*A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead*, by Charles Murray

I enjoyed this book, and I recommend that you get it for your kid.  Here is one bit of many:

Good help is hard to find.  Really hard to find.  Sure, there are lots of people with the right degrees and résumés, but the kind of employee we yearn for sticks out almost immediately.

You can buy the book here.


'but the kind of employee we yearn for'

Well, that is why god created graduate students - they beat empoloyees hands down,

Graduate students are there in order to differentiate themselves.

I thought integration was the goal of the modern workplace?

You are playing to stereotype, Tyler, when you underscore your recommendation that we get a book for our kids by quoting a line about how hard it will be for them to find good employees.

Heck, my kids seem to have this figured out. They have two devoted employees on call 24/7, willing to tend to their every beck and whim. And not only do they not demand overtime pay & benefits, they actually pay dearly for the right.

Ha ha! Reminds me of the book on the psychology of dogs which starts with: "the dog is the most effective parasite produced by evolution."

I think you can argue that the subtext of that advice is, "Work on becoming 'good help.'" At least, that was how I read it.

Well, sure it is. I don't care where you went to college or what you know, you'll start out by helping other people do their jobs. And you'll probably do that for the rest of your life, but the people you're helping will be older, richer, and more knowledgeable. Work on becoming good help.

My dad used to have a small business, and after reading Don Lancaster's book about starting your own business one piece of advice he really agreed with in that book (Incredible Secret Money Machine) was to avoid needing to hire anybody. Whatever it is, try to do it all yourself.

Excellent advice. Adam Smith once wrote a great book on this, in which he explained that specialization was what made nations poorer. I think of his wise guidance every time I make pins at home.

And yet...most places I've worked at have had a fence around them, and every place where a fence was feasible. So, there is a balance.

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Perhaps there's more to a person's life than acquiring the largest pile of pins?

Ha ha. Obviously this advice doesn't scale, but it is very good advice for successfully launching a business in many sectors.

There's a term for living the self sufficient life: poverty.

"Whatever it is, try to do it all yourself."

There's a reason that most American billionaires minted this century can program.

'Marry young and marry someone religious?' I know that would not have been a recipe for my own happiness.

Not trying to be off-topic. According to the Amazon reviews, this a central piece of advice from the book.

While I'm young, or when the other person is young?

Marry for money the first time, and then for love the subsequent times.

Should be marry for love the subsequent time. Singular.
Unless your love is also following the same strategy.

How do you know if you did not try it?

I think the problem with this is that it is CM's recipe for society's good. Not necessarily for each individual's happiness. I suspect he is trying to pass one off as the other.

The book advise sounds like young high achievers are too ambitious in life at the cost of areas of their life. Also sounds like advise for a tight labor market of the late 1960s versus the modern global economy as well. It is hard for me to tell my (pre-teen) kids that they should not mostly focus on their careers for the next 15 years.

It's a fallacy to think you can't get married because you have to "focus on your career".

In the old days people got married in large part so that they could focus on their careers. It in theory brings stability, partnership, longer term thinking, etc. -- it's hard to focus on your career when you are in a string of emotionally burdensome, barely attached sexual relationships, for example.

In recent years, some Christian parenting advisers have noted that if parents tell their children that they 1) should only have sex within marriage and 2) should not get married until they are through college and established in their careers. They point out that this is expecting young people to wait until they are in their mid-20s to have sex, and that this is perhaps a little unrealistic and even probably not terribly emotionally wise. So parents like myself have left behind the idea that older is automatically better when it comes to marriage. Also, we have a generation of people who did wait to get married (or more), and that didn't turn out very well for a lot of them. I know a lot of women who waited until they were 25 to think about getting married, and are now in their 30s and still looking. Your peer group narrows as you get older, normally, until you pretty much hang out with the folks you work with.

+1 to Cliff and Marie

Met an 80 year old lady the other day that had been married at the age of 14. She said it was the scandal of the neighborhood. She and her original husband are still happily married.

For generations, the Irish married late because they couldn't afford the children. The most Irish man I knew in the US saved his money, and bought and paid off and furnished his house before marrying. By that point he wasn't old but quite set in his ways. Irascibile, to put it kindly. The marriage was a short one.

+1 to Cliff and Marie

With the caveat that I'm not sure if the original poster was saying that his 10 year-old should focus on his career until he's 25 (i.e., that he was basically saying "stay in school"), which isn't so crazy as focusing on his career for 15 years after entering it at 23 or 28. That's basically saying "don't have kids." Maybe that was your intent, but it's odd advice to give your children.

