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Book Review: The Progress Paradox by Gregg Easterbook

By Samir | May 12, 2007

Cover The Progress Paradox


The Progress Paradox
How Life Gets better while people feel worse
Gregg Easterbook

I’ve always loved Gregg Easterbrook’s writing on ESPN.com. In fact, for a sports writer, his columns have always struck me as some of the more socially engaging ones in the sports universe. It’s rare to find sportswriters that stick their heads out and above the herd and look beyond their fenced-in farm pen of a universe - beyond yards, feet and 40 dash times.

Though a lot of readers probably hate him for using his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column as a platform to criticize the American government, I began to wonder if Easterbrook had actually authored books on subjects outside how the Bush administration lied about Iraq or how Michael Vick needs to dump 70% of his bad influence homeys in order to save his career.

It turns out he has.

The Progress Paradox is a contrarian’s book, one whose essential thesis is that the commonly accepted wisdom that “Life was better in the good old days” is simply not true. Well, it’s a contrarian’s book if you actually believed that.

Easterbrook takes a long time to make his case, but in the end, it is made quite elegantly. He compares almost every facet of life today, to a “golden age” in the past - to point out, quite rightly, that the standard of living on modern society is increasing and has been increasing for the last 100 years.

Obviously, such a book can not help but be tangential to politics, and Easterbrook isn’t shy to express his viewpoints. His positions generally fall between classical liberalism and social democracy - for example, he argues that there is nothing wrong with being insanely rich, but that it is deeply sad that there are insanely rich people in the same country where millions can’t afford to eat. For those who don’t have an appetite for such preachiness, take heart, it’s not very overbearing and it is never really the focus of entire chapters.

For those of you who’ve noticed that seeing a BMW, once a rare event, has become blasé, or that all your friends can afford huge houses, a lot of what Easterbrook says will wring true. His most powerful argument is probably that if one could choose to be born in any century, but could not choose social class or caste, they would choose to be born today. That’s because in the “good old days”, the chance of being poor was much higher - whether as a serf, slave, servant or blue collar worker.

The second part of his thesis, though, addresses why people are feeling worse once he demonstrates them feeling better. Here, there aren’t many hard facts or economic indicators to build a case on, so obviously, he has to fall back on inexact evidence: Clinical studies, psychology studies and anecdotes. This area of the book is not as strong, nor could it be, however it is still an interesting viewpoint. Easterbrook’s discussion of prosperity anxiety, complication of life and over-medicated kids are insightful.

The book is good read over-all, but it does belabor its point at times. Easterbrook is fond of using forty examples to illustrate a point when perhaps one or two will do. It leaves one sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop well past the half-way point. Though it will try your patience at times, it is worth reading if only for its devil’s advocate point and Easterbrook’s great writing style.

Topics: Books / Livres |

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