Arianna Huffington's Thrive: 'A triple whammy of tosh'

Ancient Greek notions of trinity provide the structure for Arianna Huffington's self-help book. Unfortunately, what she's served up is not tripos but tripe, says reviewer Stephen Bayley.

by Stephen Bayley
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2014

Watch it! Arianna is reaching out to us. I am all for how-to books. History has many fine examples. Works by Machiavelli, the first management consultant, and Henry David Thoreau, the first dropout, are personal favourites, as well as masterpieces of world literature.

Does Mrs Huffington, referred to by docile PRs as 'one of the most influential women in the world', sit comfortably in this company?

Alas, rich, sleek, coiffed Mrs Huffington has, despite appearances, or maybe because of them, not been sitting comfortably at all. The 'third metric' of her subtitle is a reference to the Greek tripos, the three-legged stool that has lent a useful image, first, to Cambridge University and, now, thanks to Arianna, to the rest of us.

Two legs of Arianna's stool are money and power. In her case, they are ample and sturdy. But, until recently, the third leg has been missing, giving an element of emotional instability to an otherwise supremely successful media career, and what appeared to be a dominant sitting position with many of the less fortunate crushed beneath her callipygian bottom.

This third missing leg is 'mindfulness', or whatever it's called this week.

A hospital episode caused a personal crisis. Stellar vectors of wealth, influence, status and social promotion were brought thumping down to earth, as mortality said: 'Hi, be seeing ya!' Eartha Kitt used to insist: 'If I can't take it with me, I'm not gonna go.'

The thought, happily misplaced, of having to go turned Arianna contemplative. However, despite a new appetite for transcendental calm, her ambition seems unabated. The Huffington Post Media Group, a digital pioneer known affectionately as HuffPo, was sold to AOL for $315m, and Arianna is still in charge.

You can, it seems, have your wobbly stool and eat it.

Meanwhile, Arianna advises us to get in touch with 'who we really are'. I am not sure this is wise. Many of us have spent time and effort getting away from our authentic selves by fabricating more attractive personae. Certainly, I have. I would be horrified to be told to rediscover the real me.

Anyway, wasn't the now Waspy Mrs Huffington the Hellenic Ms Stassinopoulos at uni? We could debate 'real' for a long time.

Stress was a factor in Arianna's degringolade. One remedy, apparently, is to get more sleep, chief nourisher in life's feast. We are advised to wear good-quality pyjamas, since to retire in an old gym T-shirt has the wrong associations of treadmills and raised heart rates. Other advice that will be new to many is to have a nice, hot, foamy bath before bed.

And here's a really good one! Turn off your mobile at night.

Never mind the sound Darwinian argument that stress is good for you, this is poor stuff. True, I might have a heart attack trying to finish this review to deadline, but, on the other hand, the pressure makes me feel alive and, therefore, happy.

And do I really want to be a zoned-out dork staring at the horizon? Not really, but Arianna has form here. With her early mentor and lover, the late columnist Bernard Levin, she flirted with a Californian cult called Insight (not mentioned herein). What was this? A spot of trance-channelling and seminars called 'Knowing the Purpose of Your Heart'. You perhaps get the idea.

Arianna's methods will be very familiar to connoisseurs of the airport bookstall how-to genre. Her books on Maria Callas and Picasso were dogged by accusations of plagiarism, and she was successfully sued.

But Thrive is too bad to have been copied. This is an effortful compendium of cod philosophy, homespun confessional and lofty name-dropping. Careful! Here comes Marcus Aurelius. Malcolm Gladwell, that opportunistic genius of aphoristic recycling, is treated as a serious authority.

And the writing is dire. 'As psychologist Karen Horneffer-Ginter writes ... as mathematician Alfred North Whitehead wrote ... The poet Mark Nepo defined ... Charles Duhigg explains'. This lazy approach occurs on successive pages. Of analytical power or critical detachment, I see no evidence. Of enraptured self-absorption, I find too much.

I am very glad she is feeling better, but reading Thrive made me feel much worse. At least you can laugh at Machiavelli's cynicism and plagiarise Thoreau's unique aphorisms. But plagiarism implies trading up. No one is ever going to be writing 'As Arianna Huffington argued ...'.

Still, in seeking our third metric, we must not be deterred by mean-spirited criticism. Onward, upward and inward!

This is Arianna's athletically contorted three-pronged advice, which concludes this wince-makingly awful book.

Stephen Bayley is a contributing editor to MT.

BOOK

Thrive

The third metric to redefining success and creating a happier life

Arianna Huffington

WH Allen, £16.99

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