Book review: The Art of Non-Conformity

When I learned Chris Guillebeau had written a book, I begged him for an advance copy. In person, Chris is charismatic with extra doses of magnetism, practicality, and kindness thrown into the mix. I imagined his book would be similar (it is) and I would want to carry it with me even after I read it, like a trusted companion (I already do).

The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World is hitting bookstores today and is a handbook for anyone who wants to break free of an unfulfilled life. As Chris explains, “It’s your own life, so why not set your own rules. You can do good things for yourself while helping other people at the same time.” It helps you plan a course for a remarkable life, get over the fears and obstacles that are currently in your way, and get started living the life you imagine. It is detailed, plausible, and full of concrete examples.

Chris is obsessed with traveling the world — he’s on a quest to visit every country by April 7, 2013, and has made it to 149 of 192 already — and he explains how he transformed his circumstances to make achieving his non-traditional life possible. The book is full of advice for how to achieve similar ambitions — whatever type of life your heart desires — even if it doesn’t include traveling. In addition to Chris’ first-hand experiences, there are interviews and biographies of more than a dozen others who have bucked the system and lived life on their terms.

At the end of most of the chapters is a “Remember This” section that highlights the major themes in that block of text. At the end of the chapter “Setting the Terms of Your Unconventional Life,” are the following notes that spoke to the unclutterer in me:


  • The pathway to world domination, or whatever it is you want to do, begins with clearly understanding what you want to get out of life.
  • Once you begin taking your ambitions seriously, you can usually accomplish most things in less time than you initially expected.
  • In the end, it’s not all about you. Most of us want a life that leaves a positive impact on others.
  • When you start doing what you really want, not everyone will understand. This is okay.

The reason I pursue an uncluttered life is so I have the time, energy, and resources to live remarkably. I don’t want to be weighed down by my stuff; I want to have as much freedom as possible to focus on what matters most to me. Chris’ philosophy is similar, and his book even includes tips for creating a “stop doing” list and suggestions for how to live with 100 things. A key component for living his remarkable life is keeping clutter out of it, and he provides strategies for doing this.

A word of note: If you are not interested in setting your own rules and changing the world (even just a little part of it), this book is not for you. This book speaks directly to people who already have the desire to live in unconventional ways. No pages are used to persuade or convince someone to pursue a non-traditional lifestyle. Either you’re on board from the beginning, or you’re not. In my opinion, this makes the book stronger because it doesn’t waste time preaching to the choir.

If you are interested in living a remarkable life, I highly recommend Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World.

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11 Comments for “Book review: The Art of Non-Conformity”

  1. posted by Adam on

    Hi Erin,
    I enjoyed your review and sought to check out the ebook but found it unavailable; did it used to be on kindle and now it isn’t? Or did it just come out today and it’s just not yet for sale? I live in the US.


  2. posted by Marlita H on

    I found the same issue with Kindle. The message I got was that it’s not available to US customers. Odd, since Chris’s Twitter bio says he’s in Portland, OR. You’d think it would be a US product….

  3. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Adam — Since the book is just released today, it might not be available for the Kindle until tomorrow or later this week. I think my e-book came out a day or two later than the print version, if I remember correctly.

  4. posted by Chris Guillebeau on

    Hey Erin, thanks so much for your kind and thorough review! I truly appreciate it.

    Re: Kindle – not 100% sure what’s going on there. It was supposed to be available today at launch, but obviously, it’s not. I’ve sent a note to Penguin so they can check on it and hopefully get it fixed with Amazon.

  5. posted by Mletta on

    I’m interested to read the book after enjoying Chris’ work online.

    However, I have to laugh at the idea (espoused by others as well as Chris) about setting your own rules as it applies to the typical person who works for an organization. Staff doesn’t set the rules. They follow or they lose their jobs. Good or bad, right or wrong. And having rules is not always a bad thing, since it’s clear that many people who work need them.

    Even in one’s own business, you can make all the rules you want, but your clients, the folks you sell to or do work for, if you want to be in business, they will dictate a lot of the terms. Anyone who thinks otherwise has been reading too many of these “interesting but hardly relevant for the average person” books.

    You can set the rules for your own behavior, your own choices, etc. And if you’re lucky, you’re family will buy in. (!) But real life is more about finding ways to get over “rules” and work together for common goals.

    Rules too often become a focal point rather than a desired outcome.

    Some people simply resent having anyone but themselves dictate how things will be. Maturity teaches you to accept that we don’t control the world, only our response to it!

  6. posted by Alix on

    Actually, if readers are on board from the beginning, he kinda IS preaching to the choir!

  7. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Alix — Nope. Think of it like a tool box. You are ready to make a change, so Chris gives you all of the tools you’ll need. He gives you the skills, not the motivation.

    Think teacher or encyclopedia, not evangelist.

  8. posted by chacha1 on

    “the typical person who works in an organization” can still lead a non-traditional life. A conventional workplace doesn’t have to fence in everything else.

    And the person who truly wants to live outside that set of rules just has to choose a different sort of work. The person who runs their own business may have to consider the needs of the marketplace, but still has complete freedom to explore different ways of adapting to those needs.

    Working together toward common goals is all very nice, but a lot of people never get what *they* want because they are too busy working toward what they think “the family” or “the community” wants. I agree with Chris … as long as you are not interfering with or injuring someone else, pursue YOUR remarkable life.

    My dad sure didn’t think about what my sister and I might have wanted when he decided to make several major moves during our childhood. But we weren’t injured by it, so he had every right to do what he thought was best for him.

    A family or a community is nothing more than a collection of individuals. It’s not a single-celled organism.

  9. posted by David Seruyange on

    When I hear of books like this I always check on the age of the writer. It’s not because I want to demean the thoughts of a younger person, it’s just that I think this kind of unconventional (fanciful?) approach is more interesting to me by several orders of magnitude in older people than younger ones. How, for example, does one sustain a balanced family life with travel or adventure? How does one give a sense of a larger world to their children as they get older? Does adventure and the “unconventional” presuppose travel or does it stretch into other things: volunteering, community work, or other lifestyle choices?

    I’m right in the middle of my 30s books like this awaken a sense that I’m looking at one half of my life where I wanted travel and exotic experiences and the other half where I’m taking that person into a life with a family, a mortgage, a job, and the need to be “responsible.” It would be nice to hear from a person who is in their 60s explain how they got it done.

  10. posted by Matthew L Daniel on

    Just to follow up on “Adam”‘s comment (7-Sep-2010), I actually contacted Amazon to find out why I am unable to purchase the Kindle edition.

    This was their response:

    ‘The Art of Non-Conformity’ isn’t currently available for Kindle for the US customers. Your direct feedback to the publisher is helpful.

    I’ve checked our website for ‘The Art of Non-Conformity’ and see it is available for kindle in all the countries listed on our website except United States.

    Occasionally books are removed from the Kindle Store for various reasons. We don’t have any details about why this particular book may have been removed.

    You may see a link labeled “Please tell the publisher: I’d like to read this book on Kindle” directly below the product image on some book detail pages.

    We will continue to work with publishers directly and ask that they make their content available on Kindle.

  11. posted by Cindy on

    When the price of this book comes down to about two dollars or less, I’ll get it. As of now, I just can’t afford it.

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