Tim Ferriss is a hustler and a cheat. These days, this is admirably referred to as marketing geniuuus. Why these behaviors become acceptable when they’re done at scale is debatable, but probably due to rampant consumerism, a poor understanding of capitalism, and the secretly held notion that if one must be tricked, let it be by an elaborate trick that plays on universally justifiable desires (money, family, safety, appearance). Because nobody wants to spend too long shamefully explaining why and how they were outwitted. OK, now we can talk about books.
The Book Review
As if you didn’t already know from The Internet, The Four-Hour Body (FHB) is the second book by Tim Ferriss, and is somewhat of a sequel to his fairly popular Four-Hour Workweek. Two different arenas, one equation: thinking outside the box yields unexpectedly reliable and portable success. One book is for time and money, the other for appearances and health. Here is the advertised list of problems FHB will fix:
- How to prevent fat gain while bingeing (X-mas, holidays, weekends)
- How to increase fat-loss 300% with a few bags of ice
- How Tim gained 34 pounds of muscle in 28 days, without steroids, and in four hours of total gym time
- How to sleep 2 hours per day and feel fully rested
- How to produce 15-minute female orgasms
- How to triple testosterone and double sperm count
- How to go from running 5 kilometers to 50 kilometers in 12 weeks
- How to reverse “permanent” injuries
- How to add 150+ pounds to your lifts in 6 months
- How to pay for a beach vacation with one hospital visit
I know it looks like it’s falling apart at the end and I’m making fun, but that’s the real list. And “that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
- FHB reads well (for me) – This is because it reads like — and, to some degree, is — a collection of blog posts. Clearly dressed up, but tastes the same. That’s not a bad thing, either; the book is supposed to be easily digestible. If it was any less straightforward, Tim couldn’t have written it.
- Tim’s not half bad at supplements – Tim covers diet, exercise, and supplements. Of those three, if I had to pick a Jeopardy topic, I’d pick supplements. He’s name-dropped most of the currently accepted and speculatively exciting supplements.
- In general, good fundamentals – The first few chapters cover some pretty respectable advice. Of course, I can say this because this isn’t the first place I’ve encountered it, but nevertheless, the diet and exercise basics are sound. Kettlebells, legumes, slowing down your eating, drinking more water, walking after meals, lots of stuff that you’ve probably heard here and there if you’ve ever made a conscious effort to get/stay healthy.
- Dude frequently takes it too far – Go back and read that summary list again. Now imagine each of those items is the endpoint of some reasonable bit of advice. It may be true, but it’s borderline dangerous to test. Plus there’s almost a hint of boasting/him daring you to try. It’s either that or a brief handwave that if you do all of the things in the book together, in the combination that works best for you, you’ll enjoy aforementioned effect.
- Bad science – There’s a line in the beginning of the book where he says that he’ll teach you how to recognize the bad science and bad advice. Then the rest of the book is 10:1 anecdotes to academia. Granted, anecdotes are much less dry, if a bit predictable in favoring Tim’s practices, but they are not science and they definitely remind me of Jenny Craig.
- Bay Area references – This is really minor, as the two points above really summarize my complaints about the content, but Tim mentions specific restaurants and specific locations in the Bay Area all throughout the book. Part of me thinks he or his editor wanted “stories” and so they needed to make the setting real. He mentions various alcohols by name, too. The book is probably better for it, but it seems very overt to me and makes me wonder how residents around the country will read it. Does it add mystique? Or does it alienate?
Well, I know that I will be trying out a few techniques. I’ve always been interested in maximizing health and minimizing work (hence the supplement research). Lately I’ve eased up on the last objective, so it’s a good time to try new things.
But is it a good book? Is it the health book for you? All in all, I would say that if you can ignore some of the insanity and focus on the message, it could be worth the $14, provided you are already pretty interested in this type of thing. That way, you have a bit of healthy skepticism and previous understanding in the area. It’s clearly written and organized and it incorporates a lot of modern knowledge in one spot. Still, I would not say it is a safe or engaging first step and it does not offer any replacement for discipline and motivation. I can definitely say that without those, this book is just as worthless as the others. If you think that you’d like the book, give me a shout and I can lend you my copy.
Ending, as we started, on the author: in my eyes, just as TV infomercial presenters gain a certain kind of celebrity, so has our Mr. Ferriss. The information presented in the book is indelibly his; it bears his all-too-direct marketing stamp, his signature form of enthusiastic and confident misinformation. While reading, try not to think about him too hard; you’ll probably just make yourself sad.