12 Rules for Life

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12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
12 Rules for Life An Antidote to Chaos book cover.jpg
AuthorJordan Peterson
IllustratorEthan Van Sciver
PublisherRandom House Canada
Penguin Allen Lane (UK)
Publication date
January 23, 2018 (Canada)
January 16, 2018 (UK)
Media typePrint, digital, audible
Pages448 (hardcover)
320 (ebook)
ISBN978-0-345-81602-3 (Canada), ISBN 978-0-241-35163-5 (UK)
LC ClassBJ1589 P48 2018
Preceded byMaps of Meaning 

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is a 2018 self-help book by Canadian clinical psychologist and psychology professor Jordan Peterson. It provides life advice through essays on abstract ethical principles, psychology, mythology, religion, and personal anecdotes.

The book topped bestseller lists in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, and has sold over three million copies. Peterson went on a world tour to promote the book, with a Channel 4 News interview receiving much attention. Critics praised the book's advice for men[clarification needed] and its atypical style. Peterson's perspective on God received mixed reception, and his writing style was criticized by some reviewers.


The book grew out of Peterson's hobby of answering questions posted on Quora, one being "What are the most valuable things everyone should know?"; his answer[1] comprised 42 rules.[2][3][failed verification] Peterson stated it "isn't only written for other people. It's a warning to me."[4] The book is written in a more accessible style than his previous academic book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (1999).[8]

The book is divided into chapters with each title representing a specific rule for life explained in an essay. The founding idea is "suffering is built into the structure of being," but although it can be unbearable, people have a choice either to withdraw, which is a "suicidal gesture", or to face and transcend it.[5] However, living in a world of chaos and order,[9] each human being has "darkness" that can "turn them into the monsters they're capable of being" to satisfy their dark impulses in the right situations. Scientific experiments like the Invisible Gorilla Test show perception is adjusted to aims, and it is better to seek meaning rather than happiness. Peterson noted "it's all very well to think the meaning of life is happiness, but what happens when you're unhappy? Happiness is a great side effect. When it comes, accept it gratefully. But it's fleeting and unpredictable. It's not something to aim at – because it's not an aim. And if happiness is the purpose of life, what happens when you're unhappy? Then you're a failure".[4]

The book advances the idea people are born with the instinct for ethics and meaning and should take responsibility to search for meaning above their own interests (chapter eight, rule seven, "Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient"). Such thinking is reflected both in contemporary stories such as Pinocchio, The Lion King, and Harry Potter and in ancient stories from the Bible.[4] To "Stand up straight with your shoulders back" (title of first chapter) is to "accept the terrible responsibility of life", to make self-sacrifice,[10] because the individual must rise above victimization and "conduct his or her life in a manner that requires the rejection of immediate gratification, of natural and perverse desires alike".[9] The comparison to neurological structures and behavior of lobsters is used as a natural example to the formation of social hierarchies.[6][7][11]

The other parts of the work explore and criticize the state of young men, the upbringing that ignores sex differences between boys and girls (criticism of over-protection and tabula rasa model in social sciences), male–female interpersonal relationships, school shootings, religion and moral nihilism, relativism, and lack of respect to the values that build Western society.[6][12][13][14] In the last chapter, Peterson outlines ways one can cope with the most tragic events in one's life, events that are often out of that individual's control. In it, he describes his own personal struggle when it was discovered his daughter, Mikhaila, had a rare bone disease.[4] The chapter is a meditation on how to maintain a watchful eye on, and cherish, life's small redeemable qualities (i.e., to "pet a cat when you encounter one"). It also outlines a practical way to deal with hardship: to shorten one's temporal scope of responsibility (e.g., focusing on the next minute rather than the next three months).[15]

Outline of the book[4]
  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
  2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
  8. Tell the truth – or, at least, don't lie
  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't
  10. Be precise in your speech
  11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street



