Book Review: Secrets Of Happy Families

Secrets Of Happy Families:  Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out And Play, And Much More, by Bruce Feiler

One of the occupational hazards of coming from a terribly dysfunctional family is that one reads a great deal of books about what happy families are supposed to look like, in hope that one might do better than the family of one’s birth [1].  Given that I am somewhat familiar with the author and his perspective, I was not particularly surprised or disappointed that the author’s approach to family tended towards the trendy more than the timeless.  The author has shown himself in other works to be a person with a critical attitude to what was traditional, and this book is of a piece with his other books in that regard.  If you are a reader looking for the author to defend traditional models of the family, you are going to find this book to be an immensely frustrating one.  If you are at least willing to read about what the latest research (at least as of the writing) has to say about families even if much of the information is faddish and likely not to endure, this book at least can provide some thought-provoking observations, some of which may be of value.  If you set your expectations low enough, this book is not a bad one.

This book contains a bit more than 250 pages of contents and is divided into three parts.  The first part of the book encourages families to be agile and adaptable, with a flexible attitude towards the timing of family meals while making sure to have them and developing family mission statements.  The second part of the book encourages families to talk a lot, fighting smart, setting an allowance like Warren Buffet does, working on how to have difficult conversations, having open and honest conversations about sex, looking at a simple way to save families, taking care of elderly relatives, and working on rearranging furniture to suit the family’s goals and personalities.  The third part of the book looks at play, making family vacations more fun through checklists, how not to be a bad parent of athletic children, and working on how to have better family reunions.  Throughout the book the author looks at families by applying research from successful businesses and other organizations (like the military), which is an unusual approach but not necessarily a bad one.  Those people who enjoy reading about successful/trendy business approaches adapted to the context of families will find a great deal to appreciate here.

It is difficult for me to give a clear recommendation for a book like this.  I took the book as more like an attempt to toss a bunch of darts at a board and see what sticks, encouraging families to be somewhat open to family councils and checklists and being more formal and organized in their operations.  Being a person fond of business-derived strategic thinking and being a somewhat formal person in my own dealings with other people, I found the approach to be a good one.  As a child, for example, I would work out covenants with my brother in an attempt to resolve our mutual needs and concerns, but my brother tended not to appreciate having expectations set down in writing, and tended to find that what he most wanted to do were things that were formally forbidden to him, and that created a great deal of dissatisfaction towards me.  In other words, while the approach of this book was reasonably congenial at least in the broad approach and a few of the suggestions, not everyone will be pleased or satisfied with what this book has to offer and may be offended at the idea that their families are organizations that should be treated like businesses.  So, I am aware that without giving a recommendation or even my approval to the author’s mindset, I wish that having laid out the book’s contents and approach that people can decide for themselves whether this book is worth their time.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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