Over the next week or so, I’ll be taking an in-depth look at a book to be released next year entitled The Number, written by Lee Eisenberg. Before I get to the book, let me explain how the book came into my possession.
At the end of October, I blogged about Lee’s article in New York Magazine, Nailing Your New York Number. (The New York Magazine article is here.) I found the article interesting, but I did not know a book was in the works.
A few weeks later I received an email from an individual who works for the book publisher’s marketing team. The marketing manager asked if I would like to receive an advance copy of The Number, the book on which the magazine article was based. She did not request me to write about the book in return for the free copy, but I see it as the Right Thing to Do.
While reading the book in California over my “vacation,” I dog-eared no less than fifteen pages that struck me as insightful, helpful, or otherwise blog-worthy. I’ll get to some of those nuggets in a future part of the series. Today, let’s start with a general overview the book.
The subtitle of the book reads, “A completely different way to think about the rest of your life.” I believe what Lee Eisenberg is presenting is not really a “completely different” point of view, but a simplified perspective in which everyone has a Number, whether it’s on the tip of their tongue or the back of their minds. This Number is two things: it’s an individual’s net worth, but it’s also a (fluid) goal — how much money is necessary in order for an individual to live in the manner they’d like to in the location they’d prefer without the necessity of work. Obviously, we’re talking about different strokes for different folks.
The largest problem with a number of books that fall into the self-help-with-money category is the authors assume their readers have the mental capacity of a ten-year-old. When I read this genre, I’m not expecting a work of literature comparable to Pride and Prejudice, but big print, short sentences, and the same idea beaten into my head multiple times do not an enjoyable read make.
The Number is a refreshing change — it is the first personal finance planning book I’ve enjoyed reading. (Lee Eisenberg, thank you for not talking down to me.) Overall, the main reason I enjoyed this is because the author and I share a similar sense of humor — a “quality” that is becoming increasingly elusive. For example, Lee calls one of metaphors — in this case, “explanations for why people aren’t planning” ahead — the Eisenberg Uncertainty Principles. While on the surface the term smacks of egotism, the reference makes me smile. (We’ll get to those Principles in a future entry.)
Unfortunately, the book does fall into some of the traps many self-help books do: the tendency to categorize and over-simplify. I must admit that some of this technique is necessary in order to publish a book that makes sense and captures the attention without endless dry, detailed explanations.
It’s human nature to categorize; look at science. All living organisms are strictly categorized (kingdom, phylum, species, etc.), but these seems to be an endless need to categorize humans, whether based on sex, heritage, skin color, psychological attitudes, or access to broadband internet. This book adds new dimensions to the Human Categorization Matrix, including Number Types. To Lee, people can be split into groups based on their Number Types — a look at how and how often one thinks about the Number.
The Number is witty, fun and intelligent — by far the best take on the topic. The book contains many great ideas that I plan to revisit, both on Consumerism Commentary and in my own life.
Updated October 9, 2016 and originally published November 28, 2005.