Four Thousand Weeks

Oliver Burkeman • 2021

This book wants you to think that it’s a philosophical treatise disguised as a productivity manual; in fact, it’s really a Gladwellian airport book disguised as a philisophical treatise.

I’ll start with what I liked, which was an absolute banger of an introduction! The author presents time as a high modernist concept in the vein of Seeing Like a State ↗; the thesis that time is only recently legible as a concept and due to coordination requirements of capitalism (etc etc) is a great and novel one, and that framing alone was worth the price of admission. (I’m sure such a concept has been covered before; I don’t want to suggest that the framing is novel, but it was a new one to me, and one that was certainly useful.)

The rest of the book though…is basically “productivity is bad because we are all mortal and being more productive won’t get you anywhere, surrounded by a slew of hackneyed anecdotes and quotes.” It fails — repeatedly — the “some scientists say” test. Which is a bummer, because I think the thrust of the book is interesting and useful. This clearly would be a better essay, and it feels like the author wanted to write an essay and then had to throw a hundred pages’ worth of padding in.

My recommendation: buy the book, read the prologue, read the “five suggestions”, skip everything else.

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© 2022 Justin Duke • I hope you're wearing your favorite sweater.