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Dancing In the Streets
Cover of Dancing In the Streets
Dancing In the Streets
A History of Collective Joy

From best-selling social commentator and cultural historian Barbara Ehrenreich comes this fascinating exploration of one of humanity's oldest traditions: the celebration of communal joy, historically expressed in ecstatic revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing. Ehrenreich uncovers the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture, showing that such mass festivities have been indigenous to the West since the ancient Greeks. Though suppressed by elites who fear the undermining of social hierarchies, outbreaks of group revelry still persist, Ehrenreich shows, pointing to the 1960s rock-and-roll rebellion and the more recent "carnivalization" of sports.

Original, exhilarating, and deeply optimistic, Dancing in the Streets shows that we are innately social beings, impelled to share our joy and thereby envision a peaceable future.

From best-selling social commentator and cultural historian Barbara Ehrenreich comes this fascinating exploration of one of humanity's oldest traditions: the celebration of communal joy, historically expressed in ecstatic revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing. Ehrenreich uncovers the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture, showing that such mass festivities have been indigenous to the West since the ancient Greeks. Though suppressed by elites who fear the undermining of social hierarchies, outbreaks of group revelry still persist, Ehrenreich shows, pointing to the 1960s rock-and-roll rebellion and the more recent "carnivalization" of sports.

Original, exhilarating, and deeply optimistic, Dancing in the Streets shows that we are innately social beings, impelled to share our joy and thereby envision a peaceable future.

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About the Author-
  • Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of several books, including three New York Times bestsellers, Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch, and Living with a Wild God. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Progressive, Harper's, and Time magazine.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine When fans do a wave at the ballpark, they're acting out of communal joy, an ancient human impulse that, according to social critic Barbara Ehrenreich, doesn't get its due in Western culture. Ehrenreich traces joy from ancient celebrations to modern sporting events and rock concerts. Her writing switches between analysis and wry commentary and calls for more joy in everyday lives. Pam Ward shifts gears ably and brings out all of these qualities, making listening a joyous experience that holds listeners' attention. While the author does suggest that more sharing of joy can be beneficial, Ehrenreich's book mostly shines light on the history of celebration and society's attitudes toward festivities. J.A.S. (c) AudioFile 2007, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from November 6, 2006
    It is a truism that everyone seeks happiness, but public manifestations of it have not always been free of recrimination. Colonial regimes have defined spectacles as an inherently "primitive" act and elders harrumph at youthful exultation. Social critic and bestselling author Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed
    ) teases out the many incarnations of sanctioned public revelry, starting with the protofeminist oreibasia
    , or Dionysian winter dance, in antiquity, and from there covering trance, ancient mystery cults and carnival, right up to the rock and roll and sports-related mass celebrations of our own day. "Why is so little left" of such rituals, she asks, bemoaning the "loss of ecstatic
    pleasure." Ehrenreich necessarily delineates the repressive reactions to such ecstasy by the forces of so-called "civilization," reasonably positing that rituals of joy are nearly as innate as the quest for food and shelter. Complicating Ehrenreich's schema is her own politicized judgment, dismissing what she sees as the debased celebrations of sporting events while writing approvingly of the 1960s "happenings" of her own youth and the inevitable street theater that accompanies any modern mass protest, yet all but ignoring the Burning Man festival in Nevada and tut-tutting ravers' reliance on artificial ecstasy. That aside, Ehrenreich writes with grace and clarity in a fascinating, wide-ranging and generous account.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 26, 2007
    Ehrenreich's social history of collective joy, ranging from pagan ritual to rock concerts, comes off as an extended, rambling lecture, taking in a varied array of subjects along the way. Taking the hint, Ward reads Ehrenreich's book with a touch of the lecturer's oratorical savvy, and some of that same figure's dry deliberation. Ehrenreich argues that communal ecstasy has been too often misunderstood as an excuse for booze-fueled sexual bacchanalias, ignoring its political and social components. Ward is neither overly joyous in her reading, owing too much to the nature of her material, nor overly serious, her voice tinged with the slightest hint of charmed pleasure at the prospect of declaiming on Ehrenreich's chosen subject. The unabridged audio is not overlong as audiobooks go, but there are moments where Ward's reading drags ever so slightly, pulled down by a sameness of approach that threatens to inspire the opposite of the ecstatic moments Ehrenreich's book describes. The solid quality of Ehrenreich's prose papers over the gaps and gives Ward's reading the pleasurable (if not quite monumentally joyous) sensation it possesses. Simultaneous release with the Metropolitan Books hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 6).

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A History of Collective Joy
Barbara Ehrenreich
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