Tim Kasser, . . MIT Press, $24.95 (165pp) ISBN 978-0-262-11268-0

You've always known that money can't buy happiness, but do you have the data to prove it? Kasser, a psychology professor at Knox College, certainly does. Drawing on an impressive range of statistical studies, including ones that use his own "Aspiration Index," Kasser argues that a materialistic orientation toward the world contributes to low self-esteem, depression, antisocial behavior and even a greater tendency to get "headaches, backaches, sore muscles, and sore throats." In numerous studies, Kasser shows, people who were paid for completing a task that they normally found pleasurable (e.g., solving puzzles) reported the activity to be less fun than those who did the task without financial compensation. While at first the book seems to retrace the steps of Juliet B. Schor's The Overspent American and other recent titles that analyze why many Americans feel driven and unhappy despite success, Kasser goes beyond this, showing how materialistic values shape an individual's orientation toward friends, family, work, death and "internal satisfactions." Of great interest are the studies demonstrating that children of divorce and people with "less nurturing" mothers are more likely to hold strong materialistic values (though some readers may protest that children of divorce simply feel more economically vulnerable than their peers). Drawing on sources as diverse as dream analysis and game theory, Kasser powerfully argues that when we—as individuals or as a nation—feel more vulnerable, we exhibit more sharply defined materialistic tendencies—a theme particularly resonant in this era of terrorist threats, personal debts and corporate scandals. Illus. (Sept.)

Forecast:Despite its academic leanings and potentially intimidating charts and tables, Kasser's book will attract the large (and largely affluent) Real Simple audience that seeks to pare down and streamline.