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A couple of things strike me when reading “Affluenza” by Oliver James.


The first is that I probably wouldn’t have bought the book if I’d thought it was a self-help book (the subtitle of “practical ways of how to survive the modern world” is hidden inside the book and not referred to until the final section of the book). The second is that I probably wouldn’t have bought it if I’d known the name of the author’s other books – e.g. “They F**k You Up” – anyone who quotes Phillip Larkin on their book covers deserves a slap.

There are a lot (and I mean a lot) of issues with this book. The quality of writing is pretty shoddy, the study section is pretty unscientific, James consistently makes himself out to be a perfect father while criticising others off the back of a few minutes analysis. On top of this, he makes regular political criticisms, which don’t really fit here, and his lack of practicality is only matched by his idealistic naivety (he gives a pretty good impression of thinking that Communism’s a good idea).

All that being said, his points are pretty interesting. The slavish materialism of (esp. English-speaking) western society does not appear to lead to any semblance of happiness. The richest people are often the nastiest and least content. James makes very interesting points about the influence of a primary carer for a consistent early age (0-2 years at least). The hypothesis is that if a mother doesn’t feel that for personal reasons she can be a full-time mother (i.e. needs to get out, needs to work etc.) that it’s crucial to use a single consistent carer (either a nanny or a personal relative – often the grandmother in China). James links this directly to an increase in mental distress in later life – greater risk of depression, great need of material things, diminished emotional maturity.

He describes a series of ‘vaccines’ against his ‘Affluenza Virus’. A lot of these could be classed as common-sense (and a few as hippy crap) but the message is clear and simple.

  • The importance of nuture has been widely underestimated in recent years – espeically until 2-3 years
  • Individual care for infants is critical, if it’s not the mother than a Nanny or relative should be preferable before day care.
  • We should wholly analyse our own goals and motivations. Materialistic goals are far less dangerous if our reasons for them are intrinsic and reasoned. ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ motivations rarely lead to happiness.

The majority of these points are interestingly analysed by comparison between different behaviours worldwide – from New York, Singapore, Shanghai, Moscow and Copenhagen. So an interesting, in somewhat flawed, book and well worth the read.

What Has Gone Before

February 2008
i miss your disposition and your strength to see the best in everyone