Book Review: The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead

CurmudgeonGuideby Anniel   4/29/14
By Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve  •  As soon as I saw the title of this book I knew I had to read it, so I sent for a Kindle sample. Just a note here about being able to get samples. It’s one of the best deals going. I can usually tell by immersing myself in the first part of a book whether I want to spend money or time on it. This sample was an “I’ve GOT to get this book” one.

And I was not disappointed one whit. I was so excited I called all my friends and relatives and told them to go and get it, and give it to all their children. I have several family members who can share my Kindle books, so they get the good advice and knowledge for free.

Dr. Murray claims to be a libertarian, but I find that to be a misnomer, at least as far as his writings in this book indicate. He has too many thoughts on right behavior and the consequences of bad behavior to be uninvolved in what his neighbors might choose to do. He even takes time in his discourse to defend the Constitution, and puts in a plea for religious training, at least a little. I also found him to be more amusing in his curmudgeonliness (I kind of like that word) than I had expected from his earlier writings. This book is much more personal than his academic tomes.

The book is divided into named chapters, and then into numbered snippets of thought or advice within each chapter heading.

ON THE PRESENTATION OF SELF IN THE WORKPLACE.
Numbers 1-13.
My favorite here is definitely No. 3:

Excise the word like from your spoken language.
Do you use the word like as a verbal tic? I mean, like, do you insert it in, like, random points in your, like, spoken conversation? If the answer is yes, this is the most important point in the entire book: STOP IT.

ON THINKING AND WRITING WELL.
Numbers 14-19

“The process of writing is the dominant source of intellectual creative activity.”

Ah, yes.
Number 19. Learn to love rigor.

He expects rigor in study, history, thought and preparation. Rigor in editing, syntax, spelling, choosing the perfect words. I found this to be an utterly fascinating section. Murray covers the tools required for writing well, when to write, how to edit yourself, how to have an informed opinion, and so much more. Instruction I sorely need.

ON THE FORMATION OF WHO YOU ARE
Numbers 20 through 28.
One of the best pieces of advice he has to give is to move away from your parents; go out into the real world and get a real job; live on what you earn with no help from mom and dad; discover the needs and aspirations of ordinary people who may live outside your previously insulated existence, people who are not like you. You should discover that you are not the center of the universe and that you can GROW UP AND GET TOUGH.

And so it goes. Learn what you really want to do; determine what you have the ability to do; how to get along (or not) with a boss; what is expected of you as an employee; should you cheat if your boss says to; should you get married and why; whom should you marry and when; choosing a spouse you can be happy with. Whew!

Which takes us to Number 34. WATCH Groundhog Day repeatedly.
He says this is will be a good substitute for not reading and pondering The Nicomachean Ethics. Aren’t you glad?

His finale is Number 35. The book is not too long, so you’ll get there quickly.

Dr. Murray says he wrote this book to clarify life for the generation just beginning their careers, but his wisdom applies to all.

As you can tell, I loved this book. But I must be more of a curmudgeon than Charles Murray, because I have one more piece of advice:

SPIT OUT THE GUM. • (2498 views)

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24 Responses to Book Review: The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I have a number of books by Murray, including The Bell Curve. (One SF fan once promised to send a refutation of Murray’s use of statistics there, but somehow never got around to it. Thus, I can’t judge whether or not there really was such a case.) This sounds like one I may want to get (in trade paperback, of course).

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the value and utility of Kindle’s free samples….although a few of the books garbage-up the sample by most of it being taken up by the foreword or multiple introductions. It’s as if there is some dumb algorithm that says “offer the first 2% of readable material at the front of the book.” But most do not make this mistake and do offer at least the first chapter or so.

    And maybe this gets to the heart of busting another myth about conservatives (it’s become so fashionable to believe either the liberal or libertarian myths about who these people supposedly are). No, we are not afraid of change. I’m an old-fashioned sort of guy, but I’m not stupid. Many of my friends go on and on about how they love the real feel of a book in their hand. And although I maintain my love for paper books, I also like the ability to do searches, highlight text for future use, to have hundreds of books at one’s disposal, and to change the size and font of the text.

