“Jordan Peterson isn’t any old self-help guru,” said Melanie McDonagh in the London Evening Standard. A once-obscure Canadian psychologist, he rose to fame five years ago with his hugely popular YouTube videos and bestselling book, 12 Rules for Life, which exhorted young men to take responsibility for their lives. Known for his stern bromides (“Stand up straight with your shoulders back”), and his conservative positions on questions of gender and identity politics, Peterson has been one of the most prominent figures in the culture wars of recent years. His new book arrives following a period of personal turmoil, which he details in its “Overture”. In 2019, after his wife’s diagnosis with a rare form of cancer, Peterson started taking benzodiazepine sedatives. He became addicted, and later suffered a severe withdrawal response which very nearly killed him. Peterson’s millions of fans will be delighted by his new book – and by their hero’s return from the edge.
Beyond Order is strikingly similar to its predecessor, said Suzanne Moore in The Daily Telegraph. It is again structured around 12 rules and consists of “hokey wisdom combined with good advice”. Once more, Peterson advances the Jungian argument that life is a contest between order and chaos, represented respectively by masculinity and femininity. Women, admittedly, won’t find much to entice them in his vision – he advises them to have babies young and to keep their marriages alive “with candles, lingerie and talking”. Yet though blinkered on certain issues, Peterson has a powerful message: that life is suffering, and the goal is “to find meaning rather than happiness”. The rules themselves – “Make one room in your house beautiful”; “Be grateful in spite of your suffering” – are “really nothing to argue about”.
As a speaker, Peterson oozes “charisma, authority and dazzling spontaneous intellect”, said James Marriott in The Times. His prose, however, is repetitious and self-important, and the battiness of his ideas soon becomes all too clear (one chapter is devoted to the “philosophical meaning” of Harry Potter). Peterson’s relentless focus on the “agonising human predicament” leaves little space for humour, said Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian. Yet he also reminds us of something important, which the Left is apt to forget: that not all our suffering is the result of “power disparities”; some of it comes from the fact that we are “finite” beings. “In the end, it’s a good thing that there’s space on the self-help shelves for a book as bracingly pessimistic as this one.”
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