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What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question Mass Market Paperback – Nov 29 2005

3.2 out of 5 stars 232 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (Nov. 29 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345485920
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345485922
  • Product Dimensions: 10.7 x 2.8 x 17.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars 232 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #95,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

In What Should I Do with my Life? Po Bronson manages to create a career book that is a page-turner. His 50 vivid profiles of people searching for "their soft spot--their true calling" will engage readers because Bronson is asking himself the same question. He explores his premise, that "nothing is braver than people facing up to their own identity," as an anthropologist and autobiographer. He tackles thorny, nuanced issues about self-determination. Among them: paradoxes of money and meaning, authorship and destiny, brain candy and novelty versus soul food. Bronson’s stories, limited to professional people and complete with photos, are gems. They include a Los Angeles lawyer who became a priest, a Harvard MBA catfish farmer turned biotech executive, and a Silicon Valley real estate agent who opened a leather crafts factory in Costa Rica.

Bronson is a gifted intuitive writer, the bestselling author of The Nudist on the Late Shift, whose thoughtful, vulnerable voice emerges as the book’s greatest strength and challenge. He describes his subject’s lives along with the ways they annoy, puzzle, and worry him. He frets about meddling with his questions, yet once, memorably and appropriately, he offers a talented man a top post in his publishing company. While this creates the juiciness of his portraits, it also can make Bronson the book’s most memorable character and the only one whose story is not resolved. Even so, this remarkable career chronicle sets the gold standard for the worth of the examined life. --Barbara Mackoff --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In this elevated career guide, Bronson (Bombardiers; The Nudist on the Late Shift) poses the titular question to an eclectic mix of "real people in the real world," compiling their experiences and insights about callings, self-acceptance, moral guilt, greed and ambition, and emotional rejuvenation. Bronson crisscrosses the country seeking out remarkable examples of successful and not-so-successful people confronting tough issues, such as differentiating between a curiosity and a passion and deciding whether or not to make money first in order to fund one's dream. Bronson frames the edited responses with witty, down-to-earth commentaries, such as those of John, an engineer whose dream of building an electric car crumbled under his personal weaknesses; and Ashley, a do-gooder burdened by the unlikely combination of self-hatred and a love for humanity. Bronson wants to understand what makes these people-among them a timid college career counselor trapped in his job, a farmer bullish on risk-taking, a financial expert grabbing an opportunity to rebuild her brokerage firm devastated by the World Trade Center tragedy and a scientist who rethinks his lifelong work and becomes a lawyer-tick. He occasionally digresses, musing on his own life too much, and frequently hammers points home longer than necessary, but neither of these drawbacks undercuts the book's potency. The "ultimate question" is a topic always in season, worthy of Bronson's skillful probing and careful anecdote selection. Brimming with stories of sacrifice, courage, commitment and, sometimes, failure, the book will support anyone pondering a major life choice or risk without force-feeding them pat solutions. Photos.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I usually read customer reviews before buying a book on Amazon. Today, I thought I would look at the reviews for a book I have already read to see if I agreed with the comments. I was so appalled by the most recent 20 reviews of this book that I felt compelled to write my first review. (I'm also going to be more than a little suspicious of customer reviews in the future!)
The author of this book tells you upfront (and over and over) that he is not going to answer the question in the title. He is not going to help you answer the question for yourself. You can't read this book expecting that result.
Instead, he describes the career choices of folks that he has interviewed. Some of the people make changes that work, some make changes that don't work, and some don't make changes at all. He isn't writing a novel; he doesn't describe every detail and he does not follow every story through to conclusion. He writes enough about a subject's career path to illustrate the point of the chapter.
Previous reviewers object that many of the subjects interviewed were wealthy or privileged. To me, this only shows they have missed the point. The book is extremely well structured. The themes of each story are so universal, anyone should be able to relate. For example, in one chapter, a woman intellectualizes her job change to the smallest detail, yet the point is that she can't know every variable until she actually tries the job. This idea should resonate with a reader regardless of whether the person interviewed was running a copymachine at Kinko's and decided working for a dry cleaner would be a better fit or the person was running a Fortune 500 company and decided owning a vineyard would make her happier.
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Format: Hardcover
I've enjoyed some of Bronson's other books and articles, so when I took a sabbatical from work to travel and think about next steps, this book seemed like an ideal travel companion. After finishing about a third of the book and skimming portions of the rest, it was abandoned in a hotel room somewhere in South America, shaving valuable weight from my backpack.
The book is bloated, a thick catalog of stories of people who made career changes and choices of one sort or another. If reading an exhaustive collection of accounts of other people struggling with their life's missions will minimize the angst of doing the same yourself, then this is the book for you. I would have preferred a more coherent narrative that organizes the stories in some logical fashion. There are bits and pieces of valuable learnings to be found, but they're buried amidst some long, rambling narratives. Perhaps Bronson was too invested in the stories to cut any of them out, or perhaps he couldn't find any patterns and answers and simply put every story in there, hoping the reader would do the work of extracting the wisdom.
I recommend reading an article covering the same topic which Po wrote in the Jan 2003 issue of Fast Company. You should be able to find it archived on the web at their website. It was much more concise and enlightening than the book.
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Format: Audio CD
The book is supposed to be Bronson's findings after having interviewed hundreds of people about what they felt they should have done or did with their lives. But I didn't really find this to be the case. What it seemed like to me was more a strange mixture of Bronson summarizing the lives of some of the people he interviewed and then adding his opinions about their situations.
Add to this mix Bronson's self-adoration about being invited to a conference of business big whigs where he encouraged all of the CEOs present to make sure their employees liked their jobs (like that is going to happen) and Bronson's ideas about childbirth and you have 'What Should I Do With My Life?'
I absolutely hated this book. This is definitely one instance where I am glad I listened to the CD version instead of reading the actual book because it was abridged and shortened the misery. The problems with this book are so monumental I can't believe it was even published. Oh wait, yes I can, he's on the board of directors of a publishing company - he can probably get anything published, including this drivel.
My biggest criticism of the book is that Bronson is falling back on the idealized notion that everyone can do what they want. This is such a ridiculous notion that I can't even believe people are still claiming it's possible. Does Bronson really think that someone desperately wants to be a garbage collector? I know the job of my dreams is to clean toilets. Come on! If everyone can have the job of their dreams, who is going to do the menial work like cleaning his office while he vacations in the Caribbean?
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Format: Hardcover
Po Bronson spent a lot of time interviewing people around this country and around the world about their careers, their callings, their regrets and their dreams. All of this based on a single question: what do you want to do with your life? If you've ever asked yourself this question before, or if you're struggling with it now, you'll find it difficult to put this book down; you will be absorbed in its pages.
This is NOT some kind of new age inspirational, feel-good book! It's much better than that. It's honest, insightful and respectful of the reader's intelligence. While Bronson does add his own thoughts to many of the personal narratives, he doesn't attempt to tell you how to find your way through the forest or make the right moves in your life. Instead, he lets the tales of his interviewees stimulate your thinking and give your perspective based on their diverse experience. There's no sugar-coating here. Sometimes people pulling radical career or life changes pulled it off easily...more often, with great difficulty.
Even though Bronson says that he doesn't want to be responsible for changing people's lives with this book, it seems inevitable to me that he will have to assume some responsibility. For people who are tyring to answer the question posed by the book's title, the tales in this work will simply be too powerful to ignore. After reading it, don't be surprised if it causes you to make a significant change in your life.
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