Monday, October 01, 2007

Book Review: Affluenza

I purchased this book looking for something interesting to read on a long haul flight. I was severely disappointed.

Oliver James is a psychologist and Affluenza is a long winded rant against materialism, materialistic (i.e. capitalist) values and the "depression, anxiety, addiction and ennui" that results from being infected with the wrong values. The premise of taking a good hard look at the values we base our lives on and the consequences of having such values is a good one - it is an issue which at a personal level I regard as important and very worthy of examination. Unfortunately, I can not recommend Affluenza as a worthwhile contribution to the subject.

My single biggest issue was that the overall tone came across as a snivelling, whining rant against economic development, material possessions and consumption based lifestyles. I have some sympathy and agreement on the latter two points. Even so, it made for rather trying and dull reading.

At a more specific level, I found that time and time again I either disagreed with James' views or found myself wondering about the validity of his research. As examples:

1. his comments on the best ways of raising pre-scho0l children were inconsistent with my own experiences as a parent. Our pre-schoolers have a great time at their pre-school and other classes, showed very little separation anxiety in the first few weeks, none at all after the first month or so and can be observed laughing and playing with other children and the teachers. This experience is not unique;

2. the supposed explanation of the difference between "authentic" and "sincere" was very muddled and unclear. I read the chapter twice and have no idea what he was on about;

3. at the end of the book I had reservations about his methodology. Given the sweeping claims and generalisations made in the book, I was very very surprised to see the very small sample sizes on which James' views were based. Certainly he refers to more comprehensive data sets provided by other researchers, but I had little confidence in the validity of his conclusions as a result.

The final analysis? Yes, there are some screwed up people with some values with which I do not identify and there are a lot of people whose state of happiness is less than ideal in this world. Yes, I have little doubt that money is not a substitute for either genuine values or happiness. No, I did not think much of this book.


Anonymous said...

I thoroughly agree with your opinion.
As a year 12 student studying this text as part of my English course, I found it repetitive and superficial, clashing with my own personal values towards society.

It's not worth reading the whole book.

traineeinvestor said...

Thanks for the feedback. I certainly will not be reading the author's follow up book.

I some ways it is a pity because the subject of how rising wealth levels affect happiness and how our values change with income and wealth levels is one that deserves further examination.

Anonymous said...

What I found most annoying was the misogyny, refering to women as "not my type" or "miniskirt" was horrendously offensive.
He's a self-important twat with a snappy book title and no substance.