    The Kindle (at least the portable, hand-held versions) will not soon replace a picture book. And books that rely heavily on charts, graphs, and photos do not translate well to the smaller page size of the typical hardware Kindle. Nor are electronic book makers taking much advantage of the flexibility of this format (or some extension of this format) to integrate animations and links perhaps to larger copies of a needed photo or graphic.

    But much of this is made up for by the ability to sample books. And now one can even loan certain selected books out to friends.

    Dr. Murray claims to be a libertarian, but I find that to be a misnomer, at least as far as his writings in this book indicate. He has too many thoughts on right behavior and the consequences of bad behavior to be uninvolved in what his neighbors might choose to do. He even takes time in his discourse to defend the Constitution, and puts in a plea for religious training, at least a little.

    I truly believe that many self-described “libertarians” are simply afraid of the uncool conservative label, even if the latter better describes them. One of the main problems is that few are defending the brand. It’s been allowed to be defined by its enemies. And many conservatives themselves — with a nod to Murray regarding the idea of being rigorous — think that being a “conservative” is no more than being a gun nut or going to church regularly.

    One of the best pieces of advice he has to give is to move away from your parents; go out into the real world and get a real job; live on what you earn with no help from mom and dad; discover the needs and aspirations of ordinary people who may live outside your previously insulated existence, people who are not like you. You should discover that you are not the center of the universe and that you can GROW UP AND GET TOUGH.

    Having followed one of my parents into the current business I have, that might be good advice that I never took. But one cautionary note is that Murray’s advice sounds decidedly Californian. I wouldn’t doubt if he also said that one’s goal is to “find oneself” or to “self-actualize” — all the fruity buzzwords of the paisley crowd.

    The older I get the more I understand that my advice is pretty much worthless. I’ve read many motivational and self-help books through the years. And I’ve come to the conclusion that people project out onto the world something that has worked for them and just assume it will work for someone else. But I think rarely is that the case.

    Well, if you get along with your parents, and if you enter into a good family trade, maybe the thing to do is to ditch the hippie mythology of “finding oneself” and instead to take opportunity where you can find it. I’m not defending my own decision. I think I should have taken Murray’s advice. But I’m just saying that my eyes begin to glaze over a bit when I hear someone giving grand advice on how to live.

    Don’t smoke pot. Yes. I’ll tell you how to live in that regard, for a mind is indeed a terrible thing to waste. But whether to become a plumber like your father or to “make a difference” and become a journalistic, I can’t say (although at least the plumber is in the habit of unblocking excrement instead of clogging the airwaves with it).

    Also, I don’t understand the conservative fascination with the movie, “Groundhog Day.” I saw it once and liked it. But it was a fairly formulaic movie. And this coming from a huge Bill Murray fan. Maybe I’ll watch that again and attempt a review.

    By the way, I don’t chew gum anymore and haven’t for years. 🙂

  3. Anniel says:

    Brad, Glad to hear you don’t chew gum anymore but you may have stepped on it. Hard to get off your sole. It’s just that I see so many gum chewing bimboes out there, they make my jaws ache. As a curmudgeon I find it an unattractive habit. In Murray’s defense, he was addressing his remarks to upper crust Ivy League types who think they’re entitled to an immediate fast track to success, and who’ve been given everything by their doting parents. He specifically mentions eschewing the buzz word philosophies of “finding yourself” etc. by the hard work of leaving behind that classes false assumptions and facing the real people of the real world. Sorry I didn’t make that clear.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      In Murray’s defense, he was addressing his remarks to upper crust Ivy League types who think they’re entitled to an immediate fast track to success, and who’ve been given everything by their doting parents.

      Truly, the hard-working American of old has changed into a “consumer.” And in order to consume, one must accumulate money first. Rinse and repeat.

