Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck – Mark Manson

One of the most widely discussed and bemoaned book trends of the past decade has been “books with swears in the title” – and it all started (well, mostly) with The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck. It’s a self-help book by ‘superstar blogger’ Mark Manson (who, granted, most people had never heard of before this book hit the best-seller list). Aside from the title, its other big drawcard is that heartthrob Chris Hemsworth describes it as “a good kick in the arse”, which is one of the best blurbs I’ve come across.

The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck - Mark Manson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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I don’t often read or review self-help books, but it’s just as well. Manson positions this book as the anti-self-help manifesto, a counter-point to the mindless positivity he alleges is peddled in other books of the genre. He believes that life’s struggles give it meaning (no light with out the dark, yin-yang, the whole bit) and blithely smiling our way through it or trying to find a way to live a life without struggle is missing the point and only makes things worse. Thus, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck.

It’s a surprisingly anti-capitalist stance, actually, which was the first tick in the ‘pro’ column for me. “Giving a fuck about more stuff is good for business,” as Manson says on page 5. If we’re all worried about being too fat or too short or too poor or too boring, we’ll spend money to buy products that promise us our problems will be solved. Deciding that we care about more meaningful things, and that we don’t need to buy stuff to make ourselves feel good, will bring the system to its knees.

Unfortunately, Manson does run out of creative ways to say ‘give a fuck’ by about page 12, so it starts to wear thin. That was the first tick in the ‘con’ column.

Basically, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck is a provocative title for a book that simply emphasises the importance of knowing what really matters to you, and encourages you to act in accordance with that. In the old parlance, we might’ve once said ‘don’t sweat the small shit’, but Manson repackages that adage and sells it as ‘give fewer fucks’ (so maybe he’s not the anti-capitalist king that was foretold after all).

Mostly, Manson dilutes key concepts from psychology and philosophy (also anthropology at times, and even stretching over into evolutionary biology now and again), and boils them up together into a profanity-laden concoction that’s very easy to swallow. It’s not particularly revelatory to say that we grow from pain and suffering, or that you’re responsible for how you respond to a situation, but it sounds profound if you say it in your TED Talk voice.

What worries me is that I can see some of the key concepts of The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck being applied in a gross way by certain segments of the community. The straight white men who feel oppressed by the existence of diversity and inclusion programs, for instance. You can practically hear them salivating over the idea that we shouldn’t give a fuck about how our decisions make others feel and we’re all responsible for what we do with the cards we’re dealt in life – as though the deck isn’t stacked and we shouldn’t ask for a fresh one. Manson doesn’t seem to have really accounted for this possible reading – or, if he has, he doesn’t address it or try too hard to head it off.

As of 2019, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck had sold over eight million copies (not to mention the sequels and journals and other accoutrements of any popular self-help title), so it’s definitely resonated widely. As far as I’m concerned, you could pick worse from the self-help session. It’s easy enough to read, you can knock it over in a single sitting, and it’s ultimately a positive message: find out what you care about, care about it a lot, and disregard the stuff that doesn’t serve you. We could all benefit from doing that a bit more, probably.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck:

  • “The worst part is that I bought the Kindle edition, because if I had gotten a hard copy at least I’d have a good coaster to set my drink on.” – Amazon98
  • “You could get the same quality of advice off of any bathroom wall.” – Marie Jakowski
  • “Completely unhelpful. A book equivalent of someone saying ” Hey, you should just stop worrying about stuff”.” – John Travis Wheeling
  • “This should be called “the subtle art of wasting your money” bc that’s all it is.” – Carla

2 Comments

  1. New idea: using the books I won’t ever revisit as coasters! I probably would never be able to bring myself to do it, but that Amazon review gave me a chuckle.

    • Sheree

      May 23, 2024 at 1:16 PM

      😂😂😂 I think I’d have a heart attack if I saw drinks resting on books everywhere!

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