To state it upfront: How to Live is a book which can hardly be overrated. It is full of wisdom, packed even more densely with insights than Dereks’ previous writings.
The title of the book asks one of the most important questions of life – maybe the single most important one –, and it implies that the book sets out to answer this question.
Instead of answering the titles’ question, however, the book presents us with twenty-one ways how to live. Each of the 21 short chapters explains how to live a life according to a certain guiding principle. It describes how to live in complete accordance with that principle, to adhere to it with the utmost consequence.
But: All of the 21 ways to live are completely incompatible with each other, due to their conflicting guiding principles.
So does this book answer the question posed in its title? No. Instead, it presents possibilities. Every single chapter is convincing and persuading, yet every one is completely different than any other.
To me, the core statement of this book is that there are no definite answers, at least not to the really important questions of life. We humans yearn for answers, for recipes, for certainty – yet at some point, everybody has to face the fact that there are no simple, universal answers to the truly important questions. Life is contradictory, often messy, rarely proceeding along a straight line. And, most important: Each life is absolutely individual, and everyone has to find his own answers.
Just as remarkable as the books’ content is its form. It is incredibly dense. Derek somehow manages to picture the different ways to live in often not more than three or four pages. Most sentences are very short, often fitting on a single line, and new sentences always start on the next line. His writing is never pleasing, but always sharp and to the point, and with “How to Live” he has perfected his style. To me, it is supremely elegant.
Two quotes come to my mind when thinking of “How to Live”:
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It seems to me that this was Dereks’ personal guiding principle in writing this book.
The second one is by Michelangelo: “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” I can imagine how Derek spent hours and hours chiseling away the superfluous words, finally achieving something which comes very close to the perfection as it is defined in the quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry above.
Making a point using many words is easy; making a point using very few words is exceedingly difficult. Derek has succeeded in every aspect.
If you have not read the book yet, buy it and read it, immediately. Then, after some time, read it again, and again.