Magazine article World Literature Today

The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature

Magazine article World Literature Today

The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature

Article excerpt

Richard H. Smith. The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature. New York. Oxford University Press. 2013. isbn 978- 0199734542

Schadenfreude, the act of taking pleasure in another's pain, is the subject of University of Kentucky psychologist Richard H. Smith's slim new volume, The Joy of Pain. Though Schadenfreude seeps into every aspect of our daily life and culture, conscious acknowledgment of the emotion often escapes us. The Joy of Pain is here to help us identify the why and how, not only of this specific emotion's prevalence, but also its paradoxical elusiveness.

Indeed, there is no English equivalent for schadenfreude, which means "shameful joy" in German; a state of being that Smith attributes to people's tendency to not want to acknowledge their own schaden- freude. With deftness, Smith moves from chapter to chapter, carefully uncovering this complex yet common emotion using every means imagin- able at his disposal.

Smith keeps the content rather light for nonpsychologist readers. He props up his arguments with exam- ples from American pop culture, professional sports, history, politics, literature, philosophy, psychology, biblical parables, and personal anec- dotes. …

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