Book Review – The Art of Non-Conformity

If you’ve done much reading in the personal finance blogosphere this past week, you’ve probably heard about the latest Only72 sale. It was promoted, sometimes extensively, by any number of personal finance bloggers (including myself, although perhaps not as strongly as I should have). One of the major perks of this particular deal was the chance to obtain the newest publication by Chris Guillebeau, a popular writer in the lifestyle design field. How did he get so popular, you ask?

The Art of Non-Conformity, his earlier book, holds a great many answers. With a subtitle like ‘Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World’, it’s easy to see the appeal. Does it actually provide such a life changing experience, of does it come up short? Let’s read on to find out!


The Art of Non-Conformity opens with a short Prologue, explaining the author’s view on life (and the importance of not simply following the crowd as you move through it) with comparisons to the old parental expression, ‘If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?’ The first section of the book looks at setting your own rules in order to live ‘The Remarkable Life’. Chapter one discusses how most people see the world, and provides a list of things to do to break out of that view. It shares some of Guillebeau’s experiences that have led him to this point in life, and provides a view of what sort of issues will be addressed in future chapters.

The second chapter looks at how to start figuring out what you want in your non-conformist life. It provides a few pieces of advice on how to set the terms for your ideal world, creating lists of lifetime goals for the next year, five years from now, and throughout the rest of your life. As with most chapters from here on, it has plenty of encouraging quotations along the side of each page, and a few points of particular importance spelled out at the end of the chapter.

Chapter three is about conquering your fear of this alternate view on life, and getting the courage to take the first step in claiming a new life. It shares several stories about others attempting to take the leap (some successful, some not) and provides a list of ways to help get yourself through your fear. The fourth chapter looks at how to fight the authorities who seek to hold you down (and do so successfully), by looking at unconventional tactics that you can employ in the process. It discusses gatekeepers, those people who seek to limit your options, and various ways to get past them.

A brief interlude shares the things you don’t need in your non-conformist life (paperwork, years of preparation, and experience, among others) and the things you do need (passion, a vision, commitment, and the answers to what you want and how you can help others) in order to succeed. The second section of the book then looks at reclaiming work and making it better, starting with chapter five, discussing how to make competence your security. It includes several methods of doing so, from starting your own business to becoming a rockstar at your current job to redefining where you work with a different approach to getting a job.

Chapter six covers a subject after my own heart, comparing going to graduate school (or any form of higher education really) to going out into the world and building your education that way. As you might guess from the book so far, Guillebeau mainly comes out in favor of getting experiences rather than a degree, sharing a one-year alternative to graduate school (with a hefty dose of sociology, current events and life skills in the mix).

The seventh chapter looks at building a small army of followers, those who will support you and help you achieve your goals. It provides advice on how to build your army, strengthen their support for you and your goal, and then ask them for helping you achieve your goals. It provides some ways to use your army to achieve your goals, and some possible things you might do to defeat your own process.

Chapter eight covers the personal finance end of building your own life, sharing some basic financial principles and stressing how it is better to focus on building a strong income to achieve financial independence, rather than focusing on creating a nest egg large enough to live off in retirement. The chapter finishes with a section on the importance of investing in people, by giving to charities.

Another interlude follows, looking at some of the criticism that winners have suffered in their lifetime (and sometimes beyond). Part three of the book covers the power of convergence, looking at how to put everything together. The ninth chapter looks at ways of adding abundance to your life, by excluding all the unnecessary things and information in your life. It also looks at how to build abundance in your life.

Chapter ten looks at contrarian adventures, finding ways to do things that are against the normal flow of life. Mostly it focuses on foreign travel, sharing experiences, advice, and recommendations to make the travel process smoother. The eleventh and final chapter focuses on building a legacy, a major, positive impact you had on the world. There is advice on both planning your legacy and working towards it included.

The book ends with a few small sections, starting with a Conclusion that presents some Dangerous Ideas, stressing the importance of handling critics and presenting a few ‘dangerous ideas’ Guillebeau would like to see implemented. There is list of gratitude, a discussion of his favorite charity (Charity: Water, if you were curious), an FAQ, and a list of resources available online.


The Art of Non-Conformity definitely takes a distinct look at life, providing a new way of viewing most things. It shares numerous tales of how both Guillebeau and others have successfully taken on a non-conformist life, and provides tips for others to reach that point as well. It’s quite entertaining and inspiring, providing definite food for thought regarding your life as you currently live it.


As you might guess from a book with ‘Non-Conformity’ in the title, it’s not for everyone. Some of the information contained is limited in usefulness, particularly if you aren’t planning to start your own business or travel the world. Depending on what you are currently doing with your life and how happy you are, some of the comments about the ‘conformist’ lifestyle (including terms like conformist) can prove a bit irritating.


The Art of Non-Conformity is definitely a very interesting and eye-opening read. While not for everyone (as the author himself notes several times), it definitely provides a different way to look at life. If you (or possibly someone you care about) has been searching for a way to approach life that’s not the typical style, this book is definitely worth a read (for you, or a recent graduate in your life who doesn’t know what to do with his or her life).

4 Responses to Book Review – The Art of Non-Conformity

  1. Very true; there is a larger amount of luck involved in succeeding like this than most people are willing to admit. (Look at how many people have had success in the age of the Internet that a mere twenty years ago wouldn’t have been able to succeed in that manner, Guillebeau included.)

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