Book Book Book Book
Commentary Commentary RSS Reviews Podcasts_Audio Podcasts RSS Blog Links Archives Indexes
Eric Weiner
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Twelve Books / Hachette
US First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 978-0-446-69889-4
Publication Date: January 3, 2008
368 Pages ; $25.99
Date Reviewed: 01-15-2008
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2008

Index:  Non-Fiction

There is indeed a database of happiness; not just a database of happiness, but the World Database of Happiness, and it's located in the Netherlands.

That's just the first stop in 'The The Geography of Bliss' by Eric Weiner. Weiner, a self-described grump and a veteran international correspondent for NPR, has written a most peculiar book that's difficult to describe but delightful to read. Because he journeys hither and yon, you might be tempted to describe it as a travel book, but not if you read it. Weiner, who calls himself a "self-help book addict," writes convincingly about the search for happiness, so it might be a temptation to slap on a "self-help tome" label, but again — you wouldn’t if you read it. Reading the book is the key here, and that should be your clue that the book is well worth your valuable time.

For all the great discoveries and hitherto-unknown facts you'll find here, it's Weiner's voice that carries the day. Yes, he is sort of a grump. He takes nothing for granted and keeps the focus on what’s real and in front of his eyes. But he tells you about it all with prose so entertaining and witty, you'll likely walk away from this book hoping for a glance at his grocery lists. The superb, entertaining prose makes 'The Geography of Bliss' a delightful reading experience. Weiner manages to be consistently funny and a bit gruff without ever wearing out his welcome. He doesn't have to show off; he's a great non-fiction prose writer.

And this doesn't even get close to the places he goes and reasons for his travels. As you learn in his first stop at the World Database of Happiness, located in the Rotterdam, happiness is not well understood. On the minus side, it seems insane that our civilization should have so little comprehension of what makes us happy. On the plus side, in 'The Geography of Bliss', you get to join Weiner as he travels to the happiest places on Earth to find out why folks there are happy. It's such a brilliantly simple and in hindsight obvious idea that you wonder why nobody else has thought of it before. Frankly, I'm glad it was Weiner. His grumpy outlook is the perfect vehicle with which to view all this happiness.

I talked to Weiner about 'The Geography of Bliss', and he's as entertaining as his written voice, which is no small accomplishment. I'm sure most of my readers and listeners have heard him report for NPR from some hellhole or another. All those unpleasant journeys, all those unfortunate assignments doing something important and pressing, apparently required a coping strategy the result of which is a guy who can be both sober and hilarious in the same moment. In fact, the real deal is that he's hilarious because he is so sober. Plus, you're going to learn a new word, and maybe, if you have kids, you can hope that one of them will grow up to be a happyologist.

Twelve Books is doing some really interesting stuff, but alas, it can't be easy to sell. 'The Geography of Bliss' is the sort of book that's best sold in a bookstore. You walk by, remember this article, maybe, or Weiner's name from some particularly distressing hellhole report, and wonder how the hell geography and bliss could have any connection. (Unless you’re a geography teacher or an "A" student in a geography class. [But even to each of these "bliss" must seem to be an alien concept.]) So, there you are in your local independent bookstore. Pick up this book and begin reading. Let your journey to bliss begin; even if you're only going to encounter it as a result of reading 'The Geoggraphy of Bliss.'

Review Archive
All Reviews alphabetized by author.

General Fiction
Non-Genre, general fiction and literature.

Supernatural fiction, supernatural horror and non-supernatural horror.

Science Fiction
Science fiction, science fantasy, speculative fiction, alternate history.

Fantasy, surrealism and magic realism.

Crime, thrillers, mystery, suspense.

Non-Fiction, True Crime, Forteana, Reference.


Archives Indexes How to use the Agony Column Contact Us About Us