Book Review: How to Be Free

I came across a reference to Tom Hodgkinson’s How to Be Free recently and of course based on the title I knew I wanted to read it.  Yet after finishing the book I have a hard time wrapping my head around some of his chapters as some were bloody well brilliant and others show an ignorance so profound I nearly stopped reading the book entirely.

Overall Tom offers some excellent advise on being more free like embrace thrift and lower your expenses, get rid of your debt and pay off your mortgage (or avoid getting one in the first place).  Then he spends a lot of book dealing with many of the issues of freedom that exist solely in our heads.  While somewhat obvious, this is something we can forget.  We chain ourselves down in obligations and activities that we don’t enjoy and then complain about them.  Well stop hitting yourself on the head and stop doing those things or change our mind about them…obvious when you think about it but in some cases we need a bit of a reminder.

As an example of the philosophy elements of the book that I liked he talked a bit about chores and one that personally hit home to me was his point about housework.  It’s only a chore if you want it to be one.  If you lower your standards just a touch to accept not doing a perfect job and attempt to make it a bit more enjoyable by listening to music or doing it with others it can be something that isn’t nearly as bad as some people make it out to be.

Then in a few chapters I literally shook my head in disgust on the man’s ignorance.  For example, in chapter 22 he talks about pensions and points out that people who sell them often use fear to sell you their product and that money managers can make lots of money off of your money (in fees) which are true.  But then his solution for this is to forget about a pension entirely. PARDON?!?!?  He offer the following as solutions: keep working, own a home and use that equity to live on or just give up on saving anything and put your fate in God’s hands (aka: depend on your family, friends and neighbours in your old age).  Dear me, what a bloody stupid idea.  Let’s forget about tomorrow and assume I can work forever and hope my house is worth enough to pay for some kind of period of not working in your old age.  Or worse yet do nothing and depend on fate to cover my ass.  Then again that sounds an awful like most boomers retirement plans, but that is another story entirely.

The only other thing that drove me a bit nuts is his excess use of comparing middle ages Catholic approach to life (which was a bit more carefree) to the Protestant norm (think stiff upper lip and belief that work is good) that now exists in England.  While cover it once was a useful insight to the English mindset and you can even easily extrapolate that to North American views, he goes back to it over and over again in the book.

Yet his financial advice is down right dangerous in some cases.  The author clearly points out that he is often in overdraft for his bank account and he doesn’t keep much (if any?) savings.  This obviously can also be a barrier to freedom as you can often relieve a lot of worry in your head just by having a bit of saving for when life tosses you a curve ball (something breaks, insurance claim, or job layoff).  I’ve mocked his point about pensions already, so I won’t beat that dead horse.

So yes I agree with much of the advice in this book which is nicely summed up on the back of the edition I borrowed from the library: life is absurd, be merry, be free.  I would add just don’t forget to put some money side of the world and you will be just fine.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: How to Be Free”

  1. I came home from work yesterday to a super clean house. Youngest son was off school and apparently decided to spend some of his time cleaning. Win! Oldest son does the dishes every night while watching streaming TV. My Xmas present to myself was a new floor washing robot.

    Hmm, have been thinking about writing a post about existentialism lately (just cuz it’s tangentially related to my novel).

    My guess is I’d prefer Viktor Frankl’s view of existentialism and meaning than Hodgkinson’s – Frankl didn’t require particular circumstances to exist in order to choose an attitude of freedom. But I do remember enjoying the Idler type of writing more when I was younger. Then you start paying a ton of taxes for these other people to be idle and… it just gives you the grasshopper / ant feeling. 😛 Nothing wrong with embracing your inner ant though.

  2. Hmmm….in my case I couldn’t be merry and free (my current state) without a fair chunk of change sitting in my accounts compounding away…but that’s just me.

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