#25 – Maps of Meaning by Jordan Peterson (My 100 Favorite Books)


This may be the most controversial entry on my list, as the author has become famous (or infamous) in recent years.  I read this book in 2014 on the recommendation of a friend, found it wordy and challenging, posted a review on Goodreads and that was it.  At the time there were maybe ten total reviews of this book on Goodreads.   Then about a year or so later, I started getting tons of likes on my review.  What happened?

Well, Jordan Peterson made some videos, waded into some political debates and became a rock star.  For some people, he was the hero, fighting political correctness and calling for human responsibility and hard work.  For others he was the villain, seeking to turn back years of progress for women.

I’m not interested in telling anyone which authors to read or not read.  I’ve listened to a few of Peterson’s podcasts, and read his new book 12 Rules For Life.  Like any writer or thinker, there are things I find helpful and challenging as well as areas I disagree deeply.  I don’t think Peterson is the messiah or a monster and it is an error to dismiss him (is everyone one tribe disagrees with automatically racist?) as it is to idolize him (just because he agrees with you, is he never wrong?).

All that to say, his book Maps of Meaning is brilliant.  For any who think he is a hack, I’d suggest reading it.  For any who wish he waded into political waters a bit less, I’d also suggest reading it.  Here is my Goodreads review from 2014:

A few weeks ago my three year old daughter and I went to the library to check out some books. Usually she heads right to the section with Curious George while I peruse the kids books, looking for new and fun stories. Lately she’s been randomly grabbing books off the shelf and declaring she wants them. Surprisingly they are usually quite good. I don’t recall if she grabbed it or if I did, but we ended up with Scaredy Squirrel.

We took it home and read it. It was hilarious. Poor Scaredy Squirrel is terrified to leave his safe tree and journey into the unknown. He has all sorts of contingency plans for when and if he is threatened. Of course, when a bee flies by he forgets all his plans and dives out of his tree for safety.

A funny kids book and nothing more, right? Well, at the same time we got this book, I was working on Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning. A good chunk of his book is about how humans live in the midst of two worlds – the known and the unknown. We learn and grow by encountering the unknown, as scary as it is. The story of Scaredy Squirrel is a fun illustration of what Peterson was talking about, I actually flipped to the front to see if he had authored it.

I first heard of Peterson’s book from a friend. My friend reads a ton of books and has introduced me to many great writers. On Facebook a while back he shared the ten most influential books he had read and this was one of them. I added it to my list. When I finally got a copy and set out to read it was a challenging and delightful feast. Peterson draws on various fields, from science to religion. He brings them all to bear on his field, psychology, in a discussion of how mythology, the stories we tell, influence how we view the world. To put it another way, none of us sees the world objectively, as if the world is just objects out there which we all perceive. Instead we inherit maps of meaning from our ancestors which shape how we see the world.

There is a lot of good in this book. The only drawback is that it could have been more concise as Peterson tends to repeat himself and ramble at times. Overall though, this is a fantastic book.“

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