Customer Reviews: How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World: A Handbook for Personal Liberty
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on April 15, 2001
I first heard Browne speak in the early 70s on NBC's Today Show, where he was promoting his book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. The book explains how to recognize and overcome common but false assumptions that unnecessarily restrict our freedom. I had never heard someone speak with such clarity, rationality, and insight about any subject. I was blown away, not by Browne's charisma (although he was charming), but by how reasonable his ideas sounded. At first opportunity I rushed out to buy the book and then devoured it.
The first thing that struck me about the book was the beautifully clear and simple prose. I don't know whether Browne or an editor should get the credit, but the book seems to follow many of Strunk and White's suggestions for strong, lucid writing. Browne avoids needless and overly sophisticated words. He uses short sentences and paragraphs. The writing style makes the book very easy to read. You never have to figure out what Harry Browne is saying; rather, his ideas seem to jump right off each page at you.
Anyone who writes about self-improvement or personal growth must make assumptions about human nature, and I think his assumptions are correct. Harry Browne makes his assumptions about human nature explicit in the very beginning of his book. He assumes that people believe that every conscious choice we make will help us attain happiness or avoid unhappiness. So why aren't we all exquisitely happy all the time?
The main reason is that, although we choose to act in ways that we believe will make us happy, our beliefs can be wrong. The first of the three major sections of this book covers fourteen traps, which are common but false beliefs about what we need to do to be happy. Many of the traps are so taken-for-granted that they appear to be truisms. Harry Browne exposes these errors of thinking and describes realistic alternatives that are more likely to lead you to happiness. In particular, I find his analyses of the Identity, Morality, and Unselfishness Traps so incisive and so liberating that I can barely restrain myself from sharing those valuable insights right here.
The second section of the book discusses specific entities that people often believe restrict their freedom: the government, social restrictions, bad relationships, jealousy, business problems, insecurity, and so forth. For each case, Browne explains why these things need not restrict us if we make the right choices.
The third major section contains the most ambitious and far-reaching ideas in the book. This section describes a technique that Browne calls Starting from Zero. Starting from Zero calls for sweeping away absolutely every aspect of your current life that does not correspond to your dream life. My guess is that many readers will find Starting from Zero too drastic for their liking. Browne does allow that the technique can be used on a smaller scale for addressing problems in any specific area of your life. Nevertheless, he warns us that he has seen many of his friends try to use forms of gradualism to improve their lives, but years later they are still stuck in the same ruts. "Freedom," asserts Browne, "requires bold action."
So, nearly 30 years after hearing Harry Browne speak, do I still find his ideas reasonable? Absolutely. His analysis of traps that limit our freedom is dead on. His techniques for increasing freedom work. I think that this book is so remarkable that I require students in my Personal Well-Being and Adjustment course to read, analyze, and react to Browne's ideas.
This is not to say that Browne's philosophy will appeal to everyone. In fact, to suggest that it would appeal to everyone would put us into what Browne calls The Identity Trap - the failure to recognize that each person is unique in his or her perceptions, beliefs, and values. This book will probably appeal the most to those who value freedom, autonomy, private ownership, and personal accountability over security, contractual commitments, communal property, and shared responsibility. To the extent that freedom and autonomy represent part of traditional masculinity, whereas security and commitment are part of traditional femininity, men may like this book more than women. Nonetheless, both women and men in my courses report finding many ideas in Browne's book personally valuable.
Age may also play a role in how one accepts Browne's ideas. During the year we lived together prior to getting married, my wife and I had separate checking accounts and pretty clear definitions of who owned what in our apartment. I think our only piece of joint property was an old, black-and-white TV set. I thought that Browne's notion of avoiding joint ownership was a great idea at the time. After we got married (something Browne advises against), however, issues of ownership became less and less important to me. Also, when I was in my 20s, I might have seriously entertained Browne's Starting from Zero plan, which involves liquidating all of your assets to begin a totally new life that better resembles your dream life. Today, I can't imagine trying to improve my life that way. Maybe later in life people are more willing to forfeit some freedom for security. Hey, even Harry Browne got married (although he states in an appendix to the 1997 edition that he still recommends that individuals maintain their sovereignty in a marriage relationship).
No matter whether you are young or old, male or female, married or single, I think How I Found Freedom in an Unfree Word will probably increase your understanding of how erroneous thinking causes us to restrict our own freedom. By increasing your awareness of erroneous thinking and offering you better alternatives, Harry Browne gives you a chance to make choices that will increase your freedom and happiness. Whether you want to make those choