Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Geograpy of Bliss by Eric Weiner

Title: The Geography of Bliss

Author: Eric Weiner

# pages: 325

Date published: 2008

Genre: nonfiction (sociology)

Challenge(s): 100+ Challenge, 999 Challenge, Countdown Challenge, Support Your Library Challenge, New Author Challenge, Pages Read Challenge

Rating: (highly recommended)

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First sentences (of Chapter 1):

"It is a fact of human nature that we derive pleasure from watching others engage in pleasurable acts. This explains the popularity of two enterprises: pornography and cafes."

What's it all about? Eric Weiner, a long time foreign corespondent for NPR and self-proclaimed grump, decides to travel the globe in a search for the worlds happiest places. What makes the people of some countries more content than those of others? Is it money? Is it government? Is it the weather? It turns out that it's a bit more complicated than that.

Random thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Weiner makes me laugh. He has that dry, witty sense of humor that many Public Radio personalities seem to have and it comes out in his writing. Beyond the happiness issue (which was interesting) I really enjoyed the descriptions of India, Bhutan, Switzerland, and Iceland. These parts of the book read like a great armchair travelogue.

Favorite scene: Weiner starts out in the Netherlands where scientists who are devoted to studying the varying happiness levels all over the globe keep the World Database of Happiness (I'm pretty sure he's serious). Here's Eric settling into the hotel:

The hotel dining room is small, cozy. The Dutch cozy well. I order the asparagus soup. It's good. The waiter clears my bowl and then says, "Now maybe you would like some intercourse."

"Excuse me?"

"Intercourse. You can have intercourse."

I'm thinking, Wow, the Dutch really are a permissive bunch, when it dawns on me that he is speaking of something else entirely. Inter course. As in "between courses."

And so I do. I have inter course, right there in hte Hotel van Walsum dining room. I enjoy it very much... (p. 7)

Favorite quote: My favorite quote comes from the section on Iceland. Apparently, reading is quite the rage in Iceland and they treat their authors the way Americans treat sports figures. What a nice concept...

"Better to go barefoot than without a book," the Icelandic saying goes. The government supports writers with generous grants--salaries, really--that might last for three years. Iceland's most famous writer, the Nobel Prize winner Halldor Laxness, once remarked, "I don't understand this myth of the starving artist. I never missed a meal." (p. 145)

Another thing I found really interesting about Iceland is that people can switch from job to job much easier than people in the U.S. Larus Johannesson, one of the men that Weiner meets, for example, has made a living as a professional chess player, a journalist, a construction company executive, a theologian, and a music producer. He is forty years old. And, he says, this is perfectly normal in Iceland.

Having multiple identities (though not multiple personalities) is, [Larus] believes conducive to happiness. This runs counter to the prevailing belief in the United States and other western nations, where specialization is considered the highest good. Academics, doctors, and other professionals spend lifetimes learning more and more about less and less. In Iceland, people learn more and more about more and more. (p. 161)

I'd totally move there if I weren't cold and dark six months out of the year.

Fun tidbits:

Recommended for readers who like: well-written, sometimes funny, often insightful nonfiction.


Ali said...

This looks like a great nonfiction read--I'm off to see if my library has it. Thanks!

Katie said...

This book looks super interesting! Thanks for the review - I can always trust bloggers to recommend the best books :)

samantha.1020 said...

This sounds really interesting. I'll have to add it to my TBR list :)