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147 of 153 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking but not necessarily the right solutions
Do you feel that we live in an overly regimented, joyless, conformist, colourless, soulless and work-obsessed society? Do you yearn for a more spontaneous, exciting, and creative life? If you do then this very well may be the book for you! It is another polemic from the patron saint of idlers, the one and only Mr Tom Hodgkinson, who wrote the wonderful `How to be...
Published on 27 Sep 2007 by Allan Gordon

versus
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A curate's egg...
... in other words, good in parts.

It's clear from the book that whatever Tom Hodgkinson has to say about work, he put in his time in putting this book together with quotations from thinkers of past times. There are quite a few good ideas in here. Unfortunately they are knitted together in a rather loose and at times incoherent manner.

I read this...
Published on 11 July 2009 by A reader


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147 of 153 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking but not necessarily the right solutions, 27 Sep 2007
By 
Allan Gordon "allangordon" (Erskine, Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: How To Be Free (Paperback)
Do you feel that we live in an overly regimented, joyless, conformist, colourless, soulless and work-obsessed society? Do you yearn for a more spontaneous, exciting, and creative life? If you do then this very well may be the book for you! It is another polemic from the patron saint of idlers, the one and only Mr Tom Hodgkinson, who wrote the wonderful `How to be Idle'.

The central premise is that of Jean Paul Sartre's existential philosophy - we live in an absurd, meaningless universe, but we are free to create our own lives and our own meaning. It is our own "mind forged manacles" that condemn us to lives of robotic tedium and wage slavery. Hodgkinson examines the different factors that inhibit our freedom and looks at alternative ways of thinking and living. The underlying political message is essentially that of anarchism. He believes that we should take far more responsibility for our own lives, create mutual support mechanisms, be a lot less materialistic, resist consumerism, and grow our own food. He attacks the current obsession with owning property, making the case that we are in thrall to the banks who really own our homes. He also attacks the soul crushing tedium that most paid employment involves, and the way in which it devours our time on this earth.

He quotes the great critics of industrialised society, John Ruskin and William Morris, who deplored their society's denigration of individual creativity and beauty. Hodgkinson explores the idea that the Middle Ages actually offered comparatively more freedom and fun than the modern, hi-tech society offers today. There were far more holidays and festivals, and peasants did not have to work as hard for their feudal masters as today's wage-slave has to do for the omnipotent multi-national corporations. He makes a very compelling argument, but as with most polemics little space is given to counter-arguments. He downplays the less attractive aspects of this period, such as low-life expectancy, almost non-existent medical provision and horrendous diseases. He also suggests that the general influence of Protestantism has been less benign than that of Roman Catholicism. His argument is that the former has created money orientated, self-righteous, power mad zealots, whereas the latter might have been corrupt, but it was more humane. It is an interesting argument, but again it involves over-simplifications, and Protestantism was initially more anti-authoritarian and helped to foster a spirit of inquiry, which in turn resulted in the growth of the scientific method.

Probably the best way to approach this book, and its predecessor, `How to be Idle', is as stimuli for thought and discussion. I don't always agree with Tom, and there are times when `How to be Free' feels just like a get-back-to-the-land rant. The one big misgiving I have with both books is that occasionally Tom extols the virtues of rioting and expresses admiration for criminality, neither of which I feel tie in with a philosophy of mutual aid and creativity. However, it is impossible not to be won over by the charm and grace of his work. His message is life-affirming and humane, and although I am not sure I could personally adopt all of his recommendations, the underlying spirit is one that I thoroughly endorse. D.H. Lawrence once said that he "did not want life to be a paltry thing", and neither does Tom. He wants all of us to embrace freedom, creativity, risk and joy, so that our lives are as rich as they could possibly be.
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67 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential read!, 17 Aug 2007
This review is from: How To Be Free (Paperback)
I found this book by chance, really - I needed a third book for a '3 for 2' offer in the bookshop, and it had a particularly attractive title. At first I thought that it would just be another of those useless books that claims to be able to 'change your life for the better,' or that he was another author attempting to make a quick buck from a lot of worthless twaddle. But once I'd started reading it, I realised how wrong I was.

Tom Hodgkinson essentially looks at modern society - decides it's all utter nonsense - and then presents you with a laid-back, enjoyable and free way to live life. He rants and raves about how rubbish the world is nowadays, his train of thought twisting and dancing as you turn the pages; but it's all true - and it really is enlightening.

