The Shrink and The Sage by Julian Baggini and Antonia Macaro

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The Shrink and The Sage by Julian Baggini and Antonia Macaro

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Two for the price of one, this book gives a philosopher's and a therapist's perspective on some of life's key conundrums.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: April 2012
Publisher: Icon
ISBN: 978-1848313774

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If you read the FT Weekend, you should already be familiar with the Shrink and the Sage and their weekly musings. If not, let me introduce you. Julian Baggini is a philosopher, Antonia Macaro is a therapist – two different professions with two different approaches to self-help. That’s this book in a nutshell: take a problem or question of some kind and get two perspectives for the price of one answering it.

Subtitled A guide To Living this book covers twenty life spheres (their words) including such things as goals, emotions, responsibility and self-love. Each one allows for a few pages from each side of the equation, and these perspectives don’t respond to or even acknowledge what the other has said, with it perfectly possible to believe they were written in isolation and just compiled for the book. So there's no wasted pages of ooh, well the other lot would say this and here's why that's right/wrong, just two different responses that stand alone to examine the fundamental concepts in question.

This is not your average self help book. It’s much more high brow than that, without the slightest hint of Jeremy Kyle that seeps out of so many other titles on the market. In fact, you could argue it’s not a self help book at all because although it offers solutions to 'problems', you can read it for the debate and not the answers if that's what you'd prefer. It didn't leave me wanting to change my life radically, but it did leave me thinking twice about why I do the things I do, and that was enough.

The chapter on Status was interesting for the conclusions it drew about celebrities and us ordinary folk, and I liked the comparisons between status itself and achievement. Similarly the chapter on Pride got me thinking, at the same time reaffirming my belief that while there are lots of things I can be proud of in this world, coming from the same town or country as various sports teams doesn’t need to be one of them. And when it comes to how much is a reasonable amount of time and effort to spend on your appearance, the Shrink and I are certainly on the same page.

It’s interesting to have two different takes on each of the discussion points, especially because so many books take one approach and stick to it, so if you want someone else’s two pence worth you have to look elsewhere. But, though written independently, a lot of the time the sentiments are vaguely the same, leaving the reader with answers of different shades rather than completely different pallets. There’s a great line in the introduction that reads Although this book has two voices, they are intended to be in harmony, complementing more than contrasting with each other. It goes on to say Whether or not they’re singing the right tune is for you to decide which I think is core to a book like this - it's not a one size fits all approach that will transform you into the happiest, most successful person on the planet (if that's your goal) and it may resonate more with some people than others, but if it works for you, in whatever way you want it to, then great.

Part two of the book – a mere 30 pages compared to the 200 that precede it – helps explain why this is so. Presented as Psychology for philosophers and Philosophy for psychotherapy, it looks at what the two disciplines have in common, how they differ, and which is the more useful.

The monologues in both parts are more on the cerebral side which I think is a reflection of their origins in the FT (a newspaper I only normally read on flights, a matter of principle to stick two fingers up at the air hostesses who always seem to think I look like I’d prefer the Daily Mail <<shudder>>). They’re not inaccessible to those wanting a less academic read, but a certain amount of concentration and reflection is required, especially to ponder the at times only subtle differences between what the Shrink and the Sage are saying.

This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting – I’d anticipated something more along the lines of Baggini’s earlier work, The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten – but I enjoyed in nonetheless and it gave me some serious food for thought.

I’d like to thank the publishers for supplying this book.

This book would argue it's possible to be a happy pessimist, but if that's not your thing, Feel Happy Now by Michael Neill might be.

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