I hate self-help books, but like Jordan B Peterson. And so do many others – 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is currently the number one bestselling book on Amazon. Deserved…or not? We’ll get into that.
But first, what’s it about? Title says it all. World’s going to shit. Men are turning into pussies. Everyone’s offended, no one can take a joke, and you can’t trust the news for shit anymore. 1What to do and how to act? Conform? Fuck no, says Jordan Peterson, here’s 12 rules for living sensibly in a crazy world. Put differently, here’s a quote from the top Amazon review, which I really like:
In Peterson’s own words, it’s 12 rules to stop you from being pathetic, written from the perspective of someone who himself tried to stop being pathetic and is still working on it. Peterson is open about his struggles and shortcomings, unlike many authors who only reveal a carefully curated façade.
Books written in hopes of turning losers into winners come dime a dozen, so what’s special about this one? Peterson uses examples from history, biology, religion and psychology to rationalise each rule. Most are refreshing and interesting in their own right, but the way he interweaves all these subjects to argue his case is a winning formula.
For the first rule, “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”, Peterson discusses hormonal reactions in lobsters winning or losing a fight – and notes similar hormonal reactions in all life-forms, from molluscs to mammals. After winning, whether a fight to the death, soccer game or business deal, most species see an increase of testosterone, serotonin and dopamine. This results in a cascade of positive effects. One of them being greater attractiveness to the opposite sex. Another one, higher chance of winning again, i.e. there’s something more to a winning streak than just chance.
Finally, winning is seen in posture. Thus the rationale for this rule is to walk like a winner, chest high and shoulders back. Not a loser, hunched forward, and staring at the ground. So all you ab-toners out there, go work on posture instead of the BS you’re wasting time with at the gym. That’s for losers, buddy.
The second rule, “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping”, is the only rule that didn’t strike a chord with me. Peterson notes that people do stupid shit to themselves all the time. Did you know that 1/3 of everyone medicated regularly forget to take their medicine? 2 Don’t find that hard to believe at all. Just like I don’t find it hard to believe how someone can ruin their life with drugs, food or alcohol. But what I do find hard to believe is Peterson’s explanation for mankind’s many shortcomings. 3
According to Peterson, the reason people do stupid shit to themselves has to do with a deep-seated sense of self-loathing, which apparently comes with the territory if you’re born human. Implies all humans are born with such arcane insights into existence, they make conscious choices to mistreat themselves as punishment or means to speed up the inevitable end.
Now that’s a load of horseshit if you ask me. Most people are simply useless and lazy – that’s how I see it. Forgetting to take your medication is just simple stupidity or more commonly, laziness. You’ve not taken care to establish a routine. If that’s such a challenge, then make “Take pills” a repeatable task on your to-do list. There’s apps for that. If all else fails, write “Take pills” on a yellow post-it note and staple it to your forehead, Dumbo.
Not to mention drugging and boozing. You think people take drugs as punishment, Peterson? Well, by the look of you, you’ve never tried drugs or booze, otherwise you wouldn’t known people take them for a good time. And then there’s losers out there who choose to have a good time on a daily basis, so they fuck up their life, job, relationship and all else. No need for self-loathing here, unless you want to complicate human biology with spiritual nonsense.
It’s choosing kicks and a good time over hard work and self-discipline. Easy choice. Made it myself in my younger years. The self-loathing comes when you realise it’s gotten out of hand. So that’s my perspective. Aside from rule two, which I couldn’t relate to at all, everything Peterson says and writes makes complete sense.
Book’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. Its strength is this: If you like Jordan B Peterson, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll love his book and all the well-referenced and educated quality he brings to the table. Religious analogies for days. Some of them make you think about things from novel perspectives not previously considered. Guy knows what he’s talking about, period.
But listen, I just turned 36. If you’re like me, having listened to Peterson on several podcasts, seen a few of his lectures, in your mid-thirties and have your shit together for the most part, there’s nothing new or even challenging here. And after agreeing with pretty much everything, I lost a good chunk of interest after a few chapters.
This is a book I might have needed 10 years ago. Today, I don’t need pointers on how to live, act or behave, because I’m my own person and my moral compass doesn’t need straightening. I live life completely on my own terms and give zero fucks about the nonsense around me. 4 All this SJW bullshit – and it’s worth mentioning I’m Swedish so we have plenty of that here – doesn’t concern, affect or involve any part of my life. It serves as comical fodder for jokes with my friends, that’s it.
This is a book written for the generation below me. People in their mid-twenties, maybe studying at colleges or working in academic environments where SJW bullshit is prevalent. Doesn’t change that it’s still a fantastic book. My mind actually boggles at the amount of work that must have gone into it.
