Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead, by Charles Murray

I have been a fan of Charles Murray since I read his classic Losing Ground while I was in college.  Many are familiar with Murray's always thought-provoking and insightful work in his books and his work with the American Enterprise Institute.  During his tenure at AEI, he as seen countless college interns and young scholars come through their doors.  His new book, The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead, is a wonderful distillation of practical advice for these young people and others.

As a writer, Murray is of course concerned with language usage, in both written and spoken communication.  Most of it is standard style manual material, but this passage stands out: "Do you use the word like as a verbal tic?  I mean, like, do you insert it in, like, random points in your, like, spoken conversation?  If the answer is yes, this is the single most important tip in the entire book: STOP IT!"  Well said!  His tips on writing (and re-writing) are worth a read for any aspiring writer.

Some of his advice will seem old-fashioned and out of date, but it's still hard to argue with it.  Speaking of tattoos, he agrees that they have a place in history, "first among savage tribes and then, more recently, among the lowest classes of Western societies."  He reluctantly makes exceptions for insignias from the armed forces, but clearly advises against any visible tattoos.

Some of his best advice is for that class of students and young people who end up in places like AEI for internships, which he calls "affirmative action for the advantaged."  He argues that while internships can be beneficial, much more beneficial would be summer jobs in the service sector, in order to be around people of all classes and learning how to wait on people rather than being waited on.  Any sort of cultural exposure is beneficial, since "we aren't required to love all of our fellow Americans.  But we should know from personal experience we're talking about."

Murray covers a lot in a relatively short space.  The Curmudgeon's Guide would make a great gift for the college graduates in your life, but even for someone getting closer and closer to a curmudgeonly age, there is plenty to learn and think about here.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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