Once in the not so distant past, I spent my morning commute trapped in a car, yelling at other drivers. Now, I get to spend it reading on the train, occasionally smiling at fellow passengers. Who knew?
This newly found reading time has allowed me to gobble up a few interesting reads, the most recent of which is Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker, who also pens the Early Retirement Extreme (ERE) blog.
Short version: Overall, I liked the book and would recommend it to select folks. It's not a book written for mass appeal (I think Fisker even notes this), but I would argue that it's not because the material is complicated. But more on that later. If you are comfortable with "academic" writing (as in, reading someone's dissertation interests you instead of lulls you to sleep) and want some great insight on extricating yourself from the work-consume-die machine, it's a good read.
For the Fisker devotees, I must provide a warning. I am actually going to provide criticism for the book instead of endless praise, so if you have any hero worship going on, I would suggest you click "next blog" now.
First, the problems:
Let me start with the petty crap. Fisker notes several times that he works as a copywriter. This made me cringe, as the book has quite a few errors in it ranging from typos to word omissions. Not a deal breaker, of course, but annoying in print.
It's fairly obvious that Fisker sharpened his writing teeth in academia. Which is a polite way of saying that he has a tendency to take very simple concepts and write about them in a very complicated fashion. I think some other reviewers have confused his writing style with actual complicated content, suggesting that the average bear would have a hard time understanding what is written. I don't agree.
Don't get me wrong, Fisker writes about epic topics that are crucial to health, happiness, sanity and freedom, but none of them are complicated or difficult to understand. His writing style can become tedious, but he seemed to find his flow midway through the book, which made it a more enjoyable read.
Despite his assertion that the book focuses on systems, he does go into pretty extensive detail on the "tips" side of the equation. There was one rather lengthy tip-laden section regarding walking in the rain. (Seriously, who doesn't know how to stay dry in the rain?) This was an instance where an editor likely would have been beneficial in keeping the book on track.
The good stuff:
I have to admit that, after reading the ERE blog, I thought Fisker had the warmth and humor of an Arctic stone. Imagine my surprise when the book had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions. It's a rare feat to be able to inspire laughter when talking about social structures and personal finance.
Another surprise came when Fisker discussed health. His blog has had some pretty freakishly bigoted jabs at fat people. It's common for even the enlightened to fall prey to cognitive distortions regarding fat folks, as bigotry towards the ample is fully socially sanctioned. There have been instances while reading the ERE blog that I felt transported back to Missouri, where I had to listen to Klansmen explain just why people of color were inferior. All perfectly "logical" with plenty of scientific evidence to support their views. Uh, yeah. Creepy.
So, imagine my delight when I noted that Fisker didn't take any direct jabs at fat folks and actually addressed health in a holistic manner. Health is a whole life issue and he notes that fact beautifully. Given that, please know that although he states his opinion as fact, homeboy is not an authority on exercise or diet. He provided some interesting suggestions, some of which would put you in a coma if you have certain health issues. So, grain of salt.
The best stuff:
I have to say that my favorite aspect of the book was the manner in which Fisker addressed common topics. If you've read his blog, you already know that he dismisses the typical advice of working to consume while saving only 10 to 20 percent of income (he saved 75% of his income to achieve financial independence) or going into 30 years of debt to buy a house with more room than you'll ever use. The book is choked full of unconventional ideas, but it also has some excellent word choice. For instance, he notes that it's not so much what we make that matters but how much we waste. We've all heard "it's not what you make, it's what you spend!" Imagine if we started to think of our spending in terms of waste. That alone could revolutionize the way we deal with money.
As I said, overall, I liked the book and would recommend it. I think it could have benefited from an editor experienced in working with academics to help Fisker craft his writing style. I would still advise folks to start with Your Money or Your Life if they're new to personal finance, but Early Retirement Extreme is a nice addition to the library of anyone who is interested in living an authentic, self-sufficient life.