books - The True Believer, Eric Hoffer

The True Believer was the second book I pulled out of the altMBA box.  It's also the fifth one I finished.  I'm not sure I can say that I liked or enjoyed this book, but it is interesting.  I had a really hard time reading, and finally just had to set a goal of reading 10 pages a day until it was done. 

The reasons I had a hard time with it are:

  • It's a manifesto.  No plot, no story.  It's hard for me to lock in to a book of ideas in this way.
  • It was published in the early '50s, and makes reference to a lot of different movements in history that were absolutely alive for Hoffer, but happened 30 years before I was born.  He was writing with an immediacy I do not feel, and making references to things that would have been common knowledge in American culture at publication, but aren't now. 
  • The writing is extremely dense, which is a good thing in my opinion, but can slow things down. 

There were lots of interesting passages that I marked as I was reading.  Here's one, to give you a flavor of the text -

If a doctrine is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable.  One has to get to heaven or the distant future to determine the truth of an effective doctrine.  When some part of the doctrine is relatively simple, there is a tendency among the faithful to complicate and obscure it.  Simple words are made pregnant with meaning and made to look like symbols in a secret message.  There is thus an illiterate air about the most literate true believer.  He seems to use words as if he were ignorant of their true meaning.  Hence, too, his taste for quibbling, hair-splitting and scholastic tortuousness. 

I think there's a lot of truth in that.  I also think there are a lot of people who would find that offensive.  It was an interesting choice for altMBA reading, and I'm still not quite sure why it's here.  I did see a major parallel between this work and a passage in The War of Art.  Pressfield argues that the artist and the fundamentalist are the same person, but at different stages of history.  The idea is that if there is money and freedom and artist will make art.  If there are restrictions in a culture, a person with artistic energies will focus them on changing that culture rather than the art itself. 

All in all, I'd say that this was an interesting book and worth the effort.  I'm sure there will come a time when I recommend it to a specific person for a specific reason, but I cannot today say what that reason would be.