Jordan Peterson speaking at an event in Dallas, Texas, in June 2018

To promote the book, Peterson went on a world tour, initially from January 14, 2018 to February 17, 2018, including events in England, Canada, and the United States.[16] The sold-out venues included 1,000-seat conference hall Emmanuel Centre in London,[17][12] and 2,000-seat Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles.[18] The February 11 event at Citadel Theatre in Edmonton was cancelled by the theatre's board of directors and management for which they later apologized, and instead was held at a sold-out Hyatt Place.[19][20] The second part included three sold-out events in March in Australia,[21] continuing at Beacon Theatre in New York, and the third part held between early May and June initially numbering ten events in the United States and Canada, and one in the United Kingdom.[22] Reportedly, until June the tour visited 45 cities in North America, Europe and Australia, reaching an audience of over 100,000 people.[23] According to Peterson, nearly 200,000 people have attended the live events until late July.[24]

As part of the tour, Peterson had an interview on Channel 4 News which went viral, receiving considerable attention and over ten million views on YouTube.[9][21][25] He also appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC's HARDtalk,[26] LBC's Maajid Nawaz radio show, Fox & Friends and Tucker Carlson Tonight,[14][27] ABC's 7.30,[28] Sky News Australia's Outsiders,[29] HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher,[30] The Dr. Oz Show among others.[31]


The book was published by Penguin Allen Lane on January 16, 2018, in the United Kingdom,[32] and by Random House Canada on January 23 in Canada.[33] Random House Canada covers North American English countries, while Penguin Press the UK and Commonwealth.[34] According to Peterson's website, as of September 2018, the book was slated to be translated into 45 languages.[35]

The 12 Rules for Life audiobook was number one on Canadian Audible, and number three on US Audible.[36] In Canada, since debut it topped the non-fiction category of The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star bestsellers lists.[37][38][39][40] According to CBC Books, who based the data on 300 independent bookstores compiled by Bookmanager, it was the 4th bestselling Canadian book of the year.[41] According to Toronto Star it was the "biggest Canadian book success story of the year", topping original non-fiction and Canadian non-fiction categories, with only Canadian poet writer Rupi Kaur having similar sales.[42] According to Publishers Weekly, the Kobo Inc. reported it was 2nd bestselling audiobook of the year in Canada,[43] while per BookNet Canada and BNC SalesData the print book was 3rd and Peterson was the bestselling Canadian author of the year.[44]

In the United Kingdom for five weeks topped The Sunday Times bestsellers list for general hardcover between February 18 and March 25,[45][46][47][48][49] and again on April 15,[50] selling over 120,000 copies until September 16, 2018.[51] According to The Sunday Times the hardback edition was 4th in general hardbacks category with 153,160 copies sold until the end of the year.[52] According to The Guardian, the Nielsen BookScan reported sales of 147,899 copies, being 32nd bestselling book of the year.[53] According to The Guardian, the Nielsen BookScan reported sales of over 10,000 copies until March 12 in Australia.[54] According to The Irish Times, in Ireland it was the 23rd bestselling book of the year with 14,408 copies.[55]

In the US, the book became the No. 1 nonfiction book and ebook on The Wall Street Journal's Best-Selling Books list,[56][57] it also topped The Washington Post,[58][59] and Reuters US bestsellers list,[60] reached No. 2 on USA Today's overall list,[61] as well as topping hardcover nonfiction and top 10 overall category for Publishers Weekly,[62][63][64] selling over 559,000 copies until September 24, 2018.[65] In the category it replaced Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury.[66] At the end of the year the hardcover version was the 11th bestselling book with 692,238 copies.[67] Penguin Random House's CEO Markus Dohle in late March stated the book has already sold over 700,000 copies in the US.[68] The book did not chart on The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and IndieBound bestsellers list. According to books editor Deborah Dundas from Toronto Star, The NYT stated it was not counted because it was published by a Canadian company.[69] According to Random House Canada, the book was handled properly for the US market.[36][70]

