Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday Mention: A Book With an Unmentionable Title

Outrageous title aside, this book will make you think about how you treat others and the consequences of your choices.

So, what is the unmentionable title of this mystery book I'm reviewing today? Well, if you're squeamish, turn away now. But if you're bold, here it is. Today's review is for A$$hole: How I Got Rich and Happy by Not Giving a D*mn About Anyone and How You Can, Too.

Now, I hope I don't have to say this, but I will anyway, just to ease your mind. This book isn't meant to be serious. It's tongue-in-cheek satire. In fact, it's very funny as it examines the alarming tendency in our culture to consider character a detriment. The book looks at what happens when we allow people without character to continue their rampages unchecked. Author Martin Kihn succeeds in raising many questions about what we do and why we do it, making us laugh as we examine ourselves and others.

The book is structured as an experiment in which Kihn, a nice guy, decides to act like the title suggests, and see what the outcomes are. Whether he did or not, I'm not sure, but I suspect he tried at least some of the things he writes about. Either that, or he's a creative genius. The reader follows along on Kihn's journey to see if turning into a jerk is going to earn him the promotion that will make him richer and more successful in life.

The use of obscenity in the title is clearly meant to catch your attention. But it also has two very important purposes that justify its use.

First, Kihn is commenting on the business world's way of rewarding jerks on the job, and the idea (an American failing, certainly) that money and success matter more than how we treat other people. He's not alone in his endeavor. In fact, the book has its genesis in a head-turning Harvard Business Review article by Bob Sutton, in which he discusses why it's not worth it to allow jerks to dominate the workplace. Sutton followed his article with a book, The No A$$hole Rule, and that's what Kihn is referring to in his own title. When you pick up his book, you are meant to immediately think of Sutton's work.

Second, obscenity is a tool that some people use as a bludgeon against others, a point that Kihn brings out clearly in the course of the book. It's a point that needs to be made, and Kihn does it adroitly. At no point did the obscenity become excessive. It takes a needed backseat to other issues that the author wants to address.

For one, what is our obsession with self-help books, if not to find ways to obtain success in the world? But at what cost? If you have to sacrifice your ability to consider the needs of others, then maybe that self-help book isn't helpful after all. If you have any familiarity with the genre, you'll have at least one book in mind that suggests you compromise your morality. If you're not, Kihn provides a few that definitely fit the bill, including Machiavelli's The Prince, the writings of Friedrick Nietzsche, and the books of Ayn Rand.

For another, why do we allow jerks to have their way and run rampant in society? After all, no one likes their bad behavior. But we often put up with it. Kihn examines others can be demeaned and intimidated into silence. How they feel powerless. How they avoid rather than confront, because confrontation rarely seems to work with these problem people. And how whole organizations can refuse to act, instead of getting rid of the bad guy.

Obviously, jerk behavior (as I call it) has its own rewards of a sort for the person engaging in it. And nice guy behavior can have its detriments. The question you are led to ask yourself, if you're a thoughtful reader, is this: What do I value? And am I willing to act on those values, regardless of the cost? In the end, Kihn makes his choice, and he lives with it. That's the ultimate point for all of us.

Bottom line: Read this book. Don't worry about the title. There's not that much cursing. The book is funny. It will make you laugh. And it will make you think about how you treat others, and the motives behind what you do.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


  1. Sounds interesting. My library didn't have this book, but it did have others by the author, so I requested them.

  2. That's probably the worst book title I've ever heard. :)

  3. HK, I think you'll like his stuff. He is very good at writing humor. You'll have to let me know what you think after you read him.

    Bob, I tell you what. It's a unique title, that's for sure. :)


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