The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

the-antidote-by-oliver-burkemanAnother great book from this writer, whose Guardian column “This Column Will Change Your Life” is always worth a read (as anthologized in his first book: “Help!” Very well structured and very well written. Amusing as well as insightful. A book well worth reading. Which made me wonder at the few one-star reviews on Amazon:

 ‘Made it to the end, but barely – Harlequinon 30 September 2013

‘Like other reviewers, I disliked the formulaic nature of this book, with each theme introduced by an apposite quotation and a chatty case study (padded out to blazes, as others have noted, with irrelevant detail). This lazy and irritating way of writing seems to have become nigh universal in non-fiction. I also found the tone irritating and smug.

‘Underlying the book there seemed to be the notion that each of the `negative’ phenomena discussed was in fact just a pathway to something positive. Negativity wasn’t something that had a place for its own sake. Then in the epilogue the author suggests that we can use the book as a `tool kit’ in our quest for a better life. This made me cringe, and I felt in the end that the book was really just another contribution to the positive pop psychology genre.

‘Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die is much, much better on this general topic. Or read some of the original works the author draws on, such as Seneca’s wonderful letters.’


 ‘Would have made an interesting magazine article but not enough for a book – J. Griggon 23 February 2013

‘If I could have given zero stars I would. It starts out quite interesting and gos downhill from there. Padded out to the extreme with descriptions of the weather on the day of interviews and mentioning Shakespear as if to lend credibility to this book.

‘Having read the book ‘Into thin Air’ by Krakauer I knew the bits in this chapter to be misinterpreted. Indeed Buerkeman contradicts himself starting out by saying the weather was no worse than any other and a page or two later saying people died in a most dreadful blizzard. He also confuses arrogance with positive thinking.

‘The bit on happiness in the slums was patronising and offensive. I have been to the slums in Kibera and done some international development work. I nearly threw my iPad at the wall in disgust.

‘It was a struggle to complete it. As a book group book I did complete it. If you must read it then the first and last chapters give you the picture, there is not much worth reading in the middle.’

…it’s always interesting to read reviews that make you wonder at some people. But I’d heartily agree with the first positive review I came across:

How to be, 8 July 2012 – By Eleanor

‘In “The Antidote” Oliver Burkeman argues that happiness (whatever that is) can not be achieved through manic positive thinking, motivational pep talks, or narrowly-focused goal setting. Instead one can find a fulfilling way to live by embracing uncertainty and giving negative thoughts their due. In eight chapters we meet Stoics, Buddhists, and other thinkers who all possess:

‘”A willingness to adopt an oblique stance towards one’s own inner life; to pause and take a step back; to turn to face what others might flee from; and to realise that the shortest apparent route to a positive mood is rarely a sure path to a more profound kind of happiness.”

‘Burkeman emphasizes that, unlike so many motivational speakers, he is not intending to offer fail-safe rules for a happy life. Instead he thoughtfully and thoroughly explores topics we might usually shy away from, arriving at wise advice. I already feel calmer and more content having been immersed in his ideas, and perversely I’m looking forward to a chance to test his techniques.

‘Having greatly enjoyed and valued Burkeman’s previous book Help!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done, I was worried that “The Antidote” would cover too much of the same ground. This new book, however, felt fresh and readable offering a more sustained and meaty thesis than the short articles in “Help”, whilst still retaining the humour and anecdotes that made the first book such a pleasure.’

Of course, The Guardian would be positive, one might suppose, but the review on those pages gets it spot on too:

‘Burkeman would be the first to accept that he hasn’t written the last word on human happiness. But he has written some of the most truthful and useful words on it to be published in recent years. The knowledge Burkeman draws on may well come from others, but the book’s quiet wisdom is all his own. This is a marvellous synthesis of good sense, which would make a bracing detox for the self-help junkie.’

For someone who reads mostly classic literary fiction, this has definitely been a worthwhile read: far more insight that George Eliot on her high-horse.


Mr A




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