Life Hack Book Review #3 — Living the non-linear life

photo of woman reading book

In a recent post, I referenced award-winning author and TV personality Bruce Feiler and his excellent book The Council of Dads (2010).

While adding in my post an Amazon link to the book, I stumbled upon one of his more recent works (published last year); the subject of this, my fourth and latest life hack book review.

(For previous reviews I did, please click here)

Source: GPB News

With a title like that, Feiler is clearly keeping no secrets about its content!

It’s all about the unpredictability of life. How it throws you curve balls like oh say the little known phenomenon called Covid. How life won’t follow a straight and linear path, at least for the majority of us.

In fact, few would believe they need yet another book like this one to learn of all the unavoidable realities of life (except for the cloistered and privileged folks holding silver spoons in ivory towers!).

I certainly don’t.

Yet from the moment I laid eyes on the title, I wondered: How could Feiler have known of my plight?!

My Non-linear life

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Photo by Martin Portas on

The trajectory of my life has never been linear. Especially in the years after I graduated from college and plunged helter-skelter into this bizarre working world we live in.

I had fleeted from jobs in real estate to tourism. Missions work overseas and voluntary/private/public school teaching followed. Thereafter a short-lived stint in private social media consulting, and finally where I now am as a stay-home parent and blogger.

Whew! And that’s just the ‘career’ side of my life!

Since January this year, I’ve also been on a journey of creating “emotional space” for myself; in essence “availing” myself for myself! Taking time to connect with my inner self and gently tend to my soul. (Okay okay I know. Apologies. Let me find another day to unpack this mumbo-jumbo! For now, please indulge me ok?)

Come to think of it, given how my life since 2018 has been even more non-linear, and in ways most unexpected, it’s probably the “next logical step” in my emancipation that I should encounter such a book now. I mean, what better way of unpacking what in blazers is going on with my life, then to go to the mattresses!

Oops I mean go to the bookshelves.

(Sorry. I just really wanted to use that famous Godfather phrase Tom Hanks’ character Joe Fox taught Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen Kelly in the hit romcom You’ve Got Mail)

But whether mattresses or bookshelves, life’s often a battle if you think about it. And our world is already in the pandemic fight of our lives now, so might as well throw in a good metaphor or two no?

I suspect you too can point to parts of your own life where things were anything but predictable and ‘linear’! And very much like a battlefield too.

So back to Feiler and his latest offering. Why am I reviewing and recommending it? Good question.

Let me explain by telling you one of my secret “biases”.

Investigative reporting and writing

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I love reading stuff where the writer throws a lot of researched history and info my way. Where they don’t just conjecture in a vacuum, but back up their assertions with (preferably irrefutable) evidence rigorously assembled first-hand, and analysed to death.

And from my experience, the writers that best embody these qualities in their works would be those involved in long range research and investigative reporting. Better still if they have spent years diving ocean-deep into their topics so the rest of us don’t have to!

Feiler certainly fits the bill.

The man spent a year retracing the first five books of the Bible Moses wrote (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy — otherwise known as the Pentateuch). And he did so on foot for 10,000 miles through Israel, Iraq and Iran! Out of that came the much-acclaimed bestseller Walking the Bible (2005) that’s been translated into more than 15 languages. It even inspired a children’s version and a photography coffee table edition.

He’s also worked the ground to gather expert tips in disciplines as diverse as science, sports, military, and business to produce his 2013 book The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More.

So when such a man spent three years of his life some time after all that (plus a bone cancer scare) to find out just how prevalent a non-linear life is among hundreds of families across all 50 states in the USA?

I want to know what insights he gleaned! Wouldn’t you?

And considering all the primary data he collected from over 6,000 pages of interview transcripts with people from literally all walks of life, I’m guessing there are lots of tales in there that would surprise even the most jaded of us!

What were my takeaways?

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If you’ve read this far, I’ve got some bad news here (sorry!).

There are simply too many golden nuggets to draw out from this excellent tome of a book that I couldn’t possibly do it justice in one post. Nor would I wish to unpack them over several posts either. For even if I assume you would stay with me all the way (a big “IF” in this day of short attention spans and endless distractions!), I’ll much rather you just get the book and mine the wisdom there for yourself.

(Or “cheat” by checking out his NPR interview here!)

In a nutshell, I am highly recommending this book.

But of course I wouldn’t be so cruel as to just leave you hanging without even some “spare change.”

Thus, let me end here by sharing what three of my biggest takeaways from this book were:

  1. We should reject any narrative that insists there’s a linear progression in our lives, because it’s going to set us up for disappointment and unrealistic expectation. Plus the non-linear life is really more the norm this day and age.
  2. Disruptions of “earthquake” proportions (Feiler calls them “life-quakes”) will likely occur at least three or more times in any one person’s lifetime. But we can choose to recount them in retrospect with either ‘contaminative’ (downbeat ending) or ‘redemptive’ (upbeat ending) narratives. It’s up to us.
  3. Diving into and openly sharing our individual life stories, and those of others’, can empower, connect and inspire us to navigate this non-linear life with hope and determination. And to accept (even embrace) the inevitable pain and challenges that accompany such a life courageously. Especially when we know we’re not alone.

Appetite whetted yet? Ok then.

Go. Get the book. Read it.

Then let go and enjoy your non-linear life.

I assure you, you’re in good company!

2 thoughts on “Life Hack Book Review #3 — Living the non-linear life

  1. Ooo maybe I should check this book out, because I’ve been brought up to be as linear as possible (go to school, get good grades, find a job, stay in that job, marry, have kids, die).

    Thankfully, I didn’t really do well in school, which set me off on a non-linear path. I could use some tips from Feiler. Thanks for this post, Kelvin!

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