Monday, September 1, 2014

The Curmudeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, ToughThinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life by Charles Murray

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal by Charles Murray about his book, The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead.  It intrigued me so I put the book on my Amazon wish list.  My parents gave it to me for my birthday.

This is a book that should be taught in every college and probably twelfth grade in high school.  Murray offers realism to today's entitled, sheltered youth.

It's a short book, I read it in a couple of sittings, and it's funny.  Murray is very witty.

But most importantly he's honest.  Here's what he has to say to the up and coming professionals who hope to get a job and promoted:

Most companies are run by white, middle-aged men (and women) and they are curmudgeons.  That means they are old fashioned and have old-fashioned values.  

So when you use the "F-word" in an  job interview (or twice in one young man's case), you're not going to get the job.

If you have visible tattoos or pierced ears (if you're a man), you're probably not going to get the job.

If you dress like a tramp (man or woman), you're not going to get the job.

If you do get the job and act as if menial work is beneath you, you roll your eyes at the boss or display no social skills (for instance, continue talking to friends in the hallway, oblivious of people trying to get past you), or dress as if you're going fishing, or dancing on bar tables, it's unlikely you'll be first choice to get the promotion, if it's ever offered to you.

Murray makes a caveat and says that none of this applies if you want to work in the entertainment industry or I.T. (Why I.T.?  I don't know.)

Here's the kicker and it's very important:  Because our contemporary American culture has made it taboo to even hint that what someone else is doing might be wrong, your curmudgeonly boss is never going to call you out on the behavior he despises.  But you're not going to get the job.  Or promoted.  You just won't know why.

That's why Murray has written this book.  So you can know beforehand what the person who holds that job in his hands is thinking.  Forewarned is forearmed.

Being a curmudgeon myself, I didn't need the above advice, it was just fun to read.  But Murray, who is a journalist, also devotes several chapters to writing skills.  As a writer, this part was especially helpful.

He also tells young people not to move so fast into the professional world right after college but rather get out of the sheltered bubble their parents have created for them and see the world.  This could mean joining the military, where a respect for authority-always a valuable trait-is instilled, or the peace corps, or travel and live some where that you have to learn another language and culture.

Finally, Murray finishes the book with an excellent chapter about religion.  He tells young people that he understands that the professors in college they came to respect and love were atheists.  His were, too.  But he doubts that any of them actually studied religion in depth and before they make opinions about something they should make sure they know what they are talking about.

Interestingly, Murray admits his own agnosticism has become shakier since his wife became a Quaker.

If you're a young person ready to go out and get that job.  Read this book.  If your a Curmudgeon like  me, read it to laugh and feel affirmed in your curmudgeonliness. There's a red squiggle under that last word so I must have invented it.  But it fits so it stays.

Maybe I'll write a book called The Art of Being Curmudgeonly.  I'm certainly qualified.


  1. Interesting sounding book.

    My only caveat i that much of it seems like common sense that no one should be told. I am 48 years old but I do work with some folks in their early 20s and they do know better.

    1. Brian: I'm not sure common sense is all that common any more. There are plenty of young people who do know better. My son is one of them. But I also work with a number of young people at college who don't seem to understand basic social skills or how to dress or act with decorum.
      Take care!

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