      And I’m all for wealth, comforts, security, and leisure time. But I believe the typical American of today is poisoned with the idea of the expectation of immediate success. And so far, this has worked for many. They go to college, get schooled in things such as “gender studies,” and then present themselves (especially if they are a minority…which, oddly, includes women) to some corporation and they join the ranks of glorified pencil pushers. Government and academia is full of such people, the worst perhaps being in the form of 100 grand per year “diversity administrators.”

      This is one of the bubbles that is going to burst. In my opinion, business has up until this point been able to absorb the costs of the overhead of political correctness. But I don’t know if it can do so forever. We’re already starting to hear, for example, of legions of young people who can’t find a job, and perhaps not just because of the bad economy caused by socialist and Marxist policies. It could be because their diplomas are near worthless.

      I’ve been noting for some time now the dumbed-down nature of the average person. This is something that can’t be helped if you substitute television and pop culture for books and reading (or substitute “gender studies” for real knowledge of the world). This is one reason that books are so central to this site and I’m always pleased to see (read) book reviews.

      I’m glad Murray is not a buzzword guy.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        A friend of mine once wrote a humorous piece that involved an Afriikaner immigrant (experienced in racial classifications from his service to Apartheid) working as such a diversity officer (or whatever it would have been called at the time). And just think, he would even have qualified as “African-American”, though Chris “Captain Ahab” Matthews would probably call me racist for saying that. (Since the piece had references to vrows and kaffirs — it was putatively a letter from the Afrikaner — he would have been even harsher toward the article, once he found someone who could explain the terms to him.)

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Thinking of “diversity” types, Todd Starnes has an article today available on TownHall that discusses the recent Dartmouth case, in which a pair of fraternities/sororities were going to hold a “phiesta” (both have Phi in their title) for charity, and a single unwise Latina (probably as stupid as Red Sonia Sotomayor) whined that this insulted Mexicans. So they canceled the event and apologized for the phantom insult.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    One cannot buy gum in Singapore and it is illegal to bring it into the country. As you may know, Singapore is very strict about litter and in a tropical country, the idea of sticky gum all over the sidewalk is unappealing. So there is a logic to the law.

    But I have always thought the really story was that Lee Kuan Yew must have stepped on some gum one day and couldn’t get it off his shoe. After that, gum was exiled to insure spotless Singaporean sidewalks.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      As you may know, Singapore is very strict about litter and in a tropical country, the idea of sticky gum all over the sidewalk is unappealing. So there is a logic to the law.

      One of the odd things (odd if you are a brainless and gullible person) is that the decades of environmental-wacko programming stuffed into young skulls-full-of-mush hasn’t made the roads and sidewalks any cleaner in America. If anything, things are worse. What gives?

      Well, as conservatives, we know what gives. All that matters concerning environmentalism (for the average person, not the Communists leading the movement) is to think of yourself as a “caring” person. You “care” for the environment. How do we know? Because they said so. So pay no attention to the litter along the side of the road. That’s probably all put there by conservatives.

  5. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Dr. Murray claims to be a libertarian, but I find that to be a misnomer, at least as far as his writings in this book indicate.

    If I recall correctly, Murray was originally a man of the Left. But since evidence means something to him, he has moved right. I suspect, he cannot bring himself to call himself a conservative for this reason.

  6. steve lancaster says:

    Its not so much that he has changed but the left kept moving. If you want to understand Murray’s philosophy than you need to read “Coming Apart; the State of White America”. It is not a Libertarian manifesto but solid, documented social study of what has happened to the two groups that shape our culture, the elite and the poor. If you understand that the Bell Curve was not about race, then you will understand that Coming Apart is about social policy.

    Funny, when libertarians say something conservatives agree with they are quick to say that’s not really libertarian its conservative.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      If you want to understand Murray’s philosophy than you need to read “Coming Apart; the State of White America”. It is not a Libertarian manifesto but solid, documented social study of what has happened to the two groups that shape our culture, the elite and the poor.

