"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Monday, February 12, 2007

Book Review - Green with Envy

The Great Readers of "M" book discussion is on February 28. I'm amazed I have finished the book already. Normally, I'm up late at night before our discussion group finishing the last couple of chapters.

This month we are reading Green with Envy: Why Keeping Up With the Joneses Is Keeping Us in Debt by Shira Boss.

This is an interesting and well-written book that really does probe the issue of why we feel the need to "keep up with the Joneses." Unlike a lot of authors, Boss delves into the psychology behind the drive, focusing on the fact that without the need to keep up with the Joneses, the American economy would collapse - that essentially as there is always one step up, just out of reach, that will someday make us "happy" (or so the advertisers would like us to believe) that we will always, no matter how much money we have, want for more. It's not a new idea, but Boss explores it well, through interviews from people who are middle class to an actual billionaire.

My only difficulty with the book is the somewhat clunky conclusion section. While Boss certainly does probe some ideas as to how we can recognize the problem of keeping up with the Joneses and get around it - for example, recognizing that there are people on steps below us, focusing on what we have, recognizing that there's never a point where people are "happy" no matter how much they have, etc. - there's a surprising amount of very false-sounding conclusions, such as her statement that no matter what, "the universe will provide." This doesn't fit well with her previous interview with a nice couple who went totally bankrupt, nor does it state how this could possibly help with debt management - what, just ramp up the credit cards, why not, "the universe will provide?"

But other than that, this is a very interesting book, and you come away with a sudden realization that, you know, maybe it doesn't make sense to have the new, best car or digital camera or whatever, just to "impress the neighbors," because that will never happen. The only person you need to impress is yourself, and to stay out of debt traps, which she describes. Boss provides a much-needed reality check on how people are really making ends meet -- or how they're not. That allone is quite helpful.

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