The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Mark Manson


Reviewed by: Izzy

The main message of this book is: success is easy, if not effortless, and being bad is good. Now that you know this, would you read it?

Another well-advertised, harmful nonsense, the book is full of inaccurate information and baseless assertations. It lacks logical reasoning and contradicts facts. It is another mythical argument based on misconceptions.

A biography rewritten

In the first chapter, we are served a false biography of Charles Bukowski, who is introduced “as an alcoholic, a womanizer, a chronic gambler, a lout, a cheapskate, a deadbeat, and on his worst days, a poet… Bukowski wanted to be a writer. But for decades his work was rejected by almost every magazine, newspaper, journal, agent, and publisher he submitted to… thirty years went by like this, most of it a meaningless blur of alcohol, drugs, gambling, and prostitutes. Then, when Bukowski was fifty, after a lifetime of failure and self-loathing, an editor at a small independent publishing house took a strange interest in him”.

If you care to know the true story of Bukowski’s life, here it goes. At the age of 24, Bukowski published a short story entitled “Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip” in Story Magazine. Two years later, he published another story. He continued to read and write all his life. He was dissatisfied with the publication processes and stopped trying to publish. In 1960, before his 40th birthday, he published three books, which are among the most important of his work.

Manson writes that Bukowski succeeded in becoming a novelist and a poet and that his popularity defied everyone’s expectations.” He continues to say that “despite the book sales and fame, Bukowski was a loser.” He claims that Bukowski was successful due to being a failure:

“He never tried to be anything other than what he was. The genius in Bukowski’s work was not in overcoming unbelievable odds or developing himself into a shining literary light. It was the opposite. It was his simple ability to be completely, unflinchingly honest with himself especially the worst parts of himself and to share his failings without hesitation of doubt. This is the real story of Bukowski’s success: his comfort with himself as a failure.”

Now losers can justify their laziness

I would not be happy if any of my family or friends took this destructive idea to heart. Manson’s advice is one of the oldest myths that has been propagated over the ages by semiliterates to justify their deficits, if not criminal acts.

In this case, Manson used a limited number of Bukowski’s writings which were popular for various reasons to pass a general judgment that this writer is a great, successful person and a role model from whom people must learn. He failed to mention that Bukowski himself knew that he wasn’t successful and that no one should look up to him. As a womanizer, he had hurt many women over the years and he admitted that. The same applies to gambling. Bukowski was a talented writer who pursued his passion but neglected many important life matters. Most importantly, Bukowski was abused as a child, both physically and mentally. This left a permanent mark on him and affected the way he perceived himself and others.

Good is bad and vice versa? I'd rather trust myself.

Further on, Manson writes: “The desire for a more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.” He continues to explain this illogical nonsense by saying that “wanting positive experience is a negative experience: accepting negative experience is a positive experience.”

So according to Manson, one’s desire to take care of her children, herself, her sick mother is negative but accepting being an abusive mother, a lazy worker and an evil person is positive. Orwell must be laughing in his grave: after all, war is peace and freedom is slavery.

Your society is not your enemy

The book suffers from contradictions and misconceptions. On the one hand, it argues that individuals should live by values which they think are important for them rather than the values endorsed by the society. On the other hand, Manson argues that many values which people desire are bad values and as such should be dismissed. He claims that the desire to be popular is bad because it is uncontrollable. In contrast, values such as honesty and kindness are good values because we can control them. He fails to notice that not everyone wants to be sociable and that being kind or honest is very subjective and related to the society values and norms. He separates what humans want as individuals from what the society encourages. This notion contradicts logic, science, and reality. Humans are part of their cultures and societies, therefore portraying the society as an enemy of its members, trying to coerce them into adopting bad values, is absurd.

Failing vs. being a failure

The truth is, pursuing positive goals is what gives our lives meaning. The trouble is that many people don’t know what their goals are. Each one of us is different and we need to accept that fact. We vary in our abilities, desires, emotions and the way of thinking. Therefore, we ought to have different goals and pursue them according to our capacity. The values and goals endorsed by all human societies regardless of race, language, and culture are many and diverse. Being a world-class swimmer, a master chess player, a good parent, a decent neighbour, an influential orator, a successful businessman, a skilled surgeon, a witty politician, an ingenious teacher etc., are things people need to work hard to achieve and maintain, and are universally appreciated.

It is alright to fail sometimes but it is not alright to give up and become a failure. Normalizing the negative is not the way to go. It is a bottomless well filled with misery and suffering. Working hard, setting goals, being disappointed at times and excited at others, and satisfied with oneself is a fabulous feeling.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck