Two Books You Should Read Right Now. I’m Serious.

(I said TWO, not Four! Ugh.)

Okay, let’s talk about Tim Ferriss.

He’s written two books. Both of them were #1 NY Times Bestsellers.

Not by popular demand. Not on accident. 100% on purpose.

He didn’t write two masterpieces that enraptured the populace. They didn’t spread from person to person by word-of-mouth, lighting imaginations on fire. He set out to exploit a system, followed a series of steps, and positioned himself as the winner of a little game. Hooray.

When I hear anyone talk about Tim Ferriss, the focus is not on the content of his books, but on Tim’s contrived, self-aware career.

“You see, that’s what you have to do. You have to use your mind and come up with some really great idea like that and you never have to work again! The guy made a million dollars.” -Office Space

Tim doesn’t sell a lot of books because he’s a great writer or thinker. Are these classic books that will be read for centuries? No. They’re disposable widgets that encapsulate our society’s cynicism and short attention span. He’s no Philip K. Dick, Robert Anton Wilson, or Neil Postman. He’s not even a Kevin Smith. He hasn’t gotten to where he is through years of obsessive philosophical contemplation, dedication to his craft, or even by being an interesting guy.

He cut corners, took a shortcut, got famous. The end.

Lately, I judge philosophers (including myself) by the art they create. The abstract or fictional stuff that has nothing to do with getting “rich and famous.” The music, the stories, the paintings. The back catalog of creative credentials. It’s becoming increasingly popular to focus entirely on theory / technique and never make a fucking thing with it. Career coaches, experts, consultants, gurus who don’t “live it everyday” as Phil Anselmo said.

If there’s anything that’s killing artists, it’s all the self-promotion and strategizing. If we were to spend more time on our art than we do on promoting it, we would find that our art might be strong enough to promote itself. Otherwise, all we have, at best, is an imitation of greatness. A pseudo-event. And wouldn’t you rather at least have a chance at experiencing something real?

It’s strange, if you think about it. Tim Ferriss is selling his books to the people who fell for his tricks and bought his books, and they still love him for it. He appeals not to the best within us, but the worst: greed and laziness.

I know, because I read his first book. Tried to, anyway. Didn’t like the vibe of it. The essence of the book didn’t make me like the jock who wrote it:

1.) Be inaccessible.
2.) Do as little as possible, outsource all your work to India.
3.) Spend most of your time on vacation.

Sounded a lot like my boss at the time! It made me wonder — isn’t this book just encouraging everyone to become the oppressive CEO we hate? Isn’t it the “Me Pharaoh, You Slave” pyramid scheme that is destroying our economy? Do we really need more of that “you do all the work, I keep all the money” bullshit?

The gist of the whole Tim Ferriss phenomenon is, “This guy figured out the trick. I wanna know what the trick is.” The problem is that by the time “the trick” is published in a book and shared with millions of people, it won’t work anymore. That itself is the trick.

Tim has announced he’s having a seminar in August. He’s going to share every detail about how he did what he did — which itself, self-referentially reveals how he did it: Charge between $7,000 and $10,000 per ticket, limited to 200 people. “Just like TED and similar high-end events…” it says.

Yeah, except for the “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world” thing that almost makes TED cool.

My advice: Save your money, stay home, read these two books instead:
The Image: A Guide To Pseudo-Events In America by Daniel J. Boorstin
Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Let me know what you think.

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5 Responses to “Two Books You Should Read Right Now. I’m Serious.”

  1. Brendan went to the beach and complained:

    Great take on the Ferriss ‘thing’; your reaction was very similar to my own experience when I borrowed your copy of that book. I finished it hopin git would somehow redeem itself…but not so much.

    On a happier note: I really want to read that Borstein book.

  2. Brendan went to the beach and complained:

    (Hah! I love how my typo above sounds like English slang for a lame a-hole: “he’s a fookin’ hoppin’ git!”)

  3. Mark McElroy went to the beach and complained:

    I’m the *last* guy who would defend Tim Ferris. I agree, on the broadest possible scale, with your critiques of his system, the bulk of his work, and the cult of personality which is, really, his primary product.

    That said, 4-Hour Body (which was, admittedly, a ramblin’, under-edited, train wreck of a book) did one positive thing for me: it got me, for the first time in my life, to lose the weight I’ve been carrying around for decades.

    Achieving that wasn’t a result of following his plan (if you can call it that). But he did manage to position the old idea of “finding what works for you” in a way that got my attention … and prompted me to make some long-needed changes in my behavior.

    So, I guess I’m giving the devil his due. Thin content? Yep. Annoying persona? Yep. Could the meat of his last book have been published as a one-line blog post (“Find what works for you and do it.”)? Yep. But, still, he managed to rise about the noise and inspire me.

    There’s value there.

  4. Zeke went to the beach and complained:

    Word up to Boorstin.

  5. David W. went to the beach and complained:

    I’ve read Four Hour Workweek and am currently reading Four Hour Body. I agree with you about the vibe you get from Tim Ferriss’ work; I would never be caught hanging out with this guy. But I took some bits that I felt would help me (particularly his ‘dreamlining’ strategy for my creative projects and desire to continue traveling the world) and left the other stuff behind.

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