Johann Hari – Lost Connections (Bloomsbury, 2018)

The book’s star-studded list of recommendees is disturbing, and their comments even more so. The cover is adorned with what these A-Listers have to say: “The most exciting thing I’ve read this year” – Emma Thompson (thank god it was only published mid January), “This amazing book will change your life” – Elton John, and so on. The only thing I can say is that I am ashamed of myself for being duped into paying for the hardback.

I can’t help but be confused by the idea that anyone would learn anything new here, and as a person who has suffered from depression for most of my life, its “solutions” seem embarrassingly obvious. Then again, the ADs never did work for me. Perhaps this is why is has taken Hari much longer to clock on. It seems baffling that to suggest depression is caused by what goes on in our lives might be considered profound or revelatory.

I am quite so disappointed because I had looked forward to reading the book with great excitement. Where is this new wisdom I was promised? With an overwhelming surge of self-help and personal development (whatever you want to call them) books in recent times, this one seemed highly promising and with academic edge. It is in fact, unfortunately and simply, a repetitive collection of previous academic research.

I found the tale of camaraderie in Berlin perhaps the most charming part of the book but still it said nothing new. The “characters” we are introduced to in this section are endearing and inspiring, but the same cannot be said of Hari. Perhaps a biog or novel on this situation might have been more effective.

Lamentably, Hari comes across not wise or innovative but naïve. How has it taken him so long to understand such simple concepts? It is no wonder that he is depressed. It was interesting to hear about the case studies behind these ideas but it is worth noting that Hari himself had no involvement with any of their groundbreaking research – most of which took place in the 20th century. Also, as other reviewers have pointed out, the researchers themselves don’t really get much say in the book at all. Why are these old theories being rehashed as something not just new but mind-blowingly so?

Overall, Lost Connections is still an interesting read as the original research that is reproduced within it is interesting, and perhaps the book is enlightening to the layman, or the non-depressed. However this is no original contribution by a long shot, it says nothing new to anyone who has thought seriously about depression for more than a few minutes.

I will offer a summary of Hari’s life-changing advice here, so that you might save your pennies and start your path to magical healing straight away: hang out with other people, go for a walk, get a job you like, acknowledge being abused as a child, and move forward with your life. Who knew?

– Blair James 

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