Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement

Authors: , Spicer, André,

Publication Date:

September 2017



Original language and publisher

English | OR Books

Territories Handled

France, Netherlands, Scandinavia



Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement

Authors: , Spicer, André,

  • 2 Seas Represents: French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Icelandic rights
  • Rights sold: Korea (Maekyung), Germany (Tiamat), Taiwan (China Times), Sweden (Natur & Kultur), US (Counterpoint)
  • Selected for Publishers Weekly‘s Top 20 Fall Small Press & University Press 


“Two crazy people try numerous crazy strategies, all so I don’t have to. I call that a result!” —Lee Child, author

“Beautifully observed and incredibly conceived, this account of a self-imposed ordeal has the chilling quality of a true nightmare. It is the dark side of the moon of Tim Ferriss.” —Tom McCarthy

“A fine comedy of cultural criticism. […] It’s a great idea for a stunt book, and the results are written up in a tremendously enjoyable form of alternating diary entries, which importantly avoids any kind of second-guessing hindsight. […] Overall, as an anatomy of modern optimisation culture the book is sharp and laconic. […] But this book is also something more than a sparkling non-fiction analysis of cultural trends: it’s an almost novelistic account of a pleasingly sardonic friendship.” The Guardian

“A comically committed exploration of current life-hacking wisdom in areas ranging from athletic and intellectual prowess to spirituality, creativity, wealth, and pleasure.”  — New York Times

“Brilliantly sardonic.” —The Guardian, on Cederström and Spicer’s The Wellness Syndrome

In these pages, the authors of the widely-acclaimed The Wellness Syndrome throw themselves headlong into the world of self-optimization, a burgeoning movement that seeks to transcend the limits placed on us by being merely human, whether the feebleness of our bodies or our mental incapacities.

Cederström and Spicer, though willing guinea pigs in an extraordinary (and sometimes downright dangerous) range of techniques and technologies, had hitherto undertaken little by way of self-improvement. They had rarely seen the inside of a gym, let alone utilized apps that deliver electric shocks in pursuit of improved concentration. But, in the course of a year spent researching this book, they wore head-bands designed to optimize meditation, attempted to boost their memory through learning associative techniques (and failed to be admitted to MENSA), trained for weightlifting competitions, wrote what they (still) hope might become a bestselling Scandinavian detective story, enrolled in motivational seminars and tantra sex workshops, attended new-age retreats and man-camps, underwent plastic surgery, and experimented with vibrators and productivity drugs. André even addressed a London subway car whilst (nearly) naked in an attempt to boost attention.

Somewhat surprisingly, the two young professors survived this year of rigorous research. Further, they have drawn deeply on it to produce a hilarious and eye-opening book. Written in the form of two parallel diaries, Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement provides a biting analysis of the narcissism and individual competitiveness that increasingly pervades a culture in which social solutions are receding and individual self-improvement is the only option left.

Carl Cederström is Associate Professor at Stockholm Business School, Stockholm University and the co-author or co-editor of five books. His writing has appeared in The New York TimesThe GuardianThe Atlantic and Harvard Business Review.

André Spicer is Professor at Cass Business School, City University London and the co-author or co-editor of five books. His writing has appeared in The GuardianFinancial TimesTimesIndependent and CNN.

Praise for their previous book The Wellness Syndrome:

“Carl Cederstrom and Andre Spicer’s brilliantly sardonic anatomy of this “wellness syndrome “concentrates on the ways in which the pressure to be well operates as a moralising command and obliterates political engagement… These authors would no doubt agree that there is nothing wrong with being well or wanting to be well. But, as their deeply humane and persuasive book shows, being told to be well is a different matter entirely. A society where wellness is obligatory is a sick one. ” – Steven Poole, The Guardian

“When I read their angry, hilarious book, The Wellness Syndrome, I felt like I was being shaken awake from a dream. ” – Helen Rumbelow, The Times

“My underlying scepticism about society’s single-minded quest for physical perfection was validated when I came across The Wellness Syndrome. Like me, the authors don’t have any gripes about wellness per se… but what they are concerned about is how wellness has become an ideology. The more we focus on our own wellness, the book argues, the more we alienate others and the more isolated we become… By spending so much time looking inward, in a relentless pursuit for the ideal body and state of mind, we pay less attention to the wider world and its ills. ” – Gabrielle Monghan, Irish Independent

“Short, brilliant and bracing, The Wellness Syndrome is the Brave New World de nos jours, a mordant satire on our contemporary mores… I pray that the authors will put a lot of life coaches (and celebrity chefs and similar fraudsters) out of business. ” – Andy Martin, Literary Review

“The book’s great virtue is its lightness of theoretical touch, which combines Darwin-award style tales of idiocy with punchy commentary to make for the kind of readability conducive to cult status among undergraduates. ” – Gerald Moore, Radical Philosophy