your toxic judgy friend? Then read this!"

    First, because of all the support this book is getting from people who identify themselves as realists, I must say that I am rational to a fault and not a fan of the positive thinking approach so lauded by our society. In fact, I hate it. I flat out dislike approaches that favor "seeing abundance in the world" and the "I can do it because I believe I can do it." mentality. I don't find them useful, practical, or beneficial except for temporarily deluding yourself out of a rut. And everyone who liked this book is entitled to their thoughts on it, but I couldn't disagree more. I felt I had to contribute a dissenting opinion.

    The author starts this book promisingly, with a number of examples of dangerous positive thinking, instances where just hoping something bad won't happen kept us from responding to danger signs that should have been taken seriously (such as 9/11 or the recent economic collapse). I completely understood her argument and hoped these were the kinds of issues she would elaborate upon for the rest of the book.

    I admit that I couldn't force myself past the first section, where she discusses her experiences with breast cancer. It was so bad that I had to turn it off, so maybe I missed out on some actual wisdom later on. But about breast cancer, I get that it's a hard situation that you're not even sure you will survive. I lost my spouse several years ago at a young age (31), and I have some understanding of what the healing process from catastrophe might look like, though it's different for everyone. What I take serious issue with is that the ENTIRETY of what she had to say about it was a series of attempts to shame people who had supportive roles for her during this time. Through the entire chapter, she sounds like the incredibly toxic friend that you eventually just cut out of your life because you have run out of energy to expend on her. This is not commentary on unfounded and harmful positive thinking. It's an indictment against anyone who might dare to have ANY positive thoughts on the subject. She endlessly rails against people for (only perceived) motivations that are truly the worst possible, never giving anyone credit for any good intentions. Let me lay some of this out for you.

    1) She takes issue with the doctor who told her she had cancer because he said "there is cancer" instead of saying "you have cancer." She says the wording of that sentence failed to recognize that she was a human being, and cut her out of the equation completely. Seriously? I'm a doctor, and guess what. Doctors are human beings who have different ways of saying things. Maybe the guy didn't have the greatest words to use, but could she take a minute to think maybe she's reading a little too much into his intended meaning?

    2) She then complains about the stuffed bears that are used as tokens of support by the Susan G. Komen foundation, because she says they are representative of the infantalizing of women. Huh. Reaching a bit, Barbara? She goes on for a little while about this.

    3) She then complains some more, because we don't have enough complainers in our lives, apparently. Next complaint is about women on the online support groups. She claims that some women who developed metastatic cancer were reportedly kicked off the groups because they had no hope of recovery. There is absolutely no evidence of this presented in any way. No stories from those women who were kicked off, no other story from whoever kicked them off, nothing at all. I find it very difficult to believe that a woman with cancer would get kicked off because her cancer metastasized. I have, however, met people who have toxic personalities who get eliminated from people's lives as a result, who then pretty much blame everybody else for their resulting solitude.

    4) She tells of how she went onto an online support group and attempted to share her pain by discussing her side effects from chemo and how she has trouble with "those sappy pink ribbons." She then describes how women responded by telling her that she needed to work on having a better attitude, which rankled her. Did she ever consider that her judgemental and insulting comment about something that might be providing comfort to other women in the same situation might have been inappropriate, not to mention rude and cruel? What's the point of shaming women who find the pink ribbons to be helpful? I thought the replies of those other women were amazingly supportive in response.

    5) She complains some more (surprise!) about women who claim that their lives have been improved by their experience with breast cancer. Now, what I find interesting is that these women were people who felt that the experience taught them about valuing their lives, experiences, etc, which basically means that it allowed them to see past the mundane events and feelings that drag us down otherwise. That's NOT positive thinking for the sake of positive thinking. That's seeing reality, but apparently these women have committed the heinous crime of seeing a reality that is hopeful, instead of being terribly depressed about it. What's wrong with that?

    And I ask, how are ANY of these ladies with breast cancer "undermining America"? She never says. These are just people who are doing the best they can do with the cards they were dealt. If it doesn't work for you, just find something else that will. Why crap all over them? I haven't met anyone who is trying to develop breast cancer because some other woman said it "improved" her life, have you?

    That was just one chapter, folks. That's where I had to hit the pause button and cut this toxic person out of my own life. I totally understand that the rest of the book might have been better, but honestly, by this point I didn't want to give this author any more of my valuable time. She is a troll, I'm not going to keep listening just to see if she has a tiny bit of wisdom buried somewhere in the sea of her personal misery.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ro_runner 07-30-14
    ro_runner 07-30-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    33
    16
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Well done!"
    Would you be willing to try another book from Barbara Ehrenreich? Why or why not?

    I always learn something new when I read Barbara Ehrenreich. All of her books make my "to read" list.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Red Emma Seattle, WA USA 03-05-13
    Red Emma Seattle, WA USA 03-05-13 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    40
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    129
    48
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    2
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Thank goodness!"
    Any additional comments?

    I stumbled on this in the midst of some really trying circumstances in my life where everyone kept telling me I just had to "stay positive" and employ what I have now adopted as referring to as "magical thinking" (aka "The Secret") to make things work out. Although I am a firm believer that kvetching about something often doesn't help to achieve anything positive, I also think everyone trying convince themselves and others that crappy situations have someone been caused by their "bad" thinking is oppressive and wrong. Thank you, Ms. Ehrenreich, for informing us about the history of this movement in America and being brave enough to keep a critical mind when doing so gets you lambasted for being an "eeyore".

