Niall Edworthy and Petra Cramsie

Books Reviews
Niall Edworthy and Petra Cramsie

There is the angelic. And there is the demonic. All you have to do is look at both sides of the cover of Niall Edworthy and Petra Cramsie’s book, and this division of the world becomes clear. You either see your glass as half full and enjoy an umbrella in your drink as you think golden thoughts. Or, you see your glass as half empty, with a dead fly floating around in it as you wallow in your black and bloody musings.

Now, say you’re habitually an optimist, but you suddenly feel dreary one day. No problem. Simply flip the book over so you can find solace in The Pessimist’s Handbook: A Companion To Despair. If the reverse is true, then, dear newly minted optimist, you, too, can flip the book over and revel in The Optimist’s Handbook: A Companion To Hope.

The authors have compiled quotations from the wise and witty on 39 categories. The same categories are found in both sides of the book, and they include: Adventure, Alcohol, Boredom, Civilization, Health, Human Nature, Law & Lawyers, Middle East, and Nature, to name a few. A sunny take on alcohol, courtesy of Benjamin Franklin, is that: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” In counterpoint, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell tells you: “Drunkenness is temporary suicide.”

As for the state of human nature, Sophocles deems: “There are many wonderful things, and nothing is more wonderful than man.” But the Irish writer Rebecca West condemns: “If the whole human race lay in one grave, the epitaph on the headstone might well be, ‘It seemed a good idea at the time.” Ah, the wisdom of both sides.

There are also anecdotes and factoids inserted among the collections of quotations, giving the book a contemporary flavor. The Pessimist’s chapter on “Men,” for instance, mentions the discovery in 2007 that sperm cells can be created from the bone marrow of women, meaning men might not be necessary for procreation anymore.

So, what does the future hold? Well, that depends. You’re either an optimist, or, a pessimist. Predict accordingly.

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