WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: A Human History of Emotion by Richard Firth-Godbehere

Before reading this book, I didn’t know there was a whole field of research on the history of emotion, and it turns out it’s fascinating stuff! The field looks at variations in how emotions are understood across cultures and historical periods, both in terms of how they were experienced and how they were expressed.

This book takes you on a rollercoaster ride from ancient Rome and Greece, through various religions, countries and cultures, ending with the most recent research into emotions (including Lisa Feldman Barrett, who the author describes as “one of the most influential rebels of them all!) and how artificial intelligence is trying to integrate emotions into technology. The book helped me understand how some of our popular culture understandings about emotions are based in ancient beliefs, and why these have been resistant to change despite much modern research. It also demonstrates how emotions can be a tool for change (whether good or bad) by the powerful and persuasive.

I found the author’s concluding comments particularly interesting. He predicts that in the future there will be much less diversity in emotions, because slowly and undoubtedly our feelings are being homogenized by technology. Interestingly, our growing use of emoticons is contributing to this!

The book is at times hard work (especially if you are not a historian), but there are so many interesting facts and stories that it will keep you engaged and challenge your understanding of emotions and their role in our lives.

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