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Winston D. Jen 12-24-12 Listener Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    71
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    47
    11
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Norman Peale was a Charlatan; Thanks You Barbara!!"

    Barbara's fractally correct in every possible way here; one simply *cannot* choose to be happy. We would all be better off if we dismissed this blatant lie touted by Norman Vincent Peale. In her introduction, she addresses and clarifies the difference between hope (a natural, involuntary emotion we feel when things appear to be going our way, or, at the very least, appear to be improving) and optimism (a state of mind that can be cultivated through sufficient practice and expensive positivity seminars and/or prosperity gospel sermons). This is crucial - the positive charlatans of recent decades advocate forced optimism, not realistic, spontaneous, justified hope. This, obviously, would explain why on most happiness metrics, despite having a reputation has a "positive" country, the US scores deplorably. With an obscenely high poverty rate and prison population, this is hardly news to anyone living outside a cave. And, as Barbara astutely notes, positivity only works when it is not forced. Trying to impose happiness on oneself only leads to bitterness and a desire to rush home and switch off the Optimism Switch in one's head, for the culture of the US has been so polluted by positive thinking that many feel the only place they can be themselves (and realistic and/or pessimistic) is outside the gaze of others.

    She shows how right-wing demagogues often cite pithy positive thinking platitudes as an attempt to blame those in perpetual poverty. And as we all know, those who fail to "will" the cancer away are never the subject of happy positive thinking books. And perhaps worst of all, positive thinking removes all motivation to improve societies and living conditions. External conditions are almost always dismissed by these gurus and charlatans.

    Reading Smile or Die, I was reminded of a horribly callous sermon in Japan, where the pastor extolled the benefits of frugality and unequivocally spoke out against materialism. For his example du jour, he cited victims of the Haiti earthquake and how "happy" they were. Really? Is that the best they can do? If I lost everything and everyone I held dear in an earthquake, smiling might be the only way I could cope. It most certainly would not be a sign of happiness or satisfaction after going through such a grueling natural disaster.

    Positive thinking has a horrible dark side that would lead to the instant dismissal of any doctor who prescribed positivity in lieu of radiotherapy for cancer. As anyone with any experience with the bile that Pollyannas spew forth on a daily basis, one of their implied mantras is "if you fail, it's your own fault." Spare me, please. On a personal note, I particularly enjoyed Barbara's mention of the Despair website, built around the idea of counter-optimism with its Demotivational line of posters, mugs, plaques, etc.

    The author's research is impeccable. She unearths the deadly, fatalistic roots of positive thinking that came from the Calvinist branch of Christianity. Every word is enlightening and well worth reading.

    Barbara ends this book with a clarion call to reason, citing some of the most cruel, heartless and ignorant consequences of positive thinking, including that of Rhonda Byrne, who claimed that tsunamis could only happen to those who are "on the same frequency as the event."

    Everyone who has been deceived by positivity listen to read this book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard Newquist Neptune Beach, FL, United States 09-22-12
    Richard Newquist Neptune Beach, FL, United States 09-22-12

    Audio books are GREAT! Audible makes it easier, faster and cheaper to enjoy them.

    ratings
    REVIEWS
    1
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Important Book Well Worth The Time And Money"
    Would you listen to Bright-sided again? Why?

    I thought the book was so good I've already listened to it three times just so I could get the many nuanced observations made by the author. The book is very 'literate' meaning she uses a higher level of vocabulary and, as an Audible book, requires some careful listening to get the details of the very rich content. I'll probably listen to it again.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Bright-sided?

    If the reader (listener) pays attention, the book is excellent all the way through. It starts with an overview of positive thinking then moves into several scenarios where relentless positive thinking is force-fed to us not-so-aware citizens of American society. It starts with the author's own experience with breast cancer and her total immersion into the world of positive thinking. The narrative moves on to the 19th century origins of positive thinking and explains how positive thinking invaded the very social fabric of today. She shows us how positive thinking is so ubiquitous that we are barely aware of it's power to control and shape our individual lives up to and including entire societies.This book is truly an amazing research project and I think the author is brilliant in her analysis of the data and her conclusions. This is stuff I have never even contemplated. I accepted the positive thinking mantras in all their glorious presentations without thinking. My own brother has lung cancer and he is going through a lot of the same positive thinking exposure that the author did.


    What does Kate Reading bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Kate Reading (she reads the book and that's her name) does a fantastic job of presenting the audible version of the book. Her voice is clear and pronunciation succinct. She gets the right inflection and puts emphasis where the author would want it. I think her reading of the book made a somewhat complex subject with lots of ideas, flow very nicely for the human ear to easily absorb. She's great! I will look for her name on future Audible books that I buy. She literally made the book come alive.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Mass hypnosis...how society molds its citizens.


    Any additional comments?

    The book is a super example of a massive research project with the data analyzed through the brain of an obviously extremely bright author, Barbara Eherenreich. Read (listen to) the book...its worth it!!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Report Inappropriate Content

If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.

Cancel

Thank you.

Your report has been received. It will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.