“Tribes” by Seth Godin: Motivational Blue Balls

Tribes book


1) It’s small, physically.  Despite having only average-sized hands, I felt powerful holding this dainty little book.  Walking around palming this thing made me feel like the LeBron James of book handling.

2) There was no wait at the library to check it out.

3) It fills me with hope.  Hope to know that this random assemblage of blog posts haphazardly strewn together constitutes a “book” — one that, ostensibly, people paid money to own.

Usually, if I read a book by, say, David Foster Wallace, George Saunders, or Rebecca Solnit, it makes me question whether I’ll ever be good enough to write something approaching that level of quality.

However, reading “Tribes” by Seth Godin made me wonder why I don’t already have 50 books out by now.


1) It’s 90% hype, bravado, fluff, cringey jargon, and ersatz profundity masquerading as innovative insights.  And it’s chock-full of weak, repetitive examples.

A re-enactment:

X is changing the world.  You see, X inspired people to form a fanatical TRIBE devoted to X’s ideas.  Don’t believe me?

Take Y.  Y also has an idea that’s changing the world.  And it’s destined for success because of — you guessed it — a TRIBE!

What’s that?  You’re still skeptical, you ungrateful asshole?  Well suck on this: I give you Z!  Z is literally re-arranging the space-time continuum right this second thanks to the help of an interstellar TRIBE of ride-or-dies.

We get it, Seth.  Ugh, we get it.  Humans flock to other charismatic humans.  Please show us something new and/or thought-provoking about this phenomenon, not just another brief example.  Or perhaps dive deeper and explore what makes each example unique.  Something, anything.

2) It has too much of a “rah-rah YOU can be a leader…IF you’re up to the challenge!” vibe.  It’s in the Tony Robbins vein of pumping you up about an idea only to then not deliver with any actionable advice beyond platitudes and hyperbolic drivel.  Motivational blue balls, if you will.  In other words, “Tribes” is just another disposable iteration within the ever-expanding genre of business/marketing self-help schlock.

3) Two words: Cash. Grab.  I cannot imagine a book publisher taking on “Tribes” from an unknown author.  But Seth Godin has a name, a reputation, a following.  And a subpar book hurriedly submitted by Seth still equals a payday.

4) There’s no cohesive structure, no logical flow, no narrative thread.  The reader is treated to a jumbled mess of loosely connected blurbs, random thoughts, unsatisfying and hastily scraped together snapshots, quick quotes, and shambolic anecdotes.  It’s like a mishmash of blog posts Seth was kind enough to print out — and then charge us for.

5) There’s a condescending “smug guru” tone that pervades the entire book: a self-satisfied, self-righteous authorial voice, something like:

Pssst, hey, the world is changing.  YOU probably just don’t know it yet.  Luckily I’ve written this book for people like you, people whose heads are in the sand.  I just hope you’re smart enough and hip enough to follow along with that wimpy sand-filled head.  Don’t be a sheepwalker.

Sure, sometimes I get “success boners” when I think about how successful I am.  And yeah, it can be hard (pun!) balancing my laptop on my lap when a success boner hits.  But you know what?  “Tribes” was written on a laptop balanced atop just such a raging success boner.  Impossible is nothing.

Ever heard of Steve Jobs?  Of course you have, because he was a modern-day heretic.  Dented the universe and such.  Created a powerful TRIBE in the process, too.  You should be like Steve Jobs.  Oh, “How?” you ask…psh, you peasant.   You fool.  You already know how — so do it!

Seth Godin

Jeez, okay.  Wait, what the hell am I supposed to do again?  Lead people somehow?  Get a bunch of strangers to chant my name and loudly applaud everything I do?  Can I buy a tribe somewhere?

First, let me take this nap I’ve been looking forward to all day.  And when I wake up I’ll try to knock out the whole “spearhead a tribe” thing.

Ok, so you just, you…oh, right…DO IT.  Thanks Seth!


If you liked all the fake quotes I made up, then you might like this book.

If you think regular books are too big and cumbersome, then you might appreciate this book’s sleekness, its barely-there-ness.

If you ever thought writing a book looked impossibly hard, then you should get this book, punch a hole through it, and wear it on a chain around your neck as a physical reminder of how simple writing a book can apparently be.

I’m sorry, Seth.  Er, Mr. Godin.  The math doesn’t lie.  This puppy only got 3 Positives to 5 Negatives.  Therefore, as much as I’d like to, I cannot recommend “Tribes.”

In the immortal words of Jeff Probst…

The tribe has spoken

4 Comments on ““Tribes” by Seth Godin: Motivational Blue Balls

  1. Between this and the R. Crumb post, you won yourself another reader today, dude. Not gonna like your FB, cuz f*** FB, but I’ll be checking in on this blog from time to time.