Wisdom is now so cheap and abundant that it floods over us from calendar pages, tea bags, bottle caps, and mass e-mail messages asserts social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. Does access to endless streams of information really help with man's search for life meaning and purpose? Haidt takes a rational approach to too much wisdom by identifying 10 Great Ideas, insights about man, purpose and happiness celebrated through the ages by ancient civilizations. He weaves a story of opposites, of what causes humans to thrive or to wither by exploring ancient wisdom and contrasting it with modern-day psychological research.
Haidt is a fine guide on this journey between past and present, discussing the current complexities of psychological theory with clarity and humor ( The mind is . . . like the rider on the back of an elephant, he writes). He explains how our minds work and how we socialize, grow and develop, while explicating ancient religious, literary and philosophical texts on human happiness, citing authors from Plato, Jesus Christ and the Buddha, to Benjamin Franklin, Proust and Kant. Haidt's is an open-minded, robust look at philosophy, psychological fact and spiritual mystery, of scientific rationalism and the unknowable ephemeral an honest inquiry that concludes that the best life is, perhaps, one lived in the balance of opposites.