Buchholz, Todd. (2011). Rush: Why You Need and Love the Rat Race. Penguin Books Ltd.: New York.
You get an immediate impression of this book in the Preface – if you’re the kind of person that reads over a Preface before starting into a book (I do; some might find it to be a bad habit, full as it is of spoilers and background details). The Preface title is “I Made a Mistake” and in it, Todd explains that the book is not what he originally intended it to be. His ideas used to be based around the needless, mindless, materialistic running around that is so endemic to our North American society and working styles. In time, the book became a rebellion against the idea that busy is bad, relaxation is good. By critically examining the facts, Todd suggests that our path to happiness as humans is by pushing ourselves in our careers and working lives to achieve, succeed, and excel.
Todd defends his thesis by explaining the many ways in which human beings are hardwired to be busy – through our basic urge to compete against others for resources and pass on our genetic and material valuables to kith and kin, as well as the flood of hormones that we experience when working on a mentally and physically engaging task. Throughout the book, Todd suggests that people pushing for ‘stress- and work-free’ lifestyles are misleading and outright wrong. Work-life balance is important, he argues, but not having any meaningful work slows down our mental, emotional, and physical state as human beings.
Todd should know; his career has involved working as a White House adviser, hedge fund manager, and economics teacher at Harvard (Todd Buchholz, 2014; Wikipedia article). As well as writing for newspapers, appearing on television, and acting as keynote speaker at events, he has also written other books including New Ideas from Dead Economists, New Ideas from Dead CEOs, Bringing the Jobs Home, Market Shock, and From Here to Economy (Todd Buchholz, 2014; Wikipedia article).
I like that this book provides one key idea at the beginning of each chapter which essentially summarizes what will be emphasized, with examples (drawn from a diverse range of subjects including history, philosophy, economics, and sociology), throughout that chapter. This is a common technique used in textbooks and is thought to enhance student learning. Consequently, the book feels like a textbook even though Todd’s admittedly humorous writing had me giggling through every single chapter. It was an easy way to learn and think deeply about the nature of work.
For me, this book took on special meaning because I’m currently not working to full capacity and – even though I’m able to lounge around in my pajamas til noon if I want to – I am not ‘happy’ in this state of ‘freedom’. In chapter 6 of Rush, Todd reflects on what happens when masses of people are unemployed and outlines the psychological impacts that people suffer when they are laid off in large numbers (the title of that section is cleverly entitled: There’s a Reason It’s Called a Depression).
I did find that Todd occasionally ranted on to prove a point against a breed of people he refers to as “Edenists” (i.e. people who believe that a world full of no work, perfect cooperation between all humans, and no economic system would be a joyous state of being. They also believe that this fantasy world is achievable). I think that his treatment of this subject came across as somewhat right-leaning and inflexible. He oversimplifies the multifaceted impacts – to the environment, to human health, to our level of global connectivity – of our current economic system.
This book is a valuable read for anyone thinking about the nature of work and its relatedness to human happiness. Todd offers one (admittedly opinionated) perspective that can be taken into account by the reader when considering their work-life balance, career choices, and retirement plans.