A cultural historian and the author of The Book of Human Emotions investigates one of humans' most "ethically ambiguous" emotions, for which English does not have an exact translation and therefore borrows the German.
While a magazine article or TED talk—like Watt Smith’s engaging short lecture on 'The History of Human Emotions'—could have comfortably covered its essence, this compact volume is fleshed out with amusing examples of schadenfreude. Its triggers are broken down, categorized and analyzed according to type. These examples are further cataloged in the book’s index, an amusing list that becomes a blank verse poetry of poetic justice ... Watt Smith’s categories often overlap and bleed into one another, making it hard to distinguish one form of comeuppance from another ... Watt Smith enriches her inquiry with a wide range of material, from neuroscientists, feminist activists, stern moralists like Kierkegaard and Kant, and even a chapter from Winnie the Pooh—'In Which Tigger is Unbounced.'
Watt Smith is at her best when she relates cases that flirt with bad taste ... Appealingly, Watt Smith isn’t above this grubby fray ... It is filled not just with gags and shaming confessions, but chastening thoughts—nowhere more so than when she challenges the orthodoxy that schadenfreude has its limits.
Her treatise on one of the most shame-inducing but widespread of all emotions is funny and insightful. She shows how 'the revenge of the impotent,' as Nietzsche described it, touches on subjects that animate us all (from hatred of hypocrisy to the punishment of hubris). She reveals its influence in the workplace and on social media, in politics and in our love lives.