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Review: How to Be Human: The Manual

How to be Human audiobook cover. A stylised painting of a himan head and upper torso covered in flowers sits beneath the title in watercolour hand-lettering style font.
How to Be Human: The Manual by Ruby Wax.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 7 hrs 9 mins.

"If you're reading this book right now, you're already a gold medal winner in the evolutionary Hunger Games... " Given the dysfunctional nature of my body I think I probably only just scraped in with a participation trophy, but I am immensely pleased to have beaten the odds and not been born a frog!

How to Be Human is a funny, compassionate, and insightful guide to mindfulness, empathy, forgiveness, and the pursuit of inner peace over external perfection.

In writing this book, Ruby Wax teamed up with neuroscientist Ash Ranpura and Buddhist Monk Gelong Thubten, and each contributes to this audiobook. Including three voices whose perspectives have been shaped by vastly different experiences could have been calamitous, but they were all respectful and often in agreement, for their disparate pathways have led them each to the same conclusion; that compassion - particularly toward oneself - is vital. This self-styled 'manual' offers practical advice and understanding for everyone who finds themselves overwhelmed by the demands of modern living. Particularly geared towards supporting parents as they instill these necessary skills and values into their offspring from the start, this audiobook discusses social and biological research and presents mindful techniques that can be applied to stressful situations. It does so with humour and grace, and a searing candour from Ruby regarding the difficulties of her childhood.

I was particularly struck by the notion that "grasping will never be fulfilled", whether in relation to love, happiness, or even mindfulness, and can identify several areas of my own experience where I have allowed anxiety to persuade me that security requires a vice-like grip. I hope, with the gentle encouragement of this book, that I will be more mindful of this tendency in future.

There were plenty of humorous asides, but I will always remember Ruby's advice to a friend whose husband turned out to be less like Tom Cruise than she'd fantasised about upon first meeting him: "You cannot divorce someone because they failed to live up to their nose."

I wish the mindfulness exercises were in individual chapters, rather than collected together into chapter on mindfulness, so that each exercise could have been navigated to directly in future. I can see that this would work well in the print copy, but it is not as effective in the audiobook. This is where digital bookmarking is so useful, however, and most audiobook players have the functionality. Audible allow for an audio-clip bookmark and text notes, so the individual meditations can be saved in an accessible way.

I was persuaded to listen to this book after reading endorsements by three people whom I admire; Neil Gaiman, Joanna Lumley, and Stephen Fry. If you're still in doubt about whether or not it is for you, then here's what they had to say:

"A three way encounter between a Monk, a neuroscientist and Ruby Wax sounds like the set up for a joke. Instead it's produced one of the most fascinating, intriguing and informative books about minds and bodies and brains and mindfulness I've ever encountered. A triangulation on what it means to be human. Utterly readable and surprisingly wise." - Neil Gaiman 
"How to Be Human is, without exaggeration, a lifeline; wise, practical and funny, it is a handbook for those in despair. It is actually for everyone alive, for the curious, or disillusioned or muddled or just plain happy. Ruby, the Monk and the Neuroscientist are today's Magi." - Joanna Lumley 
"With this marvellous book, Ruby Wax has confirmed her position as one of the most readable, inspirational and engaging writers in the field of human mental health, happiness and fulfilment." - Stephen Fry 

Thoughtful and compelling, I enjoyed listening and have been left with food for thought.

View on Audible.co.uk
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