While I don't argue that it's possible for everyone to follow his instructions for life (how would society achieve advancements in science, medicine, the arts etc if we all relaxed and tended our allotments?) I seriously recommend you read it, as it offers - at the very least - a new and freer way of looking at life.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A curate's egg..., 11 July 2009
By 
A reader (North East Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: How To Be Free (Paperback)
... in other words, good in parts.

It's clear from the book that whatever Tom Hodgkinson has to say about work, he put in his time in putting this book together with quotations from thinkers of past times. There are quite a few good ideas in here. Unfortunately they are knitted together in a rather loose and at times incoherent manner.

I read this over a couple of months in quiet moments at work (don't tell anyone). In doing so, I got a frisson of anti-establishment excitement, and it made an amusing an distracting read. I'm not sure I could have tackled it in a more systematic manner, though - Tom's manifesto at times became a diatribe, and also somewhat repetitive.

The repeated theme was that if we just turned back the clock to the Middle Ages, everything would be dandy. Well, yes, maybe, if only a few of us did. If we all did as Tom suggests then things might not be so rosy. I found a delightful irony in the last appendix to the book, where Tom points out a number of internet resources that will aid your passage to bucolic delight - in the bright new world, who's going to be maintaining the telecoms cables, the power supplies, the server farms, building the computers...?
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80 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy this and prevent a heart attack, 9 April 2007
By 
JD Mulder (Leeds, West Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
This review is from: How to be Free (Hardcover)
Considering Tom Hodgkinson is editor of the Idler and places being idle as a life aim he's not exactly workshy when it comes to research for this book. All around us we see stressed out workers competing for the best parking space, snatching at every opportunity and consuming with a vigour that would put most drug addicts to shame - Hodgkinson, with a broad sword that takes in medieval merrymaking and our 21st century tax burden (higher now than in fuedal times according to the author) puts forward an almost unarguable point that we all need to slow down, consume less, laugh more and stop striving for the next big thing. As most people deep down know this to be true it took "How to Be Free" for me to finally stop and, like being gently slapped in the face with the fish of happiness and quit rushing around like an idiot. It's rare for books to actually stop you in your tracks (The Corporation - Bakan, Stupid White Men - Moore, The Culture of Fear - Glassner, How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World - Wheen) but I was the road rage, drag the dog around the park, five meetings a day, make more money screaming bundle of stress that somehow defines modern man. How to Be Free points to an alternative way of life that drags the absurdity of this modern capitalist lifestyle out into the bright sunshine and stabs it repeatedly with his observations, facts and comparisons. Buy this book or alternatively, on Tom Hodgkinsons advice, buy a ukulele .. or was it a banjo. Buy two, one for yourself and one for someone you know who screams at cyclists.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Right and Wrong, 28 Aug 2007
By 
This review is from: How To Be Free (Paperback)
I think that Tom is right about the sickness (money-driven society) but
is wrong about the remedy.

It is a pity he presents some of his more radical solutions very early in the book,
which might offend readers before they are ready to agree with him on the
sickness.

I already found some of his remedies myself to get free
(no car, no watch, no mortgage, no debts, no money-sucking hobbies),
so I really agree with him in many ways about the problem.

But many of his solutions are not applicable in large.
How many people can collect free firewood in the woods
before the woods are out of wood - that solution "wood" simply not work ;-)

