the guardian Fri 07 August 2009
Do you want to be rich, famous and admired, with all the material trappings that go with it? Are you anxious and depressed? Say no to both and you won't need to read James's latest pop psychology manual because you obviously haven't contracted the affluenza virus, which originated, he claims, in New York and is sweeping through the first world. On the other hand, you may want to hear how awful it is to be Sam, a 35-year-old Wall Street stockbroker who earns $20m a year, bought the top five storeys of a Manhattan residential block and had a designer convert it into a one-bedroom flat with no interior walls, just a great big void in the middle. Heartlessness, says James, turns out to be Sam's most conspicuous trait. How very wise. Seven countries and scores of interviews later, punctuated with observations such as "Consume what you need, not what advertisers want you to want", James concludes that capitalism has eroded our values, Danes are better adjusted than Russians, career women in Shanghai are a pain and we should all opt for the simple life. I might have liked it better with another reader. Why the polemic? Of course I'd rather be hard up and happy than mega-rich and miserable, but what's wrong with reasonably well-off and moody?