And Peterson is fucking crazy. On one podcast, heard him say he wrote his previous book, Maps of Meaning, one sentence per day. He’d write the same sentence over and over again until it was just right, i.e. he’d spend the whole day working on one sentence. Can you believe that? Jesus Christ.
Now, here’s one thing I hated about this reading experience – or should I say listening experience. Because I bought the audio version of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos and unfortunately, Peterson had the poor taste to let himself do the reading. And I can’t stand his needy and whiny voice for more than twenty minutes before I need a break. Whose fault is that, mine or Peterson? Peterson’s if you ask me. He himself has acknowledged he sounds like Kermit. And if that’s not disrespectful to his readers, then maybe a tad bit narcissistic, thinking he’d do a better job than a professional voice actor. Well, he can’t.
In Peterson’s defense, there are parts of the book where you hear a lot of emotional nuance and turmoil in his voice, i.e. when he talks about his friend committing suicide, for example.5Who knows, might be something like that benefits more from living the experience, than having a solid and trained voice. Then again, I’d happily take a trained voice over emotional nuance in this case. But that’s me.
I want to call this a 5-star book, but how can I? It’s not a book for me, and occasional but pronounced disagreements aside, Peterson’s intolerable voice made it impossible to fully enjoy the experience. That said, my friend Justin, who also read the book, had no problems with it. See our discussion in the Leangains Book Club below.
In summary, Jordan B Peterson fans won’t be disappointed. Those who aren’t fans yet, will probably be converted. And if you’re in your mid-twenties, buy this book, period. 6 But those with a sensitive ear should think twice before buying the audiobook.
Addendum: Shortly after posting, one of my Instagram followers mentioned that Peterson made the decision to do the reading himself after fans voted such in a poll. While that redeems his choice slightly in my eyes, not sure it’s a good idea to ask your fanbase about such a decision. They’re likely to say yes to anything involving more of you, regardless of impact.
So I finished up the brunt of this review yesterday. Got a little late and didn’t want to stress it, so decided to postpone publishing and went to hit the gym. Met a good friend, let’s call him Frank. Cured this poor soul from fuckarounditis a while ago so now he has his shit together, thank God.
On our way out, mentioned I just finished this review. What a coincidence, says Frank, I’m reading the same book. We started talking about the book and he told me something crazy. Frank’s in his mid-twenties, finishing his degree and works part-time at Akademibokhandeln, Sweden’s largest chain of bookstores.
Not only is Akademibokhandeln the largest book supplier in Sweden, but they also specialise in non-fiction and textbooks for students and such. Back when I was a student, I got all my shit from them. And you know what? Akademibokhandeln doesn’t stock 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, it’s considered too controversial. That’s Sweden for you in a nutshell. Along with Canada, most bitch made country in the world.
Leangains Patreon has exploded in the mere month it’s been up. Looking at the rankings, I’m currently currently ranked 11 (!) in the very competitive Education category. 7 Pretty crazy since it’s only been up a month. But I’m working hard on it and 1000+ Patrons are enjoying weekly content, training programs and more, and the question threads are bustling with activity. No question goes unanswered – whether it’s me, Patrick or Zach 8 doing the answering. Feedback has been amazing and I’ve big plans for LG Patreon in the future. If you’re not a member, fine, but know that I’m spending my time there for the time being.
Book update: Everything done except sample menus and a few basic recipes. Quick and easy work I’m finding every excuse in the world not to do 9, but I’m feeling the fire under my ass and will get to it as soon as I’ve cleared my plate. Ain’t twiddling my thumbs folks, got my hands full every hour of the day, more or less. Assuming I can finish that up over the next two weeks, I’ll outsource Kindle formatting to someone in the know, and then it’s done. One or two weeks into April looks like a realistic release date, but I’ve been wrong before.
P.S. Books on my to-read list: Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, Undisputed Truth, Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. 10Anything I missed? Let me know in comments.
- Offended? Not really. It’s called virtue signalling.
- Paraphrasing from memory here, before, and onwards. Feel free to correct. Don’t have Kindle or print, just audiobook, so can’t check.
- Mankind. Not peoplekind, bitch.
- Ask anyone around me, they ain’t hard to find, and they’d tell you my IRL persona is exactly like the one I present online. Only difference is I’m a lot nicer, because no one says stupid shit about nutrition, training or my deadlift form when I’m around.
- Props to Justin for this example.
- This is the best self-help book I’ve ever read, but that’s not saying much. Ashamed to say I read a ton back in the day and most of them absolute garbage.
- Fun fact: Jordan B Peterson is number one
- My competent and trusted Leangains experts
- Isn’t it funny how we sometimes procrastinate on the easy stuff that requires time over thinking? It’s not strange at all and you’ll find an explanation for it in the most excellent Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Started on the audio version of Undisputed Truth and I’m happy to inform Tyson doesn’t do the reading.