If the book would stick to the small solutions I would like to give it
away to other people.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life affirming, if a little naive in parts, 15 Mar 2009
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This review is from: How To Be Free (Paperback)
I think Tom approaches life very much from a Rousseauian perspective that "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains". He, like Rousseau, believes that people left to their own devices are perfectly able to self govern within small communities. The chains now are provided not only by interfering governments, but by soulless "Mcjobs". This view of the human condition has been long debated however and Thomas Hobbes, who was a contemporary political philosopher of Rousseau, adopted the position that without government life was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". He thought that without strong governance the natural state of men was one of competition and war; I guess the modern British equivalent would be feral packs of youths terrorising the neighbourhood. I think it depends which view you instinctively lean towards as to whether you find this book the naive ramblings of a middle class dreamer or an optimistic manifesto for a more humane society. I personally found it to be quite an uplifting read after a day chained to the computer in the office, although my cynical side does find the constant harping back to the middle ages as a golden age a little hard to take. It's too easy to see the past with rose tinted specs; life for most in the middle ages was a constant battle to make sure you and your family had enough to eat. Famines were common as were outbreaks of plague and typhoid, 20% of women died during childbirth and "witches" were put to death. Advances in healthcare, nutrition, housing, sanitation, religious and ethnic tolerance, mental healthcare, etc etc don't (unfortunately) happen in a vacuum outside of industrial and economic development. In any system there is an element of taking the rough with the smooth. I would also question whether refusing to vote, and spending most of your time playing the ukulele, doing a bit of writing, drinking, etc is going to do much to address such pressing global issues as world poverty and the global environment. Having said all that, the book is diverting and funny, and does contain numerous small ways to make life more enjoyable and fulfilling. Just don't expect too much.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In the best spirits of the freedom seeker, 28 Jun 2011
By 
G. Colman (North wales) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: How To Be Free (Paperback)
As a fresh faced and idealistic 20 year old, it has been difficult for me not to set this book down on a table and surround it with tea lights and incense. For a while now i have struggled with facing the future, a future in which it seems the 'glory days' are well and truly over, and it is my generation i am told which will have to bear the brunt of cuts and cuts and cuts, as well as tax hikes, university fee hikes.. it seemed that my future would be a series of painful cuts and slow, slogging hikes (sounds more like a verse of Dante's inferno than anything doesn't it?) I wanted to find an alternative way of life, outside of all the doom and gloom, and this book served to ease the knot in my stomach and rise a hope in my lungs.

Set into chapters such as 'Banish Anxiety; Be Carefree' and 'Submit no more to the machine, use your hands', 'How to be free' does act as rather an instruction and advice manual covering a great sweep of life's aspects. As well as opinion and idea based conversation, Hodgkinson provides historical context in which the 'Merry Medievals' are revered and the 'Party pooping Puritans' are booed and hissed at like a pantomime villain. It is useful and interesting to read about how we got into this almighty mess historically, and fascinating to look into a completely different mindset, to whom our usurious and competitive culture (one which we believe to be so normal we have forgotten to feel hard done by) would be utterly sinful.

On occasion, Mr Hodgkinson's voice comes through as rather 'Jamie Oliver country' and it is hard to abandon the idea that this advice is coming from a seat of considerable choice. I imagine it is much easier to figure out and work your way towards a more 'free' style of living such as is described in this book, by having options open to you which may not be to the working class man. However, i know this is prejudiced and try not to think this way as it is not right to judge in either direction, a freedom seeker is a freedom seeker and anarchists gotta' stick together.

While i share some of the concerns about the huge idealism in Mr. Hodgkinson's writing, i do not believe that it was his intent, nor is our duty as a reader, to take his advice and ideas ad infinitum. Of course we cannot ALL be Keith Allens, of course we cannot ALL quit work and live in the country, but what he says is not so finite. 'You are also told on no account, ever, to go to the gym.' I believe this may be missing the point; it is a comment on payment for other wise free activities and direct debits, more than it is about the so called 'vanity' of the gym goer. (I go to the gym for its physical benefits yes but mainly for its mental ones and i would on no account give it up) The bits i like i like, the bits i think are rubbish i ignore, it makes no reflection on the book as a whole.

If you were to read 'How to be free' with a pinch of salt and a martini in your hand it would greatly improve the experience. We are all adult here, we can choose to ignore the various parts of nonsense in this book (as well as some less than subtle misogynist writing which made me cringe somewhat; 'did you know that when women complain, THEY ARE NOT LOOKING FOR A SOLUTION? ..wow)

