by Anatoly IVANOV


“The Art of Impossible” by Steven Kotler is a perfect example of a book by a journalist who does punchy write-ups of other books written by other punchy journalists who cite popular self-hack writers (like Tim Ferriss, whose advice is retold several times), who talk to actual researchers and achievers.

As a bonus, Kotler ads a lot of brain anatomy and chemistry jargon to this long citation chain. It sure kept my concentration up while visualizing the correct 3D locations of anterior cingulate cortex and the parietal cortex.

Sarcasm aside, it’s a great book if you want to understand how top-performing, entrepreneurial, creative people function. Whether you know someone like that personally or you’re interested in abnormal humans. I know a few people around me who’d totally benefit from reading such an instruction manual. As a way to reduce some of their complaints about the frequently unpleasant functioning of those abnormal people, especially when they try to make new stuff out of thin air instead of enjoying a weekend sipping beer at the terrrasse.

Sadly, for the `normal` folks with the “regular genes” and “standard upbringing”… sorry, this ain’t a manual of how to suddenly become impossibly performing and extraordinarily creative.

And, maybe because the subject is complex and there’s a word “ART” in the title, this is not a detailed, down-to-earth practical book from James Clear, nor is it a still-approachable, but rigorously academic research in book form by Steven Pinker, Daniel Kahneman or Richard Herrnstein.

I haven’t learned anything new, got annoyed by the glossing over of the details and by the very omnipresent, very misleading and very American illusion that “anyone with the right skill and mindset can achieve whatever they set their mind to”.

330 pages later, the author admits that “now you know the secret, and it’s pretty underwhelming, right? None of these interventions are particularly sexy. There is no nifty piece of technology to play with or unusual substance to ingest. They’re just items on a checklist. Worse, progress is often invisible. A little bit today, a little bit tomorrow, do this for weeks and months and years and the result won’t just be a life that exceeds your expectations, it’ll be one that exceeds your imagination.”

However, much earlier in the book, Kotler starts with yet another citation of someone else’s wisdom… A more realistic message from current neuroscience that, until we learn how to re-engineer our DNA, we’re stuck at thinking:

“When you’re young, your potential seems infinite. You think you might do anything, really. You might be Einstein. You might be DiMaggio. Then you get to an age when what you might be, gives way to what you have been. You weren’t Einstein. You weren’t anything. That’s a bad moment.”



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