As y’all know from reading many of my past book reviews, I love books about how to live life better. Whether that’s a book like 48 Laws of Power, which is about how to influence people more, or The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I find almost all books of that stripe interesting. Make Your Bed by Admiral William McRaven is no exception; it’s highly engaging and helpful in some chapters and is certainly worth reading. But, it does suffer from a glaring lack of perspective, which I’ll address below.
Summary of Make Your Bed
Like you might expect from the title, Make Your Bed does include a chapter on why making your bed is an important step towards personal success. But, that’s not really what the book is about, it’s more of a catchy way of summarizing his opening argument, which is that you should start off the day by completing a task.
In Make Your Bed, Admiral McRaven gives 10 pieces of advice about how to succeed in life. Each one is supported by lessons learned during both his time in the Navy SEAL’s rigorous training regimen and in his time in the SEALs, which is what you might expect from a man who’s identity is built around his time with that organization.
His ten pieces of advice are:
- Start Your Day with a Task Completed
- You Can’t Go It Alone
- Only the Size of Your Heart Matters
- Life’s Not Fair- Drive On
- Failure Can Make You Stronger
- You Must Dare Greatly
- Stand Up to the Bullies
- Rise to the Occasion
- Give People Hope
- Never, Ever Quit!
Each one of those points is built into a short chapter in which Admiral McRaven states what in his past led him to that point and why living it out is important if you hope to change the world.
Analysis of Make Your Bed
Frankly, I thought Make Your Bed started off strong but rapidly became less and less useful. The early chapters, especially the first one, were full of highly useful and practical life advice. While I’m not sure I’d ascribe the same importance to making a bed, I get his point.
I think it was similar to the one Marcus Aurelius made about getting out of bed and doing something; you need to start the day early and strong. Whether that’s by getting up and making your bed or rising early to read for 30 minutes (I’d recommend the latter, it’ll leave you better-informed), it’s important to start the day on a positive note.
But then, unlike other books such as Rich Habits, Make Your Bed trailed off and became less and less useful. The main reason is that McRaven relies heavily on personal anecdotes and does little to show the higher-level situation surrounding those anecdotes.
For example, in the chapter about daring greatly, his anecdote from his time in the SEALs comes from the Iraq War. While the story he tells is certainly engaging and exciting, it does little to address the bigger question of the strategic picture in Iraq, such as whether the 2003 invasion for democracy in the Middle East was worth it.
In not addressing the concerns of many, such as the ones found in The Great War for Civilization or in my post on if we were even fighting for freedom, I think McRaven made a poor decision that strengthens the view of those who want an end to American interventionism. His story lost its emotive power because he refused to comment on the larger point.
Perhaps that seems too nitpicky. I’m not saying he had to address every foreign policy decision the US has made while he was an officer in the SEALs. That would of course be ridiculous. But, when he’s making a point about risk and using a story from a war with a highly-risky future outcome (and we’ve since seen how that conclusion to the war turned out: ISIS and anarchy), he certainly should have commented on that to show how accepting risk can lead to unfortunate outcomes. That balance would have made the book much more meaningful.
Otherwise, I thought it was reasonably good. It was a bit like Principles by Ray Dalio, but not as long or well-thought-out/supported. Some chapters were good, others not so much. If you want to learn lessons from US officers about the war in Iraq and discover how to utilize those lessons in your daily life, Extreme Ownership is a far, far better option.
Admiral McRaven, like all our other armed-services personnel, was certainly a hero who did what he could for America and the safety of its populace. In my somewhat negative review of his book, I’m not in any way trying to question that heroism, sacrifice, or patriotism. He certainly has far more of all three of those virtues than most other Americans.
But, Make Your Bed is no Memoirs by Ulysses Grant, Reminiscences by Douglas MacArthur, or Lost Victories by Field Marshall Erich von Manstein. All three of those high-ranking officers used their writings to craft a narrative and address higher-level issues while still teaching lessons about life and war.
In Make Your Bed, Admiral McRaven didn’t, despite being intimately close with one of the most contentious wars in US history. Because his book is ostensibly about how to change the world, I think that omission is inexcusable and significantly weakens the book.
By: Gen Z Conservative