(2/5 stars) I don’t finish very many lousy books; I’m selective about what I read in the first place, and if I don’t like a book, I’ll put it down. The 4-Hour Workweek was an exception. Despite having serious issues with the book, I hung on because I hear about it on nearly a daily basis, and because there were occasional jewels. It is those jewels that get the book a second star, but make no mistake: this book is mostly a fraud.
With a title like “The 4-Hour Work Week”, you know Ferriss is selling snake oil. Just picking the book up off the shelf requires saying to yourself, “I know I’m about to be defrauded, but what the hell.” We want so badly to believe what the author is promising, we pick it up anyway. If the problem was just a punchy title, the book might be tolerable, but there are hundreds of these moments throughout. You’ll be part of the “New Rich”; with a couple weeks of setup, you’ll have a business that turns high profits with zero work; you’ll quickly and easily outsource your entire life to a virtual private assistant in India; you’ll improve your productivity X% by following this one simple tip; you’ll keep a good job and live like a king, while never needing to attend another meeting or talk to another human being again. If you’re a reasonably intelligent person, an inner voice should be telling you “it can’t be that easy”, but you have to squelch that voice in order to keep reading.
Although Ferriss goes to great lengths to insist he is ethical, his is a strange brand of ethics and values. He advocates all manner of deception to shirk work. He advocates advertising and selling products that don’t actually exist yet, to test a market. That’s great for the reader–sitting on a lawn chair on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, saving himself time–but not so great for deceived customers who waste their own precious time placing product orders that the company will, regrettably, be unable to fulfill. Ferriss tells his readers how to become recognized “experts” on anything in a few weeks, by reading one or two books on a given subject and then gathering worthless but impressive-sounding credentials and landing mutually reinforcing interviews as a subject-matter expert. But don’t worry–he explains how this is not actually deceptive. As for the products Ferriss sells and advocates, they reflect a similar concern for quality. Ferriss made his first fortune on an unscientific sports supplement he called a “neural accelerator, marketed infomercial-style by experts… probably of the same pedigree just discussed. Oh, and if you dig around on the net, you’ll find plenty of discussion suggesting that Tim is outright lying to his readers about the business’ profitability. And if you’re still not convinced that the promise of a “four hour work week” is snake oil, check out the bitter reviews written by people who carefully followed his formula to get a “four hour body.”
Ferriss also seems to have a deep disdain for most people, and his entire model is built around minimizing or eliminating human contact in the workplace. If you actually like the people you work with, or feel that taking genuine interest in your coworkers’ lives is a human responsibility and virtue, this book isn’t for you.
What makes all this so unfortunate is that Ferriss really does have something to offer: passion and vision for living a wonderful and unconventional life. Most of us are capable of achieving far more than we dream of, and Tim is an excellent coach for pursuing dreams and overcoming fears. These sections of the book were excellent. He’s also really onto something, when laying out the math of how affordable foreign travel can be. Finally, the book has some genuinely good suggestions for increased productivity.
It’s too bad that to find these jewels, the reader has to slog through hundreds of pages of oversold promises about easy riches. I won’t tell you not to read this book, but before you fall under Ferriss’ spell, go pick up an issue of “Entrepreneur” magazine and a couple biographies of business leaders. You’ll find inspiring stories about people who took control of their lives, but you’ll also find sweat, tears, and a hell of a lot of work.