Books like this like to draw in all sorts of interesting examples in order to make them zip along, even if they don’t, when you stand back a bit, have all that much to do with the ostensible subject. It is great fun here to read of ‘Fearless’ Felix Baumgartner, who jumped to Earth from a height of 24 miles, but only after conquering his claustrophobic fear of his pressure suit. I particularly liked it when they quoted Stephen Potter (Oneupmanship, etc.) on the art of writing a book review: ‘Show that it is really you who should have written the book, if you had had the time, and since you hadn’t, you are glad that someone has, although obviously it might have been done better.’
In one or two places The Power of Bad is uneven, veering between self-help book and social psychology textbook, and it only really has a single big point to make. But, unlike other similar books, it is a brisk read, getting to the point and then finishing before you become bored. It’s short enough to make worthwhile the investment of time needed to glean its insight. I recommend it, despite such a recommendation making me look a plodder.
Tierney and Baumeister argue their case forcefully and well, and supply vast quantities of evidence in its favour.
The negativity bias is, they say, an evolutionary holdover from more dangerous times. On the ancestral savannah, the hunter-gatherers who survived were the ones who paid more attention to not eating poisonous berries than to scoffing back delicious ones.
'One mistake can still kill you. One enemy can still make your life miserable. One loss can erase many previous gains.'