On August 6, Jordan Peterson announced the book had sold over 2 million copies.[71][72] On January 13, 2019, Jordan Peterson announced the book had sold about 3 million copies.[73] As of January 2019, Peterson is working on a sequel to 12 Rules for Life.[74]

In March 2019, Whitcoulls, one of New Zealand's leading book retailers, temporarily removed the book from their stores and online catalogue, apparently in reaction to the Christchurch mosque shootings. The withdrawal of Peterson's book was prompted by social media photos of Peterson posing with a fan wearing a T-shirt saying "I'm a proud Islamophobe." Peterson and his supporters strongly criticized Whitcoulls's decision because Whitcoulls continued to sell Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf and Henry Malone's Islam Unmasked. Peterson's book was reinstated six days after it was removed.[75][76][77][78]


Melanie Reid, in her review of 12 Rules for Life for The Times, says the book is "aimed at teenagers, millennials and young parents". Summarising it, she states: "If you peel back the verbiage, the cerebral preening, you are left with a hardline self-help manual of self-reliance, good behaviour, self-betterment and individualism that probably reflects [Peterson's] childhood in rural Canada in the 1960s".[79] Bryan Appleyard, also writing for The Times, describes the book as "a less dense and more practical version of Maps of Meaning." He says it is "a baggy, aggressive, in-your-face, get-real book that, ultimately, is an attempt to lead us back to what Peterson sees as the true, the beautiful and the good – i.e., God."[80]

Hari Kunzru of The Guardian said the book collates advice from Peterson's clinical practice with personal anecdotes, accounts of his academic work as a psychologist and "a lot of intellectual history of the 'great books' variety", but the essays on the rules are explained in an overly-complicated style. Kunzru described Peterson as sincere, but found the book irritating because he considers Peterson to have failed to adhere to his own rules.[81] Tim Lott, in an interview with Peterson for The Guardian, described the book as atypical for the self-help genre.[4] A similar opinion was expressed by Barbara Danza of Epoch Times.[82]

Bill Jamieson, in a joint review with Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now for The Scotsman, praised the essays for being "richly illustrated and packed with excellent advice on how we can restore meaning and a sense of progression to our everyday lives", describing both books as "verbal waterboarding for supporters of big government".[83] David Brooks of The New York Times argued "The Peterson way is a harsh way, but it is an idealistic way – and for millions of young men, it turns out to be the perfect antidote to the cocktail of coddling and accusation in which they are raised".[9]

Joe Humphreys of The Irish Times argued people shouldn't be stopped "from reading what is a veritable powerhouse of a book: wise, provocative, humorous and also maddeningly contradictory (as all deep and truthful studies of human nature must be)".[84] Glenn Ellmers in Claremont Review of Books noted that Peterson "does not shrink from telling readers that life means pain and suffering. His deft exposition, however, makes clear that duty is often liberating and responsibility can be a gift".[23]

Dorothy Cummings McLean, writing for the online magazine The Catholic World Report, considered it as "the most thought-provoking self-help book I have read in years", the rules for life reminding her of those by Bernard Lonergan, and content "serving as a bridge between Christians and non-Christians interested in the truths of human life and in resisting the lies of ideological totalitarianism".[85] Bishop Robert Barron in a review for the same magazine praised the archetypal reading of the story about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden with Jesus representing "gardener", and the psychological exploration of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and The Gulag Archipelago; but was not supportive of its "gnosticizing tendency to read Biblical religion purely psychologically and philosophically and not at all historically" or the idea that "God ... [is] simply a principle or an abstraction". It is "valuable for the beleaguered young men in our society, who need a mentor to tell them to stand up straight and act like heroes".[86] Adam A. J. DeVille took a very different view, describing the 12 Rules for Life as "unbearably banal, superficial, and insidious", claiming "the real danger in this book is its apologia for social Darwinism and bourgeois individualism covered over with a theological patina" and that "in a just world, this book would never have been published".[87]

