Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Book Review: Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic

It took me over a month, but I finally finished reading Affluenza. It is such an information rich book that at times I could only a read a few pages before I had to put it down and think or journal about what I had just read. 

According to the back cover, affluenza is "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting  from the dogged pursuit of more."

The book explains how Americans became infected with affluenza, what its symptoms are, how it's negatively affecting our social, mental and physical health, and how it is negatively affecting the environment. 

It's difficult to sum up the book in a short review, so I'm going to write about what I was struck by most. Here it is. In the U.S., our country's health is defined by the gross national product (GNP). In order for the government to say "we are doing well" the amount of stuff that we produce and consume needs to be constantly going up. If everyone in the U.S. were to collectively say, "we've had enough, we don't need to keep buying stuff" our country would consider itself in huge trouble.

This is just scary. In order for people to continue to afford more and more stuff, they need to make more and more money. Most of the time, making more money comes from working more. In the U.S., most people are already working an unhealthy number of hours. So people become unhealthy so the country seems healthy.

The book does a much better job than I am at explaining how this is a problem and how it will become a bigger problem if our measure of health does not change from the GNP to another method that takes a look at not only how much we consume but how good the quality of life we have is.

The book was written in 2001 and published before 9/11. It's fairly prophetic in places. It predicts what will happen when oil prices rise (as they have recently), when the economy becomes bad and families loaded in debt end up in foreclosures (sound familiar?), and food prices begin to rise. When the book was written, the authors didn't know when these things would happen, but they knew they would eventually. Well, eventually is now.

It may not seem like it, but I found this book very inspiring. It brought to light a lot of problems but it also proposed solutions to those problems. Solutions that I can be a part of. I'm glad I chose to read it. It has helped me to make the choice to move from simply looking at what I'm trying to accomplish as a thing that helps the earth but as a thing that helps people here and now including me and my husband and kids.

I've already begun my next book - not The Omnivore's Dilemma as I had meant, but one titled Serve God, Save the Planet. With any luck, by the time I'm done reading it, I'll have spent a little time reading up on how to write a book review.
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Despairing said...

Can I also recommend Enough by John Naish? Along the same lines of Affluenza, he goes into psychology as well. For example, how our prehistoric brains are hard-wired to think that if we see someone, then we know them and they know us. This is why celebrity endorsements are so powerful.

He doesn't just touch on product consumption, though. He also goes into the subjects of work, food, happiness and information.

Cheap Cookin Mama said...

So I was looking through my shelves for books to swap on swaptree when guess what I found! Affluenza:) My husband had bought it at a used book store several years ago. So guess what'd on my summer reading list.

Nabeel said...

dogged pursuit of more or the painful reality of having nothing.

Allison said...

I have been avoiding reading Affluenza because I was worried I would see myself in there. But I will get around to it eventually. Right now I am reading Omnivore's Dilemma.

I wish countries didn't have to measure prosperity by only the GNP but it would be hard to measure quality of life, it is so relative. I think my quality of life is awesome but Paris Hilton would HATE my life. Ha Ha.

Robin Shreeves said...

Despairing - thanks for the recommendation. I'll put it on the to-read list.

Cheap Cooking Mama - do read it.

Nabeel - welcome to my blog. I won't pretend to interpret your quote, but I'm glad to provide a place for you to say it.

Allison - you absolutely will see yourself in the book - both in negative and positive ways. I know you've been making a lot of the changes the book recommends already. So don't be afraid to read. It's very encouraging, actually.

Thanks for all the comments guys!

jmisgro said...

After I read your post yesterday, I got on my library site and ordered the book.
Then last night I was looking for something to watch and guess what was on the Documentary Channel!?! Affluenza. I watched it until I fell asleep.

Robin Shreeves said...

jmisgro - glad you're going to read it. I can't believe it was on the documentary channel just last night. I've been searching for a DVD copy and apparently there isn't one. You can watch it in several parts on different websites, but I'd really like to just sit down in front of the tv and watch it sometime.