Audiobook: 12 Rules for Life – by Jordan B. Peterson

To hear me read this review, check out episode 530 of the Spiritblade Underground Podcast, go to timestamp 30:17.

Dr. Jordan Peterson, for those of you who don’t know, is a Canadian clinical psychologist, cultural critic, and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. His main areas of study are the psychology of religious and ideological belief, and the assessment and improvement of personality and performance.

Christians: Some discernment is in order

The reason I’m reviewing this non-fiction book on my mostly christian geek blog, is that this book, among others, has a definite spiritual viewpoint. The author speaks about god (little ‘g’ because I don’t know which god he actually means), references the bible frequently and believes in judeo-christian values, but also explores some buddhist and new age concepts, some Jungian ideas and goes back to religious and spiritual archetypes that date back to ancient civilizations and religions. The book has an overall gnostic aspect to it that I can’t exactly place my finger on but is definitely there.

This audiobook is narrated by the author himself and will take you 15 hours and 39 minutes to finish.

Publisher’s Summary

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of 12 Rules for Life, written and read by Jordan B. Peterson.

What are the most valuable things that everyone should know? Acclaimed clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has influenced the modern understanding of personality, and now he has become one of the world’s most popular public thinkers, with his lectures on topics from the Bible to romantic relationships to mythology drawing tens of millions of viewers.

In an era of unprecedented change and polarising politics, his frank and refreshing message about the value of individual responsibility and ancient wisdom has resonated around the world.

In this book, he provides 12 profound and practical principles for how to live a meaningful life, from setting your house in order before criticising others to comparing yourself to who you were yesterday, not someone else today. Happiness is a pointless goal, he shows us. Instead we must search for meaning, not for its own sake but as a defence against the suffering that is intrinsic to our existence.

Drawing on vivid examples from his clinical practice and personal life, cutting-edge psychology and philosophy, and lessons from humanity’s oldest myths and stories, Peterson takes the listener on an intellectual journey like no other. Gripping, thought-provoking and deeply rewarding, 12 Rules for Life offers an antidote to the chaos in our lives: eternal truths applied to our modern problems.

©2018 Jordan B. Peterson (P)2018 Penguin Books Ltd

My thoughts: Food for thought, inspite of the commercial title

This book has the same feel as Peterson’s lectures; it’s organized in logical and easy-to-follow yet worth-listening-to-again chapters. I have listened to 90% of the author’s online lectures and watched many of his interviews, so I was expecting a lot of rehashing of his older material. Which in part is true, and yet this book still offers more insight, even to the seasoned interview-listener and lecture-watcher. I guess that is because in his lectures Peterson has a different goal, to educate his students on their way to their PhD’s, so he presents his points in different order and highlights different things. And in his interviews he (understandably) often offers a limited number of roughly the same main points, not quite oneliners but close.
This book, differently organized and ordered by 12 life rules, really offers new insights on top of his known material, inviting you to comtemplate them at your leisure – as long as you’re honest about yourself (or at least are not lying).

I particularly enjoyed his analyses of several well-known fairytales. I’d heard his elaborate analysis of Pinocchio in his lectures before, plus short insights into Sleeping Beauty and Hansel & Gretel, but this time he shortens Pinocchio and dives deeper into the other two. Plus the Little Mermaid and some others.

Below: the first of Peterson’s three (long) lectures in which he analyses Pinocchio to provide a specific example of the manner in which great mythological or archetypal themes inform and permeate narrative. 

I really wish Peterson would write a book in which he explores many more of the old fairy tales we all know and love! “12 Fairytales to Remember” or some such; I would immediately buy such a book, his analyses of those are astonishingly insightful.

Narration: passion and emotion

I almost always like it when an author narrates his own work, for the author knows exactly what he wanted to say through his specific sentences and chapters, and will accentuate and highlight the words and phrases he wants to emphasize. Peterson does that very well, and makes sure that we know exactly what he thinks about certain issues – “and that’s that!” That in itself does not necessarily earn it five stars from me. What was truly unique about Peterson’s reading however, is his emotion. After all, this is not a novel; I don’t expect any deep emotion while listening to non-fiction, other than, perhaps, some light humor. But in 4-5 different moments in the book, the author is deeply moved by what I suspect are his own memories, sometimes painful and sometimes very beautiful and touching. It must have been his conscious choice not to edit those narrated passages out and re-do them, but to leave the more emotional readings in as they are.
A unique choice, that took some getting used to; for me it sometimes bordered on cringe, especially when I could not follow him into that same emotion – for instance when his emotion was evoked not by a personal memory but by an abstract concept such as “what is the meaning of life” or some such.

Coda: Gnostic tendencies

His coda at the end is of a different tone. Peterson quotes the bible a lot but as far as I can see he’s not a born-again christian. He seems to treat the bible as a precious book of wisdom, not the Word of the living God. I suspect it’s all a bit Jungian in that it’s a mix of New Age concepts, gnosticism, buddhism and several other spiritual influences, even some freemasonry; together with, of course, psychological, historical and cultural insights. It’s this odd mixture that made it different from the entire rest of the book, and for me personally was the least insightful as gnosticism, New Age, freemasonry etc. mostly bring confusion instead of wisdom (imho; n=1).

Recommendation

In conclusion, I really liked the book and will most likely be repeat-listening to it regularly – especially for the psychological insights. I am also looking forward to the sequel, which the author has announced in the media he’s seriously contemplating – as apparently he has in fact 40 rules for life and these were only the first 12 🙂