Ron Dart, in a review for The Ormsby Review, considered the book "an attempt to articulate a more meaningful order for freedom as an antidote to the erratic ... chaos of our age", but although "necessary" with exemplary advice for men and women it is "hardly a sufficient text for the tougher questions that beset us on our all too human journey and should be read as such".[88][89] Julian Baggini, in a review of the book for the Financial Times, writes: "In headline form, most of his rules are simply timeless good sense. ... The problem is that when Peterson fleshes them out, they carry more flab than meat".[90]

Peter Hitchens, writing for The Spectator, stated he did not like the "conversational and accessible" writing style and amount of "recapitulation", but believed it had "moving moments", "good advice" with a message "aimed at people who have grown up in the post-Christian West" with special appeal to young men.[91] Park MacDougald of New York shared a similar view, stating that on paper Peterson lacks "coherence, emotional depth" compared to lectures, but "still, he produces nuggets of real insight".[6]

Pankaj Mishra's review in The New York Review of Books described 12 Rules as a repackaged collection of pieties and late-nineteenth century Jungian mysticism which has been discredited by the modern field of psychology. Mishra compared the book, and Peterson's ideas, to historical authors who influenced Peterson, but whose serious moral failings, including racism and fascism, Peterson fails to address. He criticizes Peterson's book for failing to recognize how traditionalism and myth can be used in support of demagoguery and anti-democratic ideas, and claims Peterson's work is a symptom of the problems it attempts to cure.[92] Peterson responded to the review on Twitter, claiming Mishra's reviews contained "half-truths". Peterson tweeted "If you were in my room at the moment, I'd slap you happily".[93][94][95][96]

In a review for Psychology Today, philosopher Paul Thagard described the work as flimsy and says Peterson's views fail to stand up to philosophical scrutiny. According to Thagard, "If you go for Christian mythology, narrow-minded individualism, obscure metaphysics, and existentialist angst, then Jordan Peterson is the philosopher for you. But if you prefer evidence and reason, look elsewhere."[97] Psychologist John Grohol, writing for PsychCentral, said the book's basic advice was sound, self-evident, and harmless, but he could not recommend it because Peterson justified his advice with rambling tangential anecdotes and religious dogma instead of scientific data.[98]

Guy Stevenson, writing for Los Angeles Review of Books, said Peterson's work was widely ignored by serious academics, in part because of the absurdity of some of his claims regarding "cultural Marxists", but his level of celebrity had not been seen since Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s. According to Stevenson, Peterson's practical advice and Jungian mysticism both reflect a new counterculture movement which is similar to the 1960s. Stevenson described 12 Rules as aggressive and over-eager to blame problems on "bogeymen", and recommends as an alternative the work of John Gray, who has addressed some of the same issues with more thoughtfulness.[72]

Kelefa Sanneh of The New Yorker noted:

"some of his critics might be surprised to find much of the advice he offers unobjectionable, if old-fashioned: he wants young men to be better fathers, better husbands, better community members. In this way, he might be seen as an heir to older gurus of manhood like Elbert Hubbard, who in 1899 published a stern and wildly popular homily called A Message to Garcia … At times, Peterson emphasizes his interest in empirical knowledge and scientific research—although these tend to be the least convincing parts of 12 Rules for Life."[14]

David A. French of National Review considered it as a "beacon of light" for current time, with a simple but profound purpose "to help a person look in the mirror and respect the person he or she sees".[99] Some critics, such as Heather Wilhelm for National Review[100][101] and James Grainger for the Toronto Star, were critical of initial negative reviews which they believed had misinterpreted Peterson.[7]

In September 2018, Peterson threatened to sue Cornell University philosopher Kate Manne for defamation after she described his work as misogynistic in an interview done with Vox. Manne described it as an attempt to chill free speech. Vox considered the threat baseless, and it was ignored.[102][103][104] In a critique often shared by prominent intellectual Noam Chomsky,[105] Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs calls Peterson a "charlatan" who gives "the most elementary fatherly life-advice" while adding "convolutions to disguise the simplicity of his mind".[106]


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