* Financial Times Business Book of the Month * Next Big Idea Club Nominee * One of Bloomberg's "52 New Books That Top Business Leaders Are Recommending" * Aleo Review of Books 2022 Book of the Year *
A groundbreaking exploration of why we want what we want, and a toolkit for freeing ourselves from chasing unfulfilling desires.
Gravity affects every aspect of our physical being, but there’s a psychological force just as powerful—yet almost nobody has heard of it. It’s responsible for bringing groups of people together and pulling them apart, making certain goals attractive to some and not to others, and fueling cycles of anxiety and conflict. In Wanting, Luke Burgis draws on the work of French polymath René Girard to bring this hidden force to light and reveals how it shapes our lives and societies.
According to Girard, humans don’t desire anything independently. Human desire is mimetic—we imitate what other people want. This affects the way we choose partners, friends, careers, clothes, and vacation destinations. Mimetic desire is responsible for the formation of our very identities. It explains the enduring relevancy of Shakespeare’s plays, why Peter Thiel decided to be the first investor in Facebook, and why our world is growing more divided as it becomes more connected.
Wanting also shows that conflict does not arise because of our differences—it comes from our sameness. Because we learn to want what other people want, we often end up competing for the same things. Ignoring our large similarities, we cling to our perceived differences.
Drawing on his experience as an entrepreneur, teacher, and student of classical philosophy and theology, Burgis shares tactics that help turn blind wanting into intentional wanting--not by trying to rid ourselves of desire, but by desiring differently. It’s possible to be more in control of the things we want, to achieve more independence from trends and bubbles, and to find more meaning in our work and lives.
The future will be shaped by our desires. Wanting shows us how to desire a better one.
Burgis (Unrepeatable), a business professor at the Catholic University of America, argues in this fascinating treatise that desire is often misdirected. His focus is on mimetic wanting, a theory proposed in the 1980s by Stanford professor and historian René Girard, which posits that humans learn to want things from seeing others want them. Most of these desires are what Burgis calls "thin desires," which are "shallow" and "contagious." He recommends pursuing so-called "thick desires," which are formed over time and "make for a good life." Wanting to retire, for example, is a thin desire, while wanting to spend more time with family is a thick desire. The key to thick desires, he writes, is practicing "disruptive empathy"—by, for instance, listening to other people's stories about where they find fulfillment—which can derail one from focusing on thin desires. Through thoughtful anecdotes, Burgis makes a case that "the transformation of desire happens when we become less concerned about the fulfillment of our own desires and more concerned about the fulfillment of others' desires." Readers who don't mind psychology mixed in with their inspiration should give this a look.