Does anyone (once they've left the influence of college) really expect their career to be their primary source of happiness? An important complement to your life, yes, but defining yourself by whether or not you make partner at the accountancy is setting up for a harried, lonely, miserable existence.

And to Marie's point, you probably want to make your plans gender aware.

I'm not saying you shouldn't care about your career. I'm saying that if you care about your career to the exclusion of your other goals, you will end up with a poor outcome on your other goals. And that I think many high-achievers wind up thinking that their career is their reason for existing, because after all, you get praise for grades and getting into a good school and getting that offer, but nobody praises you for dating smartly or attracting great people or being marriageable or caring about your fitness if you aren't on a school team.

Fun stuff here. Regarding Finch, hope it's not bad form to mention Clay Christensen's "How Will You Measure Your Life", but I liked it.

The title of the book is "... getting ahead," not "... happiness."

That line alone made me cancel my pre-order of the book two weeks ago.

"I enjoyed this book, and I recommend that you get it for your kid."

This sounds like a backhanded compliment. It's like saying, "I loved this movie, and I'm going to start turning it on for my dog when he's home alone."

"the kind of employee we yearn for sticks out almost immediately."

Do most people believe this? I thought that making good hiring decisions was one of the hardest things in the world. Sure, it's easy to tell who's bright and enthusiastic, but the bright and enthusiastic can be horrible employees in the long run.

Well, yes and no. It takes 10,000 hours, and once some combination of the student, the parents, and the taxpayer have paid to have that behind them, then they stick out immediately.

I still find it humorous how my previous employer stated they needed their employees to be more entrepreneurial. Kind of how a relative's employer told them they need to be more innovative, so my ultra-type-A relative LITERALLY put "Innovate" at 8:00 a.m. on their calendar.

But if someone can recognize this and it is scalable without us having to spend 2 decades in signaling programs I'd love to see it.

I thought the sentence was meant to be a post-hoc realization about someone already hired.

Yes, I agree.

"the bright and enthusiastic can be horrible employees in the long run." Aye, soon enough they stop doing what you tell them. Only good employers can cope with that fruitfully.

You're right. I'm a sloppy reader today.

Has Charles Murray ever had a real job? Has he ever had to hire and fire someone? He is a thinker and a writer and a researcher. These jobs are very atypical of the types of jobs that millions of people engage in, and I'm not sure why we should look at his advice on this subject.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. " - TRoose

What a blowhard.

For the avoidance of doubt, I mean that TRoose was a blowhard.

Has Barack Obama ever had a real job? Has he ever had to hire and fire someone? He is a thinker and a writer and a politician These jobs are very atypical of the types of jobs that millions of people engage in, and I’m not sure why we should look at his advice on this subject. ;)

Well he just fired Sebelius.

6 years too late.

In the realm of Airport Advice Books: Has Malcolm Gladwell ever had a real job? Has Steve Levitt? Has Michael Lewis? Has Daniel Kahneman? Nate Silver was a spreadsheet jockey for a couple of years.

What is a real job, anyway? Which job qualifies me to talk about having a job? I DON'T KNOW THESE SECRET RULES

+1. I am tired of this "real job" stuff.

I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it!

Nate Silver worked at KPMG while he built his baseball model for fun. I worked splitting wood and bailing hay on a farm it it's a picnic compared to working the salt mines of the big four accounting firms.

Michale Lewis worked at Salomon Brothers for 4 years

This is a subtext to this, notably, that exceptional help is really hard to find at average wages.

If you want exceptional help, I can point you to the big NY law firms, McKinsey or Goldman Sachs. You have lots of exceptional people there. They are also exceptionally well paid.

Steve, most people sill find that actually doing business with those folks leave them worse off. EMH and "where are the customers yachts?" and so on.

Largely true for partners, wrong for anyone below - at least after accounting for the work-load.

If you want the exceptional help on the "cheap", hire the associates 2-4 years in. Which is done VERY often.

I have worked frequently with Wall Street lawyers. I have a high regard for them as a group, both at the partner and associate levels. And associates are not cheap, either.

I guess I have a different definition of cheap, then. Much cheaper than paying their firm's mark-up, in any case.

Though in fairness, I am more familiar with the consulting world than the law world. Hiring a decent (forget rockstar level, those are few and far between and generally not too interested in corporate jobs) consultant is a pretty nice deal IF you have a suitable position for him...

Looking through the book reviews I mostly agree with all Murray's advice. But for some non-curmodgenly advice to balance it out: drop acid while you're still young enough to benefit from deep introspection.

