If ever a title sold a book, it’s this one. Would it have worked without the word “subtle?”
Mark Manson had a breakaway hit in 2016 with The Subtle Art of…you already know the rest of the title. The book thanks its editor Luke Dempsey, “for mercilessly tightening the screws on my writing, and for possibly having an even fouler mouth than I do.” (211-212) This is flabbergasting. There are a few pieces of good insight in this entry-level Buddhism, which otherwise drowns in a soup of both common and profane words.
I can not give a $@#$ about swearing, unless it is a substitute for precision in thinking and it is so in spades here. E.g: “Shi*** values, as we saw in chapter 4, involve tangible external goals outside of our control.” Imagine the great Venn diagram of Shi*** and External values; just how big is the overlap? Non-swear words would have helped the reader get there but wouldn’t have quite the shock value. Shock value wears off quickly.
The book has a lot of freshman-dorm quality observations like “ever notice that sometimes when you care less about something, you do better at it?” (10), “What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?” (36), “As a general rule, we’re all the world’s worst observers of ourselves.” (142)
The Subtle Art‘s two big takeaways are that you should not worry about what other people think, and that’s it is a lot harder to do that in the social media-crazy world. Amen brother. Dissecting the latter would be a worthwhile read.
The few times he writes or is edited to precision, the book shines. He says there are two paths to entitlement, “I’m awesome and the rest of you suck, so I deserve special treatment, or I suck and the rest of you are awesome, so I deserve special treatment.” (55) This is precise and memorable: even the (once) swear word is well-used because it’s a description of how people are thinking. I also liked “The narrower and rarer your identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you.”
The remainder of the book has the blogospheric chapter intros of dressed up windy tales from one’s own life, unsourced Psychology Today-feature ready stories, and more truthy-than-true tales from the famous. (“When Picasso was an old man, he was sitting in a cafe in Spain, doodling on a used napkin…” can you guess the rest of the story from that intro? If you can’t don’t worry, it’s surely apocryphal.) The tale is supposed to help us understand “Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something.”
I dunno. I think Picasso gave a f***. Mark won’t care but I’ll rate this a 3/10.