A very close friend sent this book to me after we had some discourse regarding our perceptions and opinions of happiness. The title is more telling than you might think, as the book takes an encompassing view of what has been written about happiness through the ages.
The book is very well written in philosophical prose. For those uninitiated in true philosophical writing, this book might seem droll or overly complicated. Philosophical writing begins with the definition of what is being discussed, and works at laying the argument out in a precise fashion. The end of one paragraph lays the groundwork for the next, and the chapters follow suit. The book is written the way one is taught to write in advanced English classes. As I said, this provides for a very well written book.
The book provides a great deal of historical thinking about happiness, from familiar authors (Freud, William James) to intellectuals I had little familiarity with (to save embarrassment I will not mention them here, but I would imagine many readers will encounter some names they are less than familiar with).
The book is well written and provides a great deal of historical context about what intellectuals have said about happiness in one rather short volume (less than 200 pages not including notes), but is it a good read? Will it help one find happiness? These questions are more difficult to answer.
As it to former question, if you are interested in how some of the leading thinkers on happiness have viewed its pursuit, it is a brilliant read. Sissela Bok does an excellent job of illuminating the disagreement in philosophies between authors such as Freud and Bertrand Russell. The author also does an excellent job of exploring differences in philosophy; the moral life is compared to the hedonistic, both with their leading authors’ argument of how their philosophy is the only path to true happiness.
In regard to the latter question, will it help one find happiness, that wasn’t the point of the book. I would venture to say the author rather wants the individual to fully understand the many conflicting roads to happiness, and not blindly follow generic suggestions that stem from a polarized version of one of the philosophies discussed. Then the reader can decide which philosophy best fits their inclination. After this understanding the reader can set out to find his or her own path to happiness.
Overall I am glad I read the book, and grateful to my friend for sending it. I began my own book on happiness some time ago, but it has been shelved for other more pressing projects. I will undoubtedly use the book in my formal writing should I return to it. But whether formally writing a book on happiness, simply composing short articles about happiness for Psychology Today, or working with clients, much of what I consider my life’s work surrounds happiness. To that end this book is a worthy addition.