      Steve, I don’t think anyone has reviewed that book yet. Perhaps you could volunteer. 😀 I’ll tell you my own bias or point of view going into this subject: All these cries of “income inequality” are fueled by two things:

      1) Marxism
      2) The “income inequality” that always comes from Marxist/socialist policies where you have the government class and then everyone else.

      I’m not disputing what Mr. Murray may be saying in his book. For all I know, he’s saying the same thing. But I wonder if he mentions this all-important element. There are plenty of analysts out there who are telling us the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. But are they perhaps aware that they are forwarding the Marxist worldview by doing so?

      When haven’t there been the ultra-rich? The problem exists, to the point that it does exist, in that Big Government is getting in the way of normal business activity and thus making it harder for everyone to get by and get ahead. And crony capitalism also functions as an impediment to economic growth. The elitists of all types are happy to be amongst the elite rich while decrying that the supposed “gap” between rich and poor is growing.

      I wonder if Murray addresses this. Again, I don’t know. But I am tired of the intellectuals being sometimes useful idiots for the Left by not pointing out these basic dynamics.

      Even Jesus said that the poor would always be among us.

  7. Anniel says:

    Just read an interesting post about Charles Murray on AT. He’s become something of a
    Controversial figure, again, because of the Curmudgeon book. The few remarks about the actual book were to the effect that it was about the “elites” training the lower classes to stay in their place. Not the same book I read. I have to go now and contemplate either the Nicomachean Ethics or my belly button, whichever I find first.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Well, you’re almost double-dog-dare challenging me to read the book. 😀 I’d love to find out if there is an elitist angle to his writing, although your radar seems well-tuned enough, and you didn’t pick up any of that. You may be writing for AT soon, so I’ll not say anything too harsh. But AT has become populated by libertarians of late (at least in the comments section). And that could be behind some of these comments. Libertarians tend to think that if you oppose the legalization of pot (which I do oppose) that you are one of those authoritarian types who want to run everyone’s life to the nth degree. It becomes somewhat spasmodic and hyperventilated thinking.

      But there is no doubt that we are living in a society where the political class (and their hangers-on) conceive of themselves as the caretakers of society and as the rest of us as the serfs to be taken care of and controlled. And the fact is (another conservative truth forthcoming), the more you “caretake” people, the more evidence that such people will give that they need caretaking because they will have learned a certain amount of helplessness and dependency.

      Whether Charles Murray is guilty or not of an elitist attitude is an interesting point. In fact, from your review my own radar picked up some faint hints of that from him. Maybe I will read this, but it’s become a challenge for me these days to get caught up in the intellectual esoterica of such books. It’s, like, I don’t have the brainpower left anymore. 😀

    • steve lancaster says:

      Coming Apart is not about how elites are teaching the lower classes to stay in their place, but how the morals and ethics that used to be common in both groups have changed. Fifty years ago both groups were united in belief of what conservatives call traditional American values.

      Murray suggests that elites after experimenting with drugs, sex and rock and roll have moved away from that and are living in homogenous communities, working in their professions, staying married and sober. Its not that they did not experiment and still do, but in much more moderate amounts.

      The poor on the other hand have lost the concept of hard work to get ahead, marriage, education and self support. One look at the arrest records at your county jail will reinforce this idea.

      Murray says that it is up to the elites to come out of their gated communities and demonstrate what the correct behavior is or the gap will continue to widen.

      Soylent Green then becomes the future.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The nature of the welfare state explains the difference. Working class people can do as well financially by not working and not marrying as they can by behaving properly — provided they don’t mind never improving their lot. (But how many people think in terms of the long run these days? Instant gratification militates against that.) The affluent, however, currently can’t maintain the lifestyle they want without proper behavior, so they experiment occasionally but return to normality sufficiently to keep their place in society.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        The poor on the other hand have lost the concept of hard work to get ahead, marriage, education and self support. One look at the arrest records at your county jail will reinforce this idea.

