book review: the subtle art of not giving a f*ck


That was a long week, I can tell you.

Everyone seems to like self-help books. I see people in cafes reading them, and usually it’s something like The Secret or The Cosmic Ordering Service which appears to be a religion/mystical thing in disguise as advice. These never clicked with me, as a lot of them seem to revolve around some weird prayer substitute that will cause a mysterious force in the universe to bring things to you without having to lift a single finger whatsoever.  That isn’t the way life works, and as far as I can tell that isn’t the way the universe works either.

I’ve tried reading a few: Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich and An Interview with the Devil both contained some interesting ideas, but the pre-WWII nature alienated me somewhat, as it dates the book considerably. Another one was Shantnu Tiwari’s Stop Being The Hamstera great little self help book which was written by a former software developer who started his own business, and contained a lot of good advice delivered in a rather down to earth style. However, those were the only ones I remember that left any impression, a lot of the others I generally tuned out of because of the mystical mumbo-jumbo.

This book caught my attention, as I wondered why one needed a book to learn about not giving a fuck: you just think “Meh, don’t care”, right? Well, curiosity got the better of me, and I bought it to see how you could write a book out of not giving a fuck. It was kind of refreshing that the book wasn’t about mastering some secret energy field or coming up with an empowering mantra, no… the book instead says this:

This book will not teach you how to gain or achieve, but rather how to lose and let go. It will teach you to take inventory of your life and scrub out all but the most important items. It will teach you to close your eyes and trust that you can fall backwards and still be okay. It will teach you to give fewer fucks. It will teach you to not try.

So rather, it’s about how to rejig your life to handle losing at life, and the “art of not giving a fuck” is in actual fact about how not to give a fuck about things that don’t really benefit life, that is, to quote Fight Club: the power to let that which truly does not matter slide.


And that’s a problem we have today: we have more choice about what to read and what to watch than ever before in human history. Back during the 90s in the UK, there were only four (and five after 1995) TV channels and then maybe 90 on cable and satellite TV. Some thought that was a lot, but now we have an infinite amount of video to watch thanks to Youtube. Media has been disrupted by Facebook and Twitter, and if you watch those things sure enough, something new to read will appear and often something like wedding photos or your friend’s sweet trip to Hawaii or something like that. All of these things are competing for your attention, and it’s possible to get overwhelmed.

This book basically calls bullshit on the idea that we have to care about any of this. Many of us say “ah, it’s just Facebook”, but then spend an inordinate amount of time scrolling through the feed endlessly. And it’s making us more anxious as we compare ourselves to others and feel that we’re behind in where we’re meant to be because everyone is having an infinitely more wonderful time than us when in actual fact they’re probably not. They have the same problems we do, or a similar variation.

And that’s another theme I liked – puncturing the myth of the idea of the “chosen one” sold to us by Hollywood. That is the plot of so many things – someone is special,  the “chosen one” destined to save the world/do something wonderful/etc and that their problems and struggles are unique. Many self help books say this too, but Not Give A F*ck says that you’re average, and by recognising that you can in actual fact take some of the imagined pressure off yourself. You’re just an average Joe/Jane, and by embracing that you can fix your own life. This is put as:

People who become great at something become great because they understand that they’re not already great — they are mediocre, they are average — and that they could be so much better.

And that’s true – although there is no “chosen one” destiny for you, by recognising that you’re probably having a variation on an experience that others have had, it frees you up to then go on and figure out what really matters to you.

I could go on (but this is a review, not me trying to blog the book), but I liked the style this book was written with. It was very down to earth, and funny, and it made for a mostly enjoyable read on the bus to work every morning.

He does, however, also focus on the West’s “entitlement culture” as a part of the demolition of the “chosen one” myth – i.e. the idea that you have suffered in a unique way or are better in some way and thus entitled to X, and I guess this might ring a little hollow for some. In the Western world, we live in a general comfortable state in peaceful and stable societies, and thus have the time to sit down and reflect on what makes our life suck and whether we’re being “entitled”. People’s sense of entitlement and sometimes lack of self-responsibility, is blamed for some problems generally had in the book, however it strikes me as advice that perhaps only could apply in the comfortable West: I don’t think people in, say,  Syria have this luxury.

That criticism aside: I enjoyed this book. It’s funny, well written and likeable, and is well worth the read. And well, I’m writing this blog article after reading it gave me the motivation to start doing things like this again… so it must be at least half-decent…

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