Book reviews are part of the reason why I started this blog. Unfortunately, as I manage to pile myself with bunch of obligations I’m in constant dreaming mode. Mode where I dream about new things over and over never actually getting to DO things I dreamt about. Luckily, reading this book as part of Betterment Book Club on Reddit got me to finally produce detailed overview that I am using now as summary / review of the book.
Note that my writings on this blog regarding books will fall somewhere between reviews and summaries. Like, I will definitely give score at the end so that people can understand whether or not I recommend book. But also, I’ll try to be detailed enough so that you have summary of the book and biggest takeaways. So, let’s dive in right away – my view of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” by Mark Manson. Caveat – I’ll mix both positive and negative… takeaways and just plain interesting bits.
Happiness is a problem
If I was forced to choose only one takeaway from the book – this would be it. Ever since I’ve read the book I’m trying to remind myself every day that “Happiness is a problem”. That sentence is ingenious because it has multiple meanings. As Mark tells in the book: the act of trying to have positive experience is itself a negative experience. On the other hand the act of accepting negative experience is itself a positive experience. In that sense, chasing happiness will cause problems for you. The more you yearn happiness the bigger problem you’ll create.
Also, another meaning of that sentence targets relationship between solving problems and being happy. Like – find something meaningful, solve it, be happy. Of course, after some time happiness will vanish and you’ll need to look for another meaningful problem to solve to be happy. In that sense, people who don’t have meaningful problems in their they feel
The value of suffering
Hiroo Onoda was officer of Japanese army who at the end of 1944 was basically sent on a suicide mission. His orders called to do as much as damage as he could to overwhelming Allied forces and basically fight to the death without surrendering or taking his own life. Well, Onoda did exactly that – for next 30 YEARS. He hid in the jungles of Philippine island he was on, fighting on and on and on… ignoring pamphlets dropped from planes, pleads of locals and probably his own doubts.
I feel tempted to link to YouTube video or various online articles that tell the story… but instead I call you to purchase this book and read about Onoda there. The way Mark presented Hiroo and tied his legacy with “the value of suffering” is alone worth the price of admission. I’ve read lots of book that talk about necessity of suffering for goals you hold dear… but never was that idea better presented than in this book. Crystal clear. Bravo Mark Manson.
Inspiration -> Motivation -> Action misconception
Also a big takeaway from this book is that action should precede everything else. Like, most people harbor idea of being inspired, which in turn will get you motivated and ready to perform. Reality is that this almost never materializes. What Mark recommends is to turn those 3 into a loop that STARTS with action, like: Action -> Inspiration -> Motivation… Every time you will lead with Action, after finishing action you’ll be Inspired, and reflecting back on your action you’ll be Motivated. Then when it’s time to start again, you go with another Action feeding off Inspiration and Motivation of previous cycle. Pro-tip.
Commitment is a NO
Finally, one more misconception that gets shattered in this book is “Commitment is a YES”. What Mark points out is that Commitment requires way more NOs than YESes. If you are committed to something you basically only need to say 1 YES. From there, until you “complete” your commitment you’ll be saying NO over and over.
Title of this book is misleading
Author probably went with it because it sounds cool and is eye catching (let’s boost sales, right?). But then you start reading first chapter and essentially get that title of book should be – “The Subtle Art of Choosing What to Give a F*** About”. Subtitle would be in line of: after you choose what to give f*** about, you then need to go deep and invest 100% of you into it. Mark illustrates this by bragging about how he went all-in-badass with helping his mom recover money from scammer.
Author is obviously a try-hard. And that’s a good thing. However, for some reason he is ashamed of it. Even worse, the way he glorifies Bukowski and his tombstone inscription of “Don’t try” completely misses the mark. Message of Bukowski’s life is more in line with “Don’t try – do it”. Like when you ask someone to do something and he replies with “I’ll try”. Well – don’t try, actually do it.
Because if you look at history and how Bukowski succeeded – you’ll see that guy TRIED for 20+ years to get published. He wrote daily and went through rejection after rejection oblivious of failures until, in the end, he found one person that believed in him and was proficient enough in the publishing business.
Now, Bukowski is definitely person whose “talk the talk” is far removed from “walk the walk”. Thus, book which aims to help people improve should not mystify and feed cult of personality for sake of cool factor. Tell it as it is. Help people find the truth… don’t obscure it. Especially if person you are using as an example is as complex and confusing as Bukowski was:
Writing f*** a lot won’t make you cool
Start of the book is especially bad because you are torn between author’s message of “Don’t try” and his incessant *trying* to sound cool. F*** count in first chapter is over 9000. My theory is that author re-purposed one of his early writings as a filter chapter for a book. Like – let’s put worst chapter at start, so we filter out readers. Because as soon as chapter 2 stars, f*** count drops almost to zero and book quality picks up.
Drama and sounding cool returns at the end
After spending 7 chapters explaining that “you are not special”, “you’re wrong about everything”, “failure is the way forward”… in the last chapter author suddenly goes all soft and fluffy with “don’t try, you are already great”. Then he supports that with following bs paragraph:
You are already great because in the face of endless confusion and certain death, you continue to choose what to give a fuck about and what not to. This mere fact, this simple optioning for your own values in life, already makes you beautiful, already makes you successful, and already makes you loved. Even if you don’t realize it. Even if you’re sleeping in a gutter and starving.
Yeah, right. Kinda fits with whole narrative of the chapter in which he approaches, sits on the edge of The Cape of Good Hope and lives through zen-like “I’m reborn” experience. Of course, there is also someone to witness his brave, awe-inspiring act of sitting on the cliff:
As I step back over some rocks, back to the main path, I look up to see a man staring at me. I stop and make eye contact with him.
“Um. I saw you sitting on the edge over there,” he says.
His accent is Australian. The word “there” rolls out of his mouth awkwardly. He points toward Antarctica.
“Yeah. The view is gorgeous, isn’t it?” I am smiling. He is not. He has a serious look on his face.
I brush my hands off on my shorts, my body still buzzing from my surrender. There’s an awkward silence.
The Aussie stands for a moment, perplexed, still looking at me, clearly thinking of what to say next.
After a moment, he carefully pieces the words together.
“Is everything okay? How are you feeling?”
I pause for a moment, still smiling. “Alive. Very alive.”
Yeah… that’s our unfazed, uber-cool Mark Manson. And the best part is that he doesn’t give a f*** and isn’t even trying. /s
Mark dedicated few paragraphs in his book to bragging about dating “Harvard Law School graduate” who was desperately in love with him. I was curious enough to Google about “Mark Manson girlfriend” and it seems his ex is a prolific blogger. For past 10 minutes I’ve been trying to write few sentences and explain how relationship between Mark Manson and Erika “Awakening” ties into this book. But it seems I’m unable to do so… you’ll need to read whole “It’s Complicated: An Open Letter to My Ex Mark Manson” by Erika Awakening.
This is probably one of the best self-improvement books I’ve ever read. What makes it even better is the fact that Mark Manson is pretty young writer. I honestly can’t wait for him to get older and wiser… considering he is writing killer books now, when he is 50+ and becomes just a bit more mature, material he’ll spew out will probably be godly.
I promised a score, so here it is: 89/100.
In the end, if you are still on the fence, I HIGHLY recommend reading chapter breakdowns by TheZenMasterReturns. The guy just killed it with his breakdowns as part of Betterment Book Club, and he was instrumental in getting me to write my own detailed view. Here are the links to detailed analysis of “The subtle art of not giving a f***” by /u/TheZenMasterReturns: