Book review: Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
Burkeman’s ‘subtle, provocative and multi-layered’ book reflects on how to use our allotted time well
“It’s a brilliant title,” said Craig Brown in The Mail on Sunday. Four thousand weeks is the average human lifespan: if you die aged 80, that’s how many weeks you’ll live. Oliver Burkeman’s “subtle, provocative and multi-layered” book begins with this premise – and proceeds to reflect on that intractable conundrum: how to use our allotted time well. Burkeman tells us that he was once a “productivity geek”, forever experimenting with new fixes for making better use of his time, said Marianne Power in The Times. However, he found that dividing his days into 15-minute slots, or striving for “Inbox Zero”, never ushered in the promised “golden era of calm”. He eventually realised that his whole approach was flawed – that time could never be brought under control. There simply wasn’t enough of it, and he wanted to do too many things. In Four Thousand Weeks, he argues that coming to terms with this is a key to finding contentment. It’s “my favourite kind of book”: one that “doesn’t offer magic solutions to life, because there aren’t any”.
Burkeman does, however, propose some useful strategies for coming to terms with life’s “finitude”, said Tim Adams in The Observer. We should acknowledge that “procrastination is unavoidable”. Fomo – fear of missing out – stops being debilitating once you realise that missing out is the “inevitable consequence of one path chosen over another”. We should live in the present, rather than always readying ourselves for a supposedly better future. Burkeman’s tone can be a bit preachy, and he’s rather over-fixated on the evils of email, said Robbie Smith in the London Evening Standard. But overall, his book is an “impressive assault on the crusty canards and pieties” of self-help. Reading it “would be a good use of one of your four thousand weeks”.
Bodley Head 288pp £16.99; The Week Bookshop £13.99
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