And then take shrooms every two years afterward. It's like a vaccination followed by boosters for the spirit.

Does anyone really believe any kid would read this book? This is the kind of book Charles Ryder's father would have given him to avoid parenting.

Charles Ryder's dad is my role model.

+1. But can you do the Gielgud accent?

I take the lesson to be more like "accept the 80 20 rule as iron law - do not assume good people are easy to replace" than "do everything by yourself".

I just picked up used a copy of Pat Boone's book for teens. I'm finding it very interesting, and very useful, and since his mom was a ton harsher than I am I'm definitely making my teen read it for the "look how good you have it" factor.

Also reading them the autobiography of Malcolm X, with similarly interesting effects. . . .

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Is this book intended to annoy The Young? If it is, it's unnecessary. All you have to do to annoy the young is explain how much easier we had it in our day.

Well, as a late-20s Gen Y'r, I figured this book might be for me. Let's see if there's any decent advice.

My lessons post-college can be summed up as follows:
-You have one minute to make a first impression. People don't have the time or energy to form a new one. Make it count.
-Summarizing and reporting information is the "scarcest" value-add in the corporate world.
-Confidence is more valuable than having all the information on hand.
-Building relationships is essential. Most corporate knowledge is tacit. Colleges will shove information down your throat. Corporations will not: you must learn on your own to a far greater degree.
-Kissing ass is far more important than any job-specific skill you have.
-I suck at time-management and energy management. College is grade school easy compared to what needs to be done in the real world.
-The Real World is vastly more entertaining than college. However, this might be because I am a guy with money now, and in College I was an ugly nerd.
-Robin Hanson was right about everything.

Now let's see what Murray can teach me...

I am about a third of the way through the book, and my only thought is that I should probably quit my job. The other Gen Y'r at my job and I were both threatened during our performance review despite our long hours, while the Baby Boomer working next to us makes personal calls all day long with nary a peep raised.

You are doing it wrong. The only performance review I've ever experienced ended with my boss walking out the door promising to quit.

Mr. Murray,

What a pleasant way to spend a few hours! I tucked in this evening thinking myself at a disadvantage: my two best friends are heavily engaged in either Confession or Ritual. It is, after all, the Lent Season, and Friday nights are Days of Assembly days in Islam. On the other hand, thanks to another strong recommendation from Mr. Cowen, I spent this wonderful evening enjoying some home-made tea and reading your advice.

It was an eye-opener, for sure. I'll have to re-read it after reading so quickly. I could hardly put it down. Not quite rigorous of me, but I'll get the hang of it.

My impression is that you began this as a critique of my generation's verbal tics, lack of professionalism, and poor dress. On that count, I cannot blame you. Most Gen Y'rs have a work ethic boarding on the...erm...well, let's leave that aside for now. However, I think focusing on this point undersells the value of this letter. There are other sections not given sufficient time in the lime-light. They are all far more positive.

For instance, your descriptions of the Buckley brothers enthralled me. They stood up when they entered the room? I re-read that simple description more times than I'd care to admit. The Buckley brothers sound like the types of men who would grab your hand and ask about your grand-mother's surgery, even if you had forgotten about it yourself, even if they hadn't seen you for years. Does such compassion even exist today? When I picture this scene, I imagine my Grand-father filling the role of the Buckley brothers. Someone younger seems unable to fill this role. Which is terribly depressing. These men seem like the kind of rare breed who can bring a happy spark and human respect even to disaffected lepers at the gates of Stalingrad.

Which, I suppose, are the kind of men you would like to see again, and the kind of men you would like my Generation to become. To that end, I think the curmudgeon title, while humorous, does not suit you or other conservative figures. This is more an effort to teach the younger generation hard-won lessons. To that end, I really do appreciate the time you spent writing this letter.

Good Night,
A Definite Beta Guy

I suppose it's de rigueur for someone who, throughout their career, has blazed a path of intellectual stink bombs, that they cap off their career with a volume of saccharine, smarmy advice. Better cap ones life off with pointless sentiment, at least something moderately agreeable to most at the end of ones habitation on this orb.

It's not "saccharine, smarmy advice." Acquire marketable skills. Spend less than you make. Get married and stay married. Avoid risky behaviors.

That's the prudish life path of most elites, notwithstanding their public pronouncements of tolerance for alternative lifestyles. It's also in the proverbs of every major religion out there. Are they all wrong?

Rupert Murdoch is not staying married. The generalization is left as an exercise for the reader.

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