Book Review: 12 Rules for Life

‘When you have something to say, silence is a lie…’

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The concept of a self-help book is not for me. Not that I don’t see the value in it, I just know that I personally wouldn’t benefit from that whole oeuvre. I know how to help myself. Stop being so goddamn fat. Try and curb the drinking to once a fortnight. Listen to Tom Waits. All that stuff. 12 Rules for Life kinda is a self-help book, and I can certainly see how it would help someone who was maybe struggling to motivate themselves, but it isn’t this angle that makes the book so darn compelling…

Jordan Peterson is a controversial psychologist that appears to have been co-opted (without much resistance from the man himself it must be said) by dark corners of the internet. Peterson describes himself as a conservative with just as much contempt for the far right as the far left, and this is clear if you listen to him for more than five minutes rather than indulging in the latest hatchet job that the Guardian have thrown together. That doesn’t mean that I agree with everything Peterson says – I’ve never been a big church guy – but much of what he argues feels like basic common sense that is backed up by years of research. Indeed, nothing here particularly feels like new information. The selling point is that Peterson presents it in a way that is accessible and interesting for someone like me who has no real interest or knowledge of psychology or even philosophy. By bringing all of these elements together in a style that lends itself to binge reading, Peterson has tapped into the zeitgeist for instant access to information, and he has done it in a way that has created a shockwave across popular culture.

12 Rules for Life is a book that is cast from its authors image. Uncompromising, to the point, and wildly entertaining. Peterson berates the very people he is trying to help (mostly sad sack twenty something men) but he does it in a way that is paternal rather than patronising. He also never leans on his intellectualism in a way that would preclude your average Joe on the street. This is a rare gift – one that the academic left could certainly learn from themselves.

There is no doubting that Peterson is a controversial figure, but it is also unarguable that he is a powerful orator and a persuasive writer. No matter what side of the political spectrum you find yourself, 12 Rules for Life should be required reading.

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