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The Art of Non-Conformity: an economist’s review*

On one hand, this is a book I should hate. On the other hand, this is a book I should love. Naturally, it ended up being neither.

On one hand, the title is way too long. The Art of Non-Confomity: Set your own Rules, Live the Life you Want and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau, creator of the online manifesto “A Brief Guide to World Domination” has too many words on the cover for my liking. On the other hand, it promises art and non-conformity, and I like the sound of that.

On the one hand, this is a book I should hate.

On one hand, it is a self-help book, which is not only a contradiction in terms but the equal most annoying form of publishing in the known universe along with religious publishing, for exactly the same reasons. On the other hand, it’s got cool snippets like “The one-year, self-directed, alternative graduate school experience” and “16 months of preparing for Oprah” which I really enjoyed.

On one hand, it is one of those books that features quotes stuck at apparently random but probably very carefully selected places on the page from the likes of Winston Churchill and Anonymous in the hope they will make the book seem more profound than it is. On the other hand, there are quotes from George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein and Mark Twain, and they are usually worth a few seconds of your time.

On one hand, it is written in the first person and some parts of the book are even devoted to explaining the challenge of writing the book which is very tedious and really I don’t particularly care that you write a thousand words a day even if it’s really an example of setting goals rather than bragging about how many words are written does it even matter if they’re no good and things like this tend to annoy me. On the other hand, Chris Guillebeau has done and is doing some very interesting things in his life, trying to travel to every country, having had success and failure in small business, spent time as a volunteer and seems to know what he is talking about when it comes to non-conformity.

On one hand, it is a self-help book, which by its very nature means that at some point it will lecture you. On the other hand, it doesn’t always conform to the rules of self-help books and at several points it says, explicitly, that you don’t have to do what Chris tells you and you can make your own decisions.

On the other hand, this is a book I should love.

On one hand, it’s a bit preachy with Chris’s favourite charities getting a good plug and making you feel a little like you’re back in high school and the goody two-shoes of the class is telling you about how they spent their summer holidays digging wells in poor countries while you watched the cricket. On the other hand, he thinks abundance is good and even though he personally doesn’t want a lot of stuff he flies around the world without feeling guilty because he has his priorities organised in a way that suits him.

On one hand, his writing is clear and easy to read but fairly pedestrian and even begins one chapter by saying, “My morning routine is fairly typical …” and describes making coffee and checking emails. On the other hand, his favourite novelist is Haruki Murakami.

On one hand, it has chapter titles like “Smashing through the brick wall of fear.” On the other hand, he put his phone number in the book in case Oprah’s producers want to get in touch.

On one hand, the book does conform to many conventions. On the other hand, he does explain modern life as though everyone else is jumping off a bridge and gets shocked at those who hesitate and ask, “Why?”

On one hand, the idea that a white guy can travel all over the world and spread his ideas to make the planet a better place has been tried before. On the other hand, he is urging people to think for themselves and seems to know that idea, axiomatically, cannot be forced on anyone.

On one hand, the book talks about one-year goals and five-year goals and life goals and watching sunsets in Zambia (the locals just call it sunset, only in their own language). On the other hand, he ranks Singapore among the most over-rated tourist destinations on the planet, and it’s hard to disagree with that. (Although, Orchard Road is home to the closest Borders store from my apartment.)

On one hand, the book is disappointing. On the other hand, it is inspiring.

* With thanks, but no apologies, to Harry Truman.

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3 comments on “The Art of Non-Conformity: an economist’s review*

  1. Zach says:

    Very well written, informitive review Michael 🙂

  2. theruffstuff says:

    Thanks. Bit of an unusual way to do it, but I wanted to show the good and the bad. Thanks for your email, too, by the way.

    1. Zach says:

      No problem, man 🙂

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