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Affluenza by Oliver James

Affluenza (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Oliver James

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340932,303 (3.08)15
Authors:Oliver James
Info:Vermilion (2007), Edition: reprint, Paperback, 592 pages
Collections:Your library, IR, Politics, History & War, off the list, 2012 NonFiction
Tags:strong views, 2012READ

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Affluenza by Oliver James (2007)



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James gropes towards an interesting thesis but ends up losing it in a sludge of boring anecdotal research (some of which is so obviously unrepresentative as to be pointless - how many psychotic criminal billionaires do you meet every day?) and off colour colloquialisms. Instead he finds truisms. Materialism is bad for you. Unrestrained capitalism breeds materialism. If he had truly examined the link (if there is one) between capitalism and societal neurosis, and thought deeply about just how we have got ourselves into this state, he might have had something new to say.

Instead this book is just a vehicle for his 60s style psychoanalytical homilies and nurture-over-nature polemics, all served up with some warmed over pieties about how the first three years of life lay the basis for everything that comes afterwards. With some frankly embarrassing political prescriptions for dessert. ( )
1 vote dazzyj | Mar 11, 2012 |
This book has some really wholesome ideas that we all need to hear now and again. It reminds us that we aren't defined by the brand of our shoes, the cost of our watch and the postcode we live in, it reminds us to be grateful for our abundant lives. However, somewhere around 2/3 of the way through James starts on a diatribe about day care and I start to understand his assumption is that we all work for money, that people using day care must only be doing it because they want more possessions - what about the satisfaction of working hard at work that fulfills you, and at the end of the day sharing some moments of that with your children, hoping that they too will grow up and find such satisfaction. I had to stop reading at this point. He has a series of interviews that become increasingly disturbing as he categorises people and sums up their menial existance from his higher plane of knowledge. I wouldn't profess to know a person so well that I can judge them that way, at least I try to remember not to, James should too. ( )
  booksbooks11 | Feb 26, 2011 |
dreadful ( )
  flobmac | Dec 16, 2010 |
CURRENTLY READING. Will come later...
  libraryinfoservices | Oct 27, 2010 |
You could sum up most that is of any value in this book with that bon mot from Life's Little Instruction Book: "no-one said, on their deathbed, 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office'."

The first problem, of many, I have with Oliver James' Affluenza is that, for all the weight of scientific research he claims to have done, none of it is advanced in support of the existence of this thing called Affluenza in the first place. James states it as a bare fact - in fact, rather less than that: he includes a questionnaire designed to determine whether you have Affluenza, and then launches into an idiosyncratic monologue of anecdotes which he seems to regard as having the effect of revealing eternal verities.

The questionnaire doesn't give you much chance of not having the disease: answering in the affirmative to any one of the 16 statements he poses (grammarians and lawyers note: it's a disjunctive test) consigns you to infection. Given the statements include such outrages to public decency as "I would like to be admired by many people" and "my life would be better if I owned certain things I don't have now" it is difficult to see who, other than a misanthropic Trappist monk, wouldn't be "infected".

Other than Chet, a diabetic, malnourished, disenfranchised, frequently-mugged, misleadingly youthful-looking, church-going, taxi-driving New York immigrant, whom James has credulously (or, more likely, apocryphally) interviewed in the course of his travels.

Chet (who would never cheat on his wife, James confidently assures us) sounds almost too good to be true, as indeed do his "negative" New York examples, multi-millionaire broker Sam (who sounds like he stepped straight out of Wall Street) and Consuela, whom James admits reminds him of the "affluent young Manhattan women described in Jay McInerney's sharply observed novel "Story of My Life". You can't help the feeling James has been swept away by the literature a little.

Affluenza thereafter quickly settles down into a hair-shirt-adulating moan.

In part 3, after some 400 pages of injudiciously edited anecdotes, James takes the gloves off and, he warns the reader, gets "personal". It is quite tempting for a reviewer to do the same - this is, after all, a solution to the modern world's woes from the pen of an obviously angry, Eton-educated psychology graduate whose own aspirations for attention, fame and success seem transparent. In any case this is a book of politics and not pop psychology as it purports to be. James' target is "Selfish Capitalism" and prescriptions such as "reject much of the status quo" have more than a hint of the socialist workers' party leafleteer about them. What riles James, I suspect, is that, given a choice between "spiritually happy" impecunious violent disenfranchisement (the Chet model) and "spiritually barren" materialistic, godless life of sterile consumerism (Sam and Consuela), most people would squarely opt for the latter. And who could blame them: a small sprinkling of philosophical self-reflection leavens naked materialism in a way it tends not to compensate for the effects of violence and lack of access to health, education and justice. In fairness, James doesn't think so: he says, rather presumptuously drawing his readers' conclusions for them, "if you met them both I would be very surprised if you preferred to be Sam rather than Chet")

On the other hand, by the same assertion, James acknowledges that most people (being his readership) already do have this sense of self-reflection. If it is true that they would not like or relate to the cardboard figure of Sam precisely as James has cut him out (and as mentioned, I can't help thinking Sam's outline has been exaggerated) then Sam isn't a symptom of modern life, but an anomaly in it. As it happens, I've worked in the investment banking industry for a decade, and the only character I've come across who even vaguely resembles Sam is Gordon Gekko, and he was a figment of Oliver Stone's imagination.

When it comes down to it, what we have here is a fabulous hook: the name "Affluenza" is an inspired bit of marketing, and the initial premise - that over the last two or three decades our asset-rich/time-poor lives have got themselves out of perspective does resonate (I've hacked this review out on a blackberry on the tube on my way to work - you have to be very disciplined!). I dare say many of us would happily re-trade that equation if we could figure out how, but all the same, our lives are still richly fulfilled in other (non materialistic) perspectives. When you get down to the execution: James' love of anecdote, his badly disguised fifth-form socialist agenda and his laboured prose, the tendency to flip pages becomes hard to resist. ( )
4 vote ElectricRay | Jun 18, 2010 |
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The Affluenza Virus is a set of values which increase our vulnerability to emotional distress.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0091900115, Paperback)

There is currently an epidemic of “affluenza” throughout the world — an obsessive, envious keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality that has resulted in huge increases in depression and anxiety among millions. Over a nine-month period, author and psychologist Oliver James travelled around the world to try and find out why.

He discovered how, despite very different cultures and levels of wealth, affluenza is spreading. Cities he visited include Sydney, Singapore, Moscow, Copenhagen, New York and Shanghai. In each place he interviewed groups of people to try to find out not only why this is happening, but also how one can increase one’s emotional immune system.

He asks: Why do so many people want what they don’t have, despite being richer and freer from traditional restraints than ever before? In asking this question, he uncovers the way to reconnect with what really matters and learn to value what we have. In other words, how to be successful and stay sane.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:04 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

There is currently an epidemic of 'affluenza' throughout the world, an obsessive, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, that has resulted in huge increases in depression & anxiety among millions. Over a nine-month period, Oliver James travelled around the world to try and find out why.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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