Instead, glean from it its wiser bits, its emphasis on shopping locally, building community, trading favors, being polite and gracious and simply ignoring to the greatest extent you can, the news, the advertisers and the powers that be, living cheaply and investing in books and bikes, rather than Ipads and Chelsea tractors. Idealistic or no, it is written in the very best spirits of freedom.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars utterly necessary reading, 28 Jan 2007
By 
R. Oppenheimer "Melville" (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: How to be Free (Hardcover)
This book will be cherished and treasured by all thoughtful and intelligent people who have the good sense or good fortune to purchase it. Tom Hodgkinson is a pleasantly shambolic narrator but do not be fooled by this - How to be Free is a tightly argued and brilliantly constructed work. The quotations utilised, as with the previous book, are always a joy. The book is a cry for freedom, and the need for it should not be underestimated. To my certain knowledge, thousands of people suffer horribly in jobs and lives which they detest. This book will go a long way to helping them to emancipate themselves from mental slavery (yes, that's a Bob Marley quotation).
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47 of 54 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a waste of money, 12 Feb 2010
By 
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This review is from: How To Be Free (Paperback)
I was recommended this book by some friends, who apparently found it life changing. I was therefore disappointed to find out that it wasn't very good. The premise of the book is that we are all wasting our time by working too much and ignoring the finer things in life. So far so obvious. It falls down on offering anything like a set of plausible solutions to the problem. We are told to play the ukelele - which is fine, but isn't going to improve your life one iota. I know that, because I play the ukelele already. You are told to be like the actor Keith Allen, who does whatever he likes, all the time, and damn the consequences. Hm, I'm not sure that would be a very good idea. I mean, if everyone did it. If everyone was like Keith Allen, you wouldn't have people who weren't like Keith Allen. I think that there is probably a tipping point in societies where the number of Keith Allens running around doing what they please starts to work to the detriment of people's quality of life. Look at Somalia. The author doesn't talk about quotas of Keith Allens in this book, he just thinks everyone should be like Keith Allen. You are also told on no account, ever, to go to the gym. Now, I know that people who avoid exercise think that going to the gym is a narcissistic exercise in trying to change your body to be like that of projected media images, but this point of view is about as sound as saying that reading books is getting 'above yourself'. In other words, it's just not true. What people who hate exercise say about exercise has as much validity as what people who can't read say about books. Lots of people go to the gym because they like keeping fit, and enjoy the way it makes them feel afterwards. It also helps you stay active longer, thus improving quality of life, just what this book is supposed to be about. I bet Keith Allen goes to the gym. All actors do. Other bits of advice from the liberated author include never, ever, riding the tube, and moving out of the city in general. Okay, the tube is pretty horrible. But try catching a bus from the east end to Notting Hill, and you'll quickly understand why the tube was built in the first place: to make life easier for people. Just don't ride it every day. As for the city, the author has moved out of London and rents out a house there, whilst he lives in the home counties, creaming off rent which allows him to live in the style to which he's become accustomed. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but if you choose to invest your money in property so that you can take advantage of the high rent in London so that you can live comfortably somewhere else, you're cheating a bit. How to be Free...the more you read this book, the faster you go, because you start missing out huge chunks in which the author repeats himself and isn't really saying anything useful. I went through the last 100 pages in 20 minutes, it was like reading the Da Vinci Code again. In summary: the central message of How to be Free is sound, but the ideas are about as half baked as they come. Don't waste your money.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great but its not Satre, 27 Dec 2007
By 
Mr. A. P. Smith "Andy Smith" (England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: How to be Free (Hardcover)
I am nearing the end of this book. I love the style in which it is written. Its kinda like listening to one of your friends in the pub enthusiastically telling you about their world philosophy. In this sense it is spirited and motivating, but sometimes you do have to puzzle over some of the somewhat tenuous links that are used to support a some of the arguments. The name-dropping of the author's illustrious friends (Damian Hirst and Keith Allen et al) kinda winds me up too.

Inspiring though this book is, I do feel that maybe many people arent in such a privelleged position to be able to make the kind of broad-sweeping changes that the author is suggesting. Im sure that not everyone has the kind of job that would translate easily to a freelance/self-employed model, nor one which is mostly based at home. In this sense Tom is quite lucky to be an author and to have had a well-paid career prior to his new life. Yes, I would like to quit my job, pop down to the west country, buy a nice cottage with a few acres and live mortgage free. Yes, I would like to potter around in the garden, do the odd days work in my study and then later trot into town on my horse and meet my bohemian chums in the local village pub for a hearty sing-sing. But somehow im not sure it would be so easy for many of us. If youve ever seen River Cottage on TV and noted a mixture of idyllic simple-living with the uncomfortable undercurrent of privillege, then you may see a parallel in this book.

Nevertheless this book is packed full of ideas to get you motivated, and for me it did turn some established 'facts' on their head. I did agree with a lot of the sentiment in this book and I would recommend anyone to read it, but dont expect a robust well-honed philosophical argument. This book is to inspire only, but it does it exceptionally well.
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How to be Free
How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson (Hardcover - 5 Oct 2006)
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