A commonplace conversation today is: "How are you?" The response: "I'm so stressed out, you wouldn't believe it." Millions of overworked and over-scheduled men and women are convinced that stress is the cause of their exhaustion, imbalance, and lack of sleep. Dana Becker, Professor of Social Work at Bryn Mawr College, contends that we have turned this psychological malaise into a bogie man that invades all aspects of our lives and diverts our attention from the real problems of our time, such as inequality, poverty, the war on terrorism, workplace policies, and gender discrimination.

In a robust analysis of what she calls "the stress concept," we are taken on a tour of media reports and self-help books, the proliferation of products designed to combat stress, the link between this emotional distress and cancer and heart attacks, the destructive impact of stress on the immune system, and much more. She goes even further pointing out that the stress concept has become a national obsession: "What seems to be required is an internal gyroscope that will keep us functioning well no matter the tempests we face."

Becker has written an astute work of cultural criticism which opens our eyes to the dangers of avoiding the central issues of the day while we drain our energy on alleviating bothersome stress.