As with all reviews on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete overview of the book; rather, it is to examine how the book relates to the meaning of life.
About the book: The Moaning of Life: The Worldly Wisdom of Karl Pilkington by Karl Pilkington is the print version of season one of his documentary TV show The Moaning of Life. In the series and in the book, Karl explores concepts such as Marriage, Happiness, Kids, Vocation and Money, and Death through the act of living (albeit temporarily) in the lives of others around the world. Karl often interjects witty commentary as he literally acts like an idiot abroad (the title of another series Karl stars in). The title of the book and the series is obviously a play on the term "The Meaning of Life."
Marriage, does it bring any meaning to life? According to Karl, not at all. In fact, Karl doesn't see the point in it and is just fine with his life partner Suzanne. He does travel to India to find out how arranged marriages work, what marriage detectives do, and to witness just how insanely large marriage ceremonies in India are. In fact, in India, often families will spend between $10,000 USD to $100,000 because it is considered a once in a lifetime event, even if the family has to borrow the money to pay for the ceremony. As Karl discovers, the event spans multiple days and can employee hundreds of people. A job can be as menial as ensuring the groom's hat is straight at all times. Yes, that is a real job. In short, this momentous event is more enjoyable for spectators (in person and on social media) than it is for the bride and the groom who mostly just pose for an endless array of photos.
In addition to learning about wedding practices around the world, including wedding hotspots like Las Vegas, Karl also learns the art of picking up women and also attends a Japanese fertility festival. Are kids the meaning of life? No, more like the moaning of life. The responsibility, the headaches, the diapers, the expenses, etc., etc., etc., and Karl might be on to something here, as one scientific study has shown that women who don't get married and don't have kids are happiest. But then what is our purpose? Karl laments:
I watched nature programmes, and I was jealous of insects, as they know their purpose in life from the moment they're born. Dung beetles don't have career advisors, they just get on with shifting balls of shit. They know that's what they're here for and were born to do – easy.
Not yet finding it, he continues his journey, eventually ending up in environmentalism to which one person tells him:
Melissa: How we're living is not sustainable, and I don't think it brings any deep meaning or happiness at the end of the day.
Karl's take on the subject? We're all destined to become extinct, just like the dinosaurs. Dedicating your life to saving the earth doesn't make much sense because the earth will always be here, even long after we as a species are gone.
So how about other lines of work? What if a person dedicated nearly 100% of their life to work and creating new inventions like Dr. Nakamats, who claims to have invented the floppy disk. Karl comments:
In Japan it's more important to show yourself as being willing to work and having a purpose than it is to have a high-flying job, which I think is a good thing.
Dr. Nakamats works so much, he only sees his wife about one day a week or when picking up his daily meal. Do we even need to comment on Karl's thoughts only working 24/7? But eventually Karl would find a job he thought would bring his life a sense of purpose.
What I liked about the sound of the job was the variation, but it also offered a real sense of purpose (Benriya - handyman).
Benriya in Japan do all sorts of jobs. Whether it is walking dogs or painting floors or any other unimaginable oddity (such as posing to be painted nude - which Karl partially does), Karl finds this line of work somewhat enjoyable. He would go on to think about what actually makes him happy in life: Suzanne, Magnum lollies, paying with the cat, and lemon muffins; and this is probably the best we'll get from him. To be fair, Karl's momentary happiness was short lived as he shortly thereafter started to think about all the things that annoy him.
Karl would continue to explore even more bizarre scenes such as those who enjoy self-inflicting pain on themselves, and those who spend way too much time and money on their looks. After all, does having the perfect face, or fake implanted muscles, etc. really bring any additional value to life? Especially after having plastic surgery for the hundredth time? As Karl would note, aren't wrinkles just the history of your life?
One interesting point Karl would make is that as a kid, earning money made him feel like he had worth and purpose, watching the piles of bills grown under his bed. But seeing how rich grown-ups handle this, he also determines this would get annoying as well, as too much money becomes more of a headache than anything else. We'd also find out Karl isn't very good at hustling and selling fish.
Finally, we get to the topic of death. It almost seems like death is the meaning of life in Ghana (because they spend so much money, time and effort on funerals).
Remembering people and the lives they lived can be a good thing, but in Ghana it is taken to the extreme. Karl tells a tale of how a dead body, a person who was dead more than a month was staged in their old house so that people could pay one last visit. It is a comical, absurd, and even a morbid scene to imagine and see. At the end of the book we're left with a quote.
The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity. - Seneca
In the book we don't get any closer to the meaning of life, but Karl does comically mock many of the things in life that give meaning to others. Overall, it is a very enjoyable book.
We rate the book the following:
Overall - 7
Meaning of Life Relevance - 6
Uniqueness – 5
If you read the book or watched the series, let us know what you thought by commenting below.