Complete and Utter Failure: a Celebration of Also-Rans, Runners-Ups, Never-Weres and Total Flops, tackles a peculiarly ignored face of life- the possibility, and in many cases inevitability, of failure. It is written by Neil Steinberg. Currently a news columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, he possesses a uniquely quirky sense of humor that can turn even a book about failure into a lighthearted and whimsical read. it is certainly replete with depressing stories and calamitous events of history, something a book of this scope demands. Yet Steinberg juxtaposes personal accounts, historical insights, and general optimism of failure's wickedness, and leaves the reader inexplicably happy throughout this enthralling read. The book aims to illuminate the humanness of failure as a teaching tool, a sort of philosophical anthropology for the darker side of humans' need to achieve, and their perhaps more human destiny to fail every now and then.
Steinberg's celebration begins with an introductory account of a failed attempt to perform magic at age four. It is presumably his first failure. He segues quickly into an account of historical failures. Napoleon, who fell short of taking over the entire world, and George Leigh Mallory, Fatally obsessed over climbing mount Everest. It progresses to a long and example rich account of product failure. Ronson Varaflame butane candles, Premier cigarettes, Corafam synthetic shoes, and other examples exemplify the many reasons why products fail. He highlights no less than six, the funniest of which being the Clark Syndrome, a term he coined for the purposes of the book. it is the belief that because something can be done, it will or should be done. Cameos of such a fallacy include Campbell's soup and Gerber. An account of innumerable Mount Everest attempts follows. Aptly subtitled pointless failure, the chapter describes why people went, why they failed, and what it all means for the human mind to desire such a frivolous goal. Breaking from the historical accounts of earlier chapters, Steinberg visits a spelling bee. A contest in which all but one adolescent contestant fails. And what is even worse is that their failure is done on stage in front of thousands of parents and relatives who feed this agonizingly public browbeat of adolescent innocence. The sponsors paraded it as education. The parents buy into that idea. The next chapter, The education of telephone history, keeps with the theme of education. it is a perfect example of how failure can be cruel and ruthless, and largely out of ones control. The Lure of making the impossible possible, the books next topic, can also appear out of ones control, and can so often cause humiliating failure. The most intriguing of the chapters is the penultimate. It explores the way that overwhelming success can follow complete failure if given enough time. Often, it comes with age and the need to repeat prior success. Charles Darwin is a glaring example of such a failure in a book he published after The Origin of Species , called The Expressions and Emotions in Man and Animals.
Complete and Utter Failure ends on a philosophical note with an anthropic look at how humans covet things that have been preserved throughout history without examining the things that are lost. A five thousand year old bowl, for example, evokes immense wonder about the bowl's journey from antiquity to present day, yet not a single thought about what happened to the matching plate. and had more things been preserved in greater number, the term rare would become devalued. Rarity would become common. Similarly, people exalt success while virtually ignoring failure as if it is an unimportant consequence of important events. But In a way, success is only made possible by failure. That is, success, like rare things preserved throughout the ages, is made great because there are many more failures before it. For everyone who succeeds, it follows that they have failed much more often than their success would hint at. So much can be learned from that overwhelmingly more common state of affairs.
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