The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

Book Review by David Agnew | 30 May 2012
  • Burkeman Antidote
Book title: The Antidote
Author: Oliver Burkeman

“Closure is bullshit,” said crime writer James Ellroy. This book would agree, although it puts it more politely. The Antidote looks at how various notions of achieving happiness and stressing positive thinking aren’t necessarily helpful. Goal-setting produces more stress, while avoiding grief prolongs the grieving process, and in general, ill-thought-out self-help quick fixes aren’t helpful. Obvious enough, but then this book shows why, and suggests ‘a negative path to happiness.’

The most impressive parts are where Burkeman shows why it’s so easy to believe that quick fix paths to happiness can help. For example, the idea that successful people persevere in the face of setbacks and have the charisma to get people to follow them can be true. However, people with the same qualities can also be very unsuccessful – if you persevere and get others to believe in your non-existent future success, you’re a spectacular failure. Burkeman’s approach throughout is this sort of even-handed way of looking at issues from all angles, and his writing style is light enough to deftly communicate complexity. The book culminates when Burkeman goes to Mexico to look at the Day of the Dead celebrations, a brilliant, morbidly positive ending, right up to the final sentence. [David Agnew]

Release date 21 Jun. Published by Canongate. Cover price £15 You can see Oliver Burkeman discussing The Antidote with Alan Spence on Sat 23 Jun, 2-3pm in the Edinburgh Buddhist Centre and 7-8pm in the Sri Chinmoy Centre, Edinburgh. Both £4 You can pick up a free copy of The Antidote on 22 Jun outside the Dalai Lama event in the Usher Hall.