I don’t possess good enough writing skills to review such a book in detail. Instead, I would like to link to Scott Young’s review. He does a much better job than I could and then, with Scott’s review being quite large, I would like to share a couple of my own thoughts below.
Would I recommend it? If your interests are starting to steer towards the philosophy of living in the present, Zen and Buddhism (those are not mentioned in the book directly but the philosophy is there), you should give this book a try. It’s relatively short and has some good ideas.
The book was written in the 1940s but very much applicable to today’s age. The main theme of the book is our search for security in the ever-changing world. In Watt’s view, such attempts are fruitless and are only spent by people who cling to a false idea of what life is all about. To seek security in your life is to misunderstand life itself. Change, wars, successes, and failures are all part of life and trying to “fix” them in place is a losing fight. We use words as labels to try to define things we don’t understand or can’t control. Yet so much in life is not under our control.
One of my favorite sub-themes of the book is how we as humans fail to live in the present. We search for happiness, that always feels like a thing that will happen in the future. We define and come up with ideas of what happiness is based on our past experience. So we look towards future informed by the past and ignore the present.
The book also includes many discussions around the role of science and religion. In a way, to the author, the two are identical in that it is a human invention that tries to explain the world around us. Science uses scientific methods while religion assigns certain beliefs and urges its followers to adhere to them. Both trying to define the same thing while using a different language.
I am walking away from this book with a good reminder that nothing stays on forever, that change is part of life, without pain there would be no joy and vice versa, and the best we can do is appreciate the present moment we have while we are on this short adventure called life.