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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review of Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker

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.


Anonymous said...

My goodness - save 75%! ...Wow. What a goal!

Any indication of what that is, in nominal dollars?

Like, if I made a million dollars, I guess I could scrape by on $250,000 while saving the rest. Maybe. ;)


veganprimate said...

I bought Jacob's book but haven't finished it. The academic writing style means for me that I read it in small doses.

I haven't gotten to the part about staying dry while walking in the rain, but really, there are a lot of people who need to know it. In Oregon, it rains 8-9 months out of the year, and I still see people who walk around with cotton hoodies that are soaking wet. There isn't a whole lot of common sense to go around, apparently.

ConsciouslyFrugal said...

AJ--I don't remember exactly, but I think he was making somewhere in the $40-50K range. I might be wrong there, but it wasn't a ton. Although lawd knows it would be difficult to manage on anything less than a million. :P But check out his blog! On the side bar, he has a 21 step process. After reading through it, it's easy to see how he managed to save 75%. Extreme is in the title for a reason!

veganprimate--seriously? But wait, of course. Common sense ain't so common and if some fool has spent an entire life in box o' artificial environment, I suppose it's not so hard to believe. But still, it makes me want to roll my eyes at people. I'm rude like that.

Early Retirement Extreme said...

Hey, thanks for the review. I really appreciate it.

WRT to the lengthy treatise on walking, I've been asked more than once "what happens when it rains?!" Well, you get wet! "But, but ..then I need car?!?!"
Many will start running around like crazed chickens holding a newspaper over their head when it rains.

My copy-writing adventures was mostly on the equation side of scientific journals. It is very hard to copy-edit your own errors. If it wasn't I wouldn't be making them in the first place. Publishing houses have line-editors which go through the entire text line by line. We didn't do that---it requires a special kind of brain :) I am keeping a list of typos, etc. and it's currently 15 items long. A handful of readers have reported them. Only one of those errors (thinkign on page 56) has been mentioned twice, so they're not too obvious. Zev who fixed most of my many errors is finding typos in books that are 15 years old and has gone through multiple revisions, so it's practically impossible to get rid of everything even for professional editors.

The book was not written in a chronological fashion. All chapters were developed simultaneously and some sections moved around. If the language seems better in some parts, it's purely by accident.

Expense-wise I've kept it around $5-7,000/year for almost a decade now.

ConsciouslyFrugal said...

Hey Jacob-

Thanks for taking my criticisms in stride! But as I mentioned, the typos thing is petty and anal. Which I guess that makes me petty and anal. bwhahahah

It's also a great deal to ask of someone to go through line by line and edit a piece of work. I'm not sure I love any of my friends that much. :P But yeah, the big boys have multiple folks dedicated solely to that function. Must be nice.

I know that folks tend to make more money self-publishing, but I'm super surprised that an agent didn't snatch this up, as it has such potential, particularly in the current economic climate. But that's another tale entirely...

I've managed to get my expenses down to about $18K. I don't include my husband's contribution in this (which means I'm really closer to $9K) because I am paranoid. It's a goal to keep saving more and spending--nay, WASTING!--less. Thanks for providing so much good info to help us get there.

I was going to do a give-away, but I'm too greedy and I don't want to give up my copy. Sorry, folks!

Early Retirement Extreme said...

I didn't waste a lot of energy on the traditional publication route. I started writing the book when I was contacted by an editor working for one of the bigger imprints. I sent it in to them and they rejected it as "unique and interesting story but not broadly appealing". [Kinda like the blog, eh?]

I then looked more into the publication business and decided that it was more optimal to go with a print on demand service because a) I would retain all rights; b) The book could be kept in print forever; c) The royalty is 5-10 times higher; d) Most authors have to do most of their own promotion anyway; and e) A typical publication process takes about 2 years AFTER you sign the contract.

At one point I was even considering printing and binding the books by hand. With some experience, you can apparently make professional looking books in about 15 minutes. I wouldn't have minded that.

However, POD also comes with some distribution channels are you don't get those as a self-printer. Overall, I probably chose the best combination of speed, convenience and control for me.

