By Aaron Elias
Jordan Peterson, the author of Twelve Rules for Life, is a University of Toronto Professor, former Harvard Lecturer, and seasoned clinical psychologist. He has recently been at the forefront of several controversies in Canada and a viral interview with the United Kingdom’s Cathy Newman on Channel 4 news. His cultural criticisms against Canada’s Bill C-16 that legally required individuals to use gender pronouns or face criminal charges sparked many protests and anti-protests. Jordan Peterson now is “internet famous” with almost a million subscribers on youtube, several appearances on major podcasts such as Joe Rogan’s, and consistently sells out Toronto theaters for his biblical lecture series.
Peterson also just came out with a new book, Twelve Rules For Life, released on January 23rd the book and immediately jumped to the top of the Amazon bestseller list, still holding the number three position as of March 13th. The book was originally 42 rules for life on an online forum, Quora, where it had over a hundred thousand comments. To write the book Peterson reduced it to twelve upon which he expanded.
I am in Jordan Peterson’s main demographic of followers: a young man aged 18-27, I have watched roughly 30 plus hours of his online lectures. Peterson also frequents many of the podcasts that I listen to so I am quite familiar with his content. There are many reviews of his book coming out, but I have yet to see a review of it done by one of his followers. So I have chosen to do a review of his newest book to give the perspective of a fan.
Twelve Rules For Life is a book that might at first appear to be a tacky motivational self-help book found on the lurid shelves of your local Walmart, but I assure you it is much more than that. Peterson’s book is chock-full of practical wisdom for those who have not yet figured out how to get their lives together, yet some of it may seem too obvious to people that are currently put together and successful. This may be anecdotal, but I have personally watched a friend turn his life around in part because of Peterson and his book was the first thing he had read in almost four years.
An example of practical advice that can be found in the new work is, “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” This seems like an absurdly obvious advice to living. But Peterson then expounds on his advice with a whole chapter on hierarchy. His explanation of hierarchy includes a drawn-out analysis of the evolutionary biology of lobsters and their programmed hierarchy that we apparently also share. While it seems like a silly way of dispensing advice, backed up with expert knowledge though, the advice is motivating.
Peterson’s other tools of motivation to follow his rules for life routinely stem from his favorite philosophers and voices in literature. The list authors he references include Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Carl Jung, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and many others. By including bites from these many authors he sometimes makes outstandingly convicting arguments for you to take the world more seriously and follow his advice. He is only convincing sometimes though because his philosophical examples can get so stratified that they can feel rather empty. In more places than not, I wanted more, but it is already a fairly large work at 370 pages for a life advice book that is directed at a large audience.
Another major fault I find with it is that his writing style changes so much throughout the book. In some places, it gets moderately dense and feels like a high-level periodical, but then Peterson will jump into an unsettlingly casual conversation with you and use informal words like “feels,” in conversation. The change in prose is so dramatic and abrupt that it gave me chills when I read it. When he writes in his style of “how the kids talk,” it feels so dead on accurate to the modern 14-year-old of the day that it makes me think I am reading my little sisters Tumblr posts. I really wish Peterson would just only write from a stance of a Professor’s authority or try and write the whole book with that kind of accessible language.
There are also countless biblical references in Peterson’s book. Peterson prides himself at psychological analysis of the Bible and he treats it like literature. As a Christian, this makes me wary because he does not point to the stories being fact, to the solemnity of Christ, or acknowledge if he is actually a Christian himself. Although, he does seem to treat the Bible as though it is one of the most, if not the most important texts the West has to offer. Carl Young also seems to fall into this trap and Peterson brings him up often. My advice to Christians is also to be wary of anything that may seem heretical.
If you want to explore Being with a capital B, and understanding how to live a meaningful life of value this book does it on a very practical level. Peterson is trying to launch individuals into a meaningful life by getting them to a place where they can determine what is valuable to spend time on. Everyone needs a starting point, even if that starting point is just to organize your room before you organize your life as Peterson suggests. Twelve Rules for Life will drag readers to a point where they can possibly start a valuable life. Although, at points, you may feel like Peterson is trying to rewrite the Bible.