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The Gift Of Thanks [Hardcover]

Margaret Visser
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 25 2008 0002007886 978-0002007887 First Edition

Margaret Visser is an original, one of the first writers to establish the art of narrative non-fiction in Canada. Her bestselling books, including The Rituals of Dinner and The Geometry of Love, masterfully explore the anthropology of everyday life, opening up the interconnected world that we otherwise might not see.
    In The Gift of Thanks, Visser turns her keen eye and far-ranging scholarship to the act of gratitude, embodied in the deceptively simple phrase “thank you.” Those two words become a springboard for a fascinating inquiry into all aspects of gratitude, from how and why children are taught to give thanks, to the difference between speaking the words and feeling them. She examines the ways in which being grateful is understood in different cultures and how acts of reciprocation or rejection are treated in folklore, mythology and fiction. Thankfulness, when properly understood, is a choice and a source of happiness that can be cultivated.
    In Margaret Visser’s hands, gratitude becomes a key to understanding the assumptions, hopes, preferences and fears that underlie everyday behaviour. She demonstrates that the North American habit of offering thanks to virtually anyone in almost any situation can be baffling—and even offensive—to someone with different cultural expectations. Reflecting on North American customs, she argues that our own notions of gratitude influence a wide range of traditions, such as the wrapping of gifts, the ritual of Remembrance Day ceremonies and even the exchange of compliments. With every page, The Gift of Thanks reveals a new and unexpected truth to ponder. Visser’s extraordinary insights into gratefulness will leave you both thankful and newly aware of the power of those two important words.

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"The Gift of Thanks is one of those uncommon books that not only tells you things you always wanted to know and convinces you that they are true, but also makes you want to begin to change your life." -- The Globe and Mail

From the Back Cover

PRAISE FOR MARGARET VISSER "Enthralling, absorbing and exquisitely researched." PUBLISHERS WEEKLY on The Geometry of Love "Visser reveals unexpected cultural connections and curiosities of natural history. A consistently thoughtful and entertaining book." THE NEW YORK TIMES on The Rituals of Dinner

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History on the Side of Gratitude March 20 2009
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Here's one very helpful discussion on the importance of gratitude or thankfulness in society. Visser, who has a background in the classics, makes a powerful argument in defense of the practice of gratitude. For her being grateful forms a major underpinning of our civilization. In this study, she traces the history of numerous conventions associated with being thankful and how they help to expand our potential for goodness as a human race. She believes that the expression of thanks as an inner appreciation of indebtedness to others can bring people together in greater harmony. In this world of growing self-centeredness and narcissism, the very civility of saying thank-you might seem to be irrelevant. But Visser quickly reminds us that nothing could be further from the truth. Sociologically, acknowledgement of kindness and deference to wisdom in others is such a vital gift that all we need is a gentle reminder - such as found in this book - to use it to our advantage. As Visser shows, thankfulness, if expressed thoughtfully, can be viewed as an exquisite art form that is anything but trite. What I found most useful about Visser's evaluation of the subject is the way she broke it down: The first part deals with how pervasive gratitude has really become in the world; the second looks at particular expressions resulting from gratitude such as reciprocation, public recognition and charitable acts; the third area explores the historical and cultural backgrounds associated with the above expressions as they pertain to social institutions like family, church, school,parents, business, frienships and government; finally, she concludes with a look at the challenges we face in order to better appreciate this tremendous gift we've inherited from earlier generations. Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... May 30 2011
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
Listening to CBC over Thanksgiving weekend, I heard Margaret Visser interviewed about her newest book, "The Gift of Thanks" (2008), and thought it sounded fascinating. Indeed, Visser has produced a thorough and engaging look at gratitude, embodied by the deceptively simple "thank you." These two words launch an inquiry into all aspects of thanksgiving: how and why children are taught to give thanks, the difference between speaking words and feeling them, and how different cultures (especially the Japanese) understand grace. Reflecting on North American customs, Visser argues that notions of gratitude underlie everyday conventions including wrapping gifts and exchanging compliments. Visser provides an extremely detailed account of reciprocity and rejection in the contexts of folklore, mythology and history; this results in some ennui and makes various sections "skimable." However, the book is ultimately insightful and thought-provoking with a central theme that rings true: thankfulness is a choice and a source of happiness that can be shared and cultivated.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why Do We Say Thank You June 24 2009
Having read a few other books of from Margaret Visser, I was eager to read "The Gift of Thanks" and was once again impressed by Visser's multi-disciplinary approach to the exploration of such a common everyday ritual. The book is sociological, psychological, philological, philosophical, historical, geographical, etc... You can really appreciate how she unpacks the complexity of the many cultural and religious traditions of giving thanks as she weaves together such diverse literary works and philosophies such as Homer's Iliad, indigenous philosophies of the Maoris, Max Weber, and Immanuel Kant.

The most relevant parts of Visser's insights were the intersection of this ancient ritual and modernity, how despite the heavy influences of commercialization and commodification, the social act of giving and its reciprocity continues. But also how modernity changes our perceptions and actions, at one point Visser explores the point that is often made that "I don't need gratitude, everything I want I can buy."

The book is rather long at close to 400 pages, but it is a fast read and Visser's commentary about all the many sources she analyzes is very engaging. Overall, I definitely recommend this book for anyone who has ever thought more about giving thanks.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Definitely a Miss Sept. 9 2010
I would not recommend this book. It was terrible. Too detail oriented. I only made it to page 100. One of the worst books I've started.
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