I'd highly recommend POD to other authors. I'd also recommend readers checking out books from self=published authors. Granted, a lot of it is junk, but there's also books which were rejected because they didn't have the broad Hollywood blockbuster appeal. Indie all the way :)

Sarah said...

I am enjoying my reading of the book in small doses as well, but my own pet peeve as a woman is the consistent use of the term Renaissance Man and virtually no mention of women in the same sort of role. This could be cultural, I guess, but still irritating on some level.
This is a good review and I share the same areas of praise for what is a useful and enjoyable read.

Early Retirement Extreme said...

@Sarah - Ahh, the Renaissance man.. Originally I used "universal man" which is another term for the same concept. I then "politically corrected" it to "universal person". I forgot how, but it was later changed to "Renaissance person" which just sounded weird and then to "Renaissance man".

It's probably cultural. For instance, in Danish, the names of professions were originally "genderfied". Today, everybody uses the genderfied name of what was originally the dominant gender for the vocation. For instance, all nurses now use the feminine variant for nurse (even if they're male) and all teachers use the masculine variant (even if they're female).

To me it's pretty implicit (culturally ingrained) that gender is of no importance.

ConsciouslyFrugal said...

Saray, after working in religious communities in Orange County, CA (which makes the Deep South look like a never-ending gay pride parade), I am fairly immune to gender-specific language. But I understand the frustration over it.

Useful and enjoyable read pretty much could have summed up the review, but I like to blab and bitch too much to keep it simple. :)

Jacob, not that I want to put more work on your plate, but I bet there are about 14 gazillion writers out there that would love a nice little tutorial on book publishing. Particularly when the current ones I see are all about BEING AWESOME! and other such annoying bullshit.

Lines of Beauty said...

Ms. Aldra I've been spending so much time under water as of late that I've fallin' behind once again on you. I just want you to know that I'm caught up and full of new inspiration which is sorely needed now that I have a kid in college.

Anyway, I have one thing in particular to say and that is that I love to read you & I wished we lived near each other so that we could have tea. Someday my dear I am going to knock on your door and your jaw will drop just as mine does as I enjoy your very funny reflections on how to be (or not to be) frugal. XO.

Beany said...

Thoroughly enjoyed the review. I've been reading ERE close to when Jacob first popper up on the blogging radar and I enjoy his very unconventional POV as it is something I relate to.

I'm planning on obtaining my own copy too.

ConsciouslyFrugal said...

First--SaraH. Sorry about that.

Onto other pestering...

Ms. Louise! You have a kid in college? MAKE THAT CHILD PAY FOR EVERYTHING! ahahhaah Oh, it's really probably a good thing I'm not a parent. Anyhoo, thank you for the kind words. One day, we must hang out! It can be done. Right? :/

Ms. Beany, I feel a little guilty for not sharing my copy, but I am just a greedy bastard. It's MINE. Perhaps eventually I'll give it away. Maybe. Kinda. Prolly not. :P

Emily on the Southern Prairie said...

This is a really fair, even-handed, thoughtful and thorough review. You should consider doing more book reviews!

ConsciouslyFrugal said...

I have a friend who's working on a book. Maybe she'll finish it soon and I can review it here? *cough*

Early Retirement Extreme said...

There's a surprising large number of those guides around already but if anyone needs help with the specifics feel free to contact me.

Anonymous said...

Jacob makes some interesting points but I agree the book is almost impenetrable linguistically. There is skill to clear communication. Some of the diagrams are absurd. You see it all the time in academic articles.

He is very critical of the salary man. But Jacob himself has gone back to work full time. He was also living in a trailer park but may have moved now he has a job.

I wonder if he has run back into Plato's cave to put back on the chains. I know I would stay in the matrix.

Demandra said...

Oh Anon, I <3 thee. Anytime I give a whiff of something critical o' Jacob, I usually get an onslaught of vitriol. I was much kinder in my review as a result. I just didn't want to deal with the drama.

Couldn't possibly love your comment more.