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Book Review: The 4-Hour Workweek

I just read The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich on a recent flight. The author, Timothy Ferriss, is the kind of guy average people love to hate. So why are we snatching up his book like it’s the cure for cancer?


I just read The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich on a recent flight. The author, Timothy Ferriss, is the kind of guy average people love to hate. So why are we snatching up his book like it’s the cure for cancer?

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich is no literary masterpiece, even by pulp self-help standards, but the book is a motivating glimpse of how some can build an alternative to the 9-5 grind, and an entertaining read to boot.

Timothy Ferriss, the book’s twenty-nine year old author, was a half-ass Ivy League grad who decided early in his career he liked traveling the world better than working. Who’s to blame him? Unlike the average Joe, however, Timmy somehow engineered a pseudoscience sports drink that made him thousands, if not millions. Then he figured out how to build an army of low-paid workers in Bangalore to collect his profits while he tangoed in Rio and cheated at kickboxing in China.

Finally, just as any smart person who has succeeded at flaunting convention should do, he wrote a book about it.

The 4-Hour Workweek is actually four books in one. Firstly, it’s an egotistical autobiography of Timmy’s exploits. The guy’s giving the middle finger to mainstream American society, why not brag about it?

Secondly, it’s a manual for how to utilize what he calls “geographic arbitrage” to outsource your more mundane work to India. These chapters are the source of the book’s entertainment, like the example of an Esquire Magazine writer using an Indian administrative assistant to rebuff PR hounds and even communicate with his wife.

The next section of the book deals with starting an online business — mainly one that requires little work and can provide big profits. This is where the book gets sketchy. Timmy’s not explicitly saying, “go out and scam people”, but any sensible reader knows that most of the e-book crap floating online is worth exactly the paper it’s printed on — nothing. To his credit, Timmy does mention some legitimate-sounding businesses, like Yoga DVDs and a T-shirt resale website.

Then he describes how to circumvent copyright laws. It’s funny, for all the talk of bargain-basement administrative work you can buy from India, there’s only one or two references to the high-priced lawyers you’ll probably need if you engage in Timmy’s chosen line of work.

So what if you do want to try to get rich by building and selling questionable information products? In that case, there are better how-to guides out there than The 4-Hour Workweek. For $9.95 you can buy this .PDF that does a better job of explaining how to set up online shop. Yes, it’s sketchy, but the meat and potatoes are there.

Finally, The 4-Hour Workweek describes how you can leverage technology to work remotely, whether or not you decide to abandon the corporate world altogether. He does provide a very good primer on arranging a remote work situation with your employer. If this is something you’ve dreamed of but haven’t been able to make happen, this part of Timmy’s book might be worth the price of admission, if only to help you build the courage to go for it.

One final idea of Timmy’s I did like: avoiding the trap of using accumulated wealth as a way of keeping score, and the pitfalls of “living for retirement”. He bashes lawyers and investment bankers working 80-hour weeks chasing millions just for the sake of buying better cars. He advocates working less and living more, which is a lesson we can all take to the beach.

You may find some preaching about 401ks and IRAs on this and other personal finance sites, but we can’t forget to live life now.

This is what I took away from The The 4-Hour Workweek: It’s our experiences that count, so let’s minimize the time we spend working and maximize our experiences. Fair enough.

In the meantime, I hate you, Timmy Ferriss, for your absolutely ingenious laziness.

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.