Book Review: Trying Not To Try


Publisher’s Description: 

In Trying Not To Try, Edward Slingerland explains why we find spontaneity so elusive, and shows how early Chinese thought points the way to happier, more authentic lives. We’ve long been told that the way to achieve our goals is through careful reasoning and conscious effort. But recent research suggests that many aspects of a satisfying life, like happiness and spontaneity, are best pursued indirectly. The early Chinese philosophers knew this, and they wrote extensively about an effortless way of being in the world, which they called wu-wei (ooo-way). They believed it was the source of all success in life, and they developed various strategies for getting it and hanging on to it. 
With clarity and wit, Slingerland introduces us to these thinkers and the marvelous characters in their texts, from the butcher whose blade glides effortlessly through an ox to the wood carver who sees his sculpture simply emerge from a solid block. Slingerland uncovers a direct line from wu-wei to the Force in Star Wars, explains why wu-wei is more powerful than flow, and tells us what it all means for getting a date. He also shows how new research reveals what’s happening in the brain when we’re in a state of wu-wei—why it makes us happy and effective and trustworthy, and how it might have even made civilization possible. 
Through stories of mythical creatures and drunken cart riders, jazz musicians and Japanese motorcycle gangs, Slingerland effortlessly blends Eastern thought and cutting-edge science to show us how we can live more fulfilling lives. Trying Not To Tryis mind-expanding and deeply pleasurable, the perfect antidote to our striving modern culture.


I didn’t get this book at all. I had to TRY to keep reading in order to get through it, and yet paragraph after paragraph, I couldn’t figure out what the author was trying to say.  It’s a mishmash of Taoist-Confucionist thought with attempts to make it all seem scientific. But the book does not deliver on the promise of the subtitle (“The power of spontaneity”), and the stories were simply weird, with very little applicability to everyday life.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.