The first book to examine nostalgia in all its facets: what triggers it; how it shapes mind, memory, and identity; and how it provides sustaining mental resilience for both individuals and cultures in times of stress. Far more than simply a sentimental attachment to the past, nostalgia has proven to be an emotion that has a profound cognitive and social function: it is a critical part of the mind’s immune system, a coping mechanism to heal and fortify ourselves in times of self-doubt and anxiety. It has also proven to be universal, across age, gender, and culture.
Underpinning the book is cutting-edge research on the emerging science of nostalgia that top neuroscientists and psychologists have conducted over the past few years, with findings that are completely unexpected. The world-class scientists at the forefront of this research have welcomed Martinez into their labs and shared both their findings and their personal stories. The head of the Mind and Brain Center at UC Davis even made her the subject of a first-ever experiment in the power of music to shape identity. But the research goes deeper, suggesting that revisiting our fondest, restorative memories - our personal golden age - is fundamental to how we give our lives meaning and come to reconcile our purpose in the larger world.
In the larger world, a wave of nostalgia has taken hold as a positive cultural phenomenon. On every continent, the author met people who shared anecdotes of their own golden age and she found nostalgia playing out in some wondrous ways. She toured with a Grateful Dead tribute band followed by thousands of fans; dined at a theme restaurant in Beijing, where patrons sit at old-fashioned schoolroom desks and “take” the menu as a multiple-choice test; and discovered that the new hot commodity in Germany is a junker of a car produced on the cheap during WWII and generally reviled at that time. She also looks to the future, to consider the impact of technology on the ways in which we “store” memories, digitized rather than recalled.
The book also contains a fascinating section in which the author traces the destructive and increasingly global exploitation of nostalgia by charismatic demagogues who invoke an invented golden age for political purposes. Our reliance on nostalgia as a healing mechanism makes us uniquely vulnerable to politicians like the authoritarian leaders of Hungary and Poland, playing on the golden image of a “simpler” life in the past, or, Donald Trump, busy making America great again, or, both right-wing Tory leaders like Jacob Rees-Mogg and left-wing leaders like Jeremy Corbyn, who are each selling different forms of nostalgia to pursue their political agendas. Martinez explores this phenomenon, which has long historical roots.
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