I’ll set the scene, it’s December 2019 and I’ve only recently become aware that Mark Manson’s third book Every Thing is F*cked A Book About Hope, has been published.
My race to the coffee shop, uhm.. Greggs, to get my morning cappuccino was interrupted by the sight of Manson’s teal cover gleaming through the Waterstones window.
I would have rushed in then and there to pick up a copy, but then it struck me that I’d have to wait. There’s an unwritten rule in the final month of the year, before Christmas, that you can’t buy things for yourself. Given how much I raved about The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck I knew that someone would bought this for me. I figured if I’d unwittingly waited since May to read it, I could wait a few more weeks – and if it was as good as his first, it would be worth the wait.
The night I opened the first page, ready to be slapped in the face with the raw cynicism I had encountered in Manson’s first book, I tucked myself into bed early.
So what’s the moral of the story?
Well it’s no spoiler to say, this book won’t make you entirely hopeful, but it will help you to understand the systems in which we create hope. Ideologies and religions have hope at it’s core, so much so that we design our identities around what we believe in.
Manson explains how to create a religion, by detailing all the things you need to say and do to be successful. There’s a formula which you can see has clearly worked for some modern religions, cults and even political structures. Or as he calls it ‘A Proven System that will help you Achieve Everlasting Bliss and Eternal Salvation!’
He also acquaints you with the ‘Uncomfortable Truth’ that we need hope to validate our own ‘insignificant material existence’. These are just constructs we project to the world because, well basically, and this is a bitter pill to swallow, it makes us ‘feel better’… and he’s not wrong.
Manson will also help you understand the driving force of your ‘consciousness car’ i.e. your brain and how you have the Thinking Brain and Feeling Brain.
But let’s go back first.
The story begins with a ‘heroic’ tale of a Polish war hero named Witold Pilecki who snuck into Auschwitz to see what the German’s were doing and report back to the Polish Army. The Poles thought Pilecki was exaggerating because they couldn’t imagine atrocities on this scale, so they didn’t come and rescue him. Pilecki had to sneak out of the death camp and successfully returned to report back in person.
Manson argues that although this story is completely badass, we need these kind of stories because they give us hope and humans need hope. We need our heroes.
This story is the reason I adore Manson’s literature, because he uses these extreme examples to make interesting, if not slightly controversial points. Basically what you are reading is the uncomfortable world in which we live in, through the lens of a man who will tell it like it is.
However these stories dwindle as you make your way through the book. There are others, like the re-telling of the relationship between philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who declared “God is dead” and his carer Meta von Salis who was incredibly smart. She was the first women to get a Phd in Switzerland.
Or the story of Isaac Newton’s life as a hermit. But they feel very few and far between.
This book uses specific theories from philosophers and scientists throughout history. You just have to look at the notes section to see all of the references used.
Don’t get me wrong they are interesting, Nietzsche’s ‘master morality’ and ‘slave morality’ is an idea I can comprehend, but I enjoy the stories more than the theory.
A particular highlight towards the end of the book is the story about ‘hotshot marketer’ Edward Bernays who was tasked with marketing cigarettes to women in the ’20s when culturally this was frowned upon. He understood that the world runs on feelings and marketing has to cater to this. It worked, and he became very rich. Interestingly he was the nephew of Sigmund Freud.
The book concludes with an explanation of how important pain is to human life, and why we need pain to develop into functional human beings.
However if you weren’t already having an existential crisis, having read about your being, your hopes and your desires being completely pointless, Manson has one last stab of the knife by mentioning how Artificial Intelligence could take over human life, rendering us either useless or extinct.
Perhaps, this book makes sense right now because we’re amidst the coronavirus pandemic, so everything really is f*cked. Will hope get us through? It might help keep you going, but technically science will get us out of this.
Does it mean we don’t need hope? I don’t think so, as long as you recognise the ‘Uncomfortable Truth’ that you have constructed.
Like my hope that you will read this review, and Manson’s hope that you will buy his book. He wouldn’t have spent his time debunking the myth of hope if he thought no-one would read it.
If you want to be told like it is, supported by recognised philosophers and thinkers, then read this book, but be warned. It’s not for the faint hearted.