Number 5

Book Review – I Was Blind But Now I See, James Altucher

He can see now…

A good book with a gaping hole…

Per the title, Altucher divides the book in two: he opens with blindness, and then, natch, moves on to where he is healed and sees. He does this, of course, without a Savior except for his keen insight into the workings of the world. Raising his hand high, like a prairie frontiersman, he preaches the old Americanism that few live out, but everyone agrees to: quit believing the truth of what you’re told. 

Don’t be fooled: he urges you to ignore everyone, but the tacit message – he wrote the book, after all – is to listen to me and do what I say. I have the answers you seek. He admonishes against blind fealty to parents and grandparents and girlfriends and newspapers and stresses repeatedly that moderns are bombarded with a rain of messages about what makes us happy. “Of course, you’re sad and lonely,” a commercial says. “You need a WARM CUP OF TOMATO SOUP to make you feel like life has meaning again. See this good-looking mom? She’s having a cup of soup and has life down pat! But, look at you? Still in sweatpants? Then point your rusty Toyota to the grocery to get a can of TOMATO SOUP so you can be a happy gal too!” He harps A LOT about how, for most people, college is a waste of time. And he’s positive that banking and buying a home are the greatest ruses ever foisted on humanity. Think Howard Stern and self-help, and you’re close.

In his defense, he’s not adamant that you swear off these things wholesale. Instead, he asks that you consider their truth before you sign on as a devotee. He deftly steps through the brainwashing of every person alive since the day they were born. Then, he outlines the Religion of America whereby we believe truths because we are brainwashed to do so. It’s a circle.

In the second half of the book, he takes these tenets of the Religion of America and explains why they’re bunk. I expected something more nuanced, a professorial argument enlightening the reader to facts and nuances they haven’t considered, but instead, he mostly calls you a dope for buying into this mess. Seems like a contradiction of the first half to me.

A couple misgivings

Overall, it’s a good and worthy book, with lots to think about, but he fails in two ways:

The first is glaring. I haven’t read other reviews but know I’m not the first to see this. In the middle of his diatribe about logic and effects and testing, he defines ‘happiness’ as the most important thing a human achieves. I guess readers are supposed to acquiesce to this because everyone wants to be happy, and because he said so, right? But, is a murderer happiest when murdering? Is a molester happiest when molesting? So, in a book about logic and clear thinking, I reject out of hand the assertion that happiness is the pinnacle of an individual’s pursuits.

Secondly, continuing down the same rabbit trail, he equates the best outcome with the most happiness. It’s a weird logic to me. Again, what is the best outcome? Moral purity or getting away with the crime?  

My experience with Altucher

Truth be told, I have made a fair living ala Altucher, doing what I want to do and ignoring the gatekeepers. Way back when, when my hippie side fought more to escape than it does now, I made custom furniture. Let’s all agree that my foray into the craft business started slow, and my growing family enjoyed the largess of friends. I was convinced, though, that beautiful furniture, made lovingly with real wood, would catch the eyes and hearts and pocketbooks of people who saw that value in such things.  

I made a wee living like this and loved every morning going into the shop to awake to the smell of linseed oil and maple. I finally quit the business, but not the doing, and went back to medical research. One place I love as much as the shop is the lab.

I do the same thing now, and that’s why I read Altucher’s book. As a writer, I seriously do what I want and ignore almost everything people tell me to do. It doesn’t escape me that these people are selling me the one thing I need for success. But, just like in furniture making, I am a firm believer in the success of doing my best work with G’s blessing.   

So, to that end, I agree with Altucher, but even more so. In whatever you love, ignore what he says, and ignore what the gatekeepers say, and ignore what I say. Sharpen your chisels in a way that makes sense to you and write for yourself. 

A weird note

After reading the book, I went to his website and clicked the box next to YES, I CHOOSE ME and submitted my email for a newsletter. The newsletter, which I kept hoping would get better, never did, and the constant ramblings about signing up for more of his not-free special financial insight resulted in me unceremoniously unsubscribing. I’m sure he’s doing just fine.

Three stars

Amen and Selah.

See the book here at Amazon.

Go here to Barnes and Noble, my neighborhood bookstore.

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