It's the main title that grabs your attention, pulls you in, if you will. THE WAR OF ART...clever...reminds you of one of the original self-improvement classics by that Oriental fellow, the book that's probably politically incorrect to admit that you like or even have read but is indispensable for getting your cause from Point A to Point B. It's the subtitle, however --- "Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles" --- that is the money line, the reason that you buy it, read it, and keep it. At the least, this slim volume will reaffirm what you may already know, and at best change how you live, or don't live, your life.
Steven Pressfield is best known as a fiction writer. THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE is one of those titles that is, alas, possibly better known than the author. As Pressfield notes in THE WAR OF ART, he was hesitant at first to step outside of fiction writing. It is that hesitance --- what Pressfield dubs as "Resistance" with a capital 'R' --- that keeps us, at least some of us, from doing what we want to do, from writing the Great American Novel to walking up to Beverly D'Angelo when we see her walking in Upper Manhattan and saying, "Hi! Remember me? I went to Kindergarten with you and I have a film idea that will revitalize your acting and singing career!" Or dieting. Or starting a company. You get the idea.
Understanding Resistance is important; Pressfield spends a third of THE WAR OF ART discussing his definition of Resistance, another third on ways to combat it, and the final third of the book discussing what lies beyond Resistance. I have to confess that the last section of THE WAR OF ART hit me like a brick wall, or I hit it. But I still have to recommend this work, for the same reason that I recommend driving an automobile, though I have not a clue regarding the science of internal combustion. Like THE WAR OF ART, it works.
Pressfield hits it right on the head when he notes that people are afraid of success. I have two friends. One is probably the best writer I know. He is afraid to finish anything, to send it in, to have someone other than myself and maybe three or four other people look at it. My other friend has three or four new ideas a day --- inventions, songs, concepts, businesses, you name it; he has 20 things going at once. My second friend walked up to a gentleman in a karaoke bar --- a gentleman you would know --- and within 20 minutes talked him into cutting a rock 'n' roll record. The difference between my two friends is that the first can't break through Resistance, while the second drives through it with a steamroller every morning.
Pressfield gets into the nitty-gritty of breaking through what holds you down and back, all in short, to-the-point chapters (one of which is only three sentences long). This style makes THE WAR OF ART easy to digest and, more importantly, easy to refer to for the occasional refresher point or pep talk.
THE WAR OF ART is intended as a guide to unlocking the barriers to creativity, using the keys that you already have but may have forgotten about or misplaced. While all of it may not be for everybody, I cannot imagine that anyone could pick up this canny, smartly written tome without finding at least one element that they will take, and use, for their betterment for the rest of their lives. THE WAR OF ART is a work to keep, and to keep close at hand.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 1, 2003