        Theodore Dalrymple makes plain in his books that the “upper classes” have adopted the attitude of “Who are we to say how the lower classes should live?” It’s multiculturalism, “sensitivity,” and “tolerance” run amok. The lower classes have been abandoned to their vices under the name of liberty or some other dodge.

        No doubt many people who “experimented” (what an odd word….that’s not what they were doing) with drugs made a bargain in their own lives at some point to live in the world instead of getting lost in a fog. This is good. But having gained this wisdom, they are often too shy or too cowardly about passing this wisdom on, thus the libertarian or liberal orientation of many people — although it sounds nice in words — is a disaster for people in practice.

        And this liberal or libertarian orientation has left people to rot in the “lower classes,” at least that is what is happening in England. And that seems clearly to be the case in our country as well. Who are we to tell the blacks in Detroit how to live? Who are we to tell them to stay off drugs, to not do crime, to not have promiscuous sex, and to get an education and to work hard?

        After all, the red diaper doper babies and their progeny did all kinds of “experimenting.” And if we have learned anything from the squishy Left, we are to be “non-judgmental.” That is, it is better to cast adrift the “lower classes” than to hold them to decent and tried-and-true standards — just so long as we do so under the guise of “sensitivity” or “liberty.”

        • Timothy Lane says:

          And remember, those who claim to be “non-judgmental” are in fact the most judgmental in the world — about people’s views and statements. Note the Sterling affair, in which a man showed racist tendencies for decades but was not only accepted but even received awards from the NAACP because he contributed lots of money to them — and then was given the harshest possible punishment over some remarks he uttered in private. (Of course, this is an opportunity for liberal Fascists to create a precedent that can be stretched increasingly to anyone who disputes liberal orthodoxy.)

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            That affair reminds me of that song by Phil Ochs:

            I cheered when Humphrey was chosen
            My faith in the system restored
            I’m glad the commies were thrown out
            of the A.F.L. C.I.O. board
            I love Puerto Ricans and Negros
            as long as they don’t move next door
            So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal

          • Timothy Lane says:

            And now David French has written a silly article on NRO defending the punishment of Sterling. You might like my response.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I just read French’s article and your response.
              I found the article to be a bit silly, but the most stupid phrase French wrote was:

              In other words, Sterling was a racist, discriminatory free-rider on the talents and effort of the very man he wanted excluded from Clippers games.

              Now Sterling may be a racist and appears to be a rather distasteful person and French might be as right as rain there. But the line accusing him of “being a free-rider on the talents and efforts of the very man he wanted to excluded from Clipper game,” could have come out of the mouth of every good little Marxist one could meet. You know, the line about a capitalist profiting on the crushed backs of the workers. The fact that a businessman invests millions and takes risks, means nothing to a fathead such as French.

              This is the depth to which NRO has sunk. Too many of the “writers” there are either Lefties in Drag or lack the power of critical thinking. The rot is all pervasive. This is just more confirmation of the observations in my blog on the debasement of the language.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Good point.

                They’re all becoming silly there. This is why we are here. At least when we are silly we usually mean to be.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                I don’t think I got that far in reading the article. After a while I realized it wasn’t worth the time to read it in full.

  8. steve lancaster says:

    Its not just economic. It is a mindset that sees government as the answer to every problem. Until we can change that mindset there will be chaos.

    It comes down to dad’s rules for a good life in America, not rich but happy and contented.
    1. Get all the education you can
    2. Get a job and keep it
    3. Stay with and married to the parent of your children

    Up until the 1960’s you could scratch any American and they would agree whole hardly that was the route to a good life. Today the rich live in remote communities as do the poor, separate from the people who make the country work.

  9. Anniel says:

    You can get the Nicomachean Ethics on Kindle for $.99. Seems cheaper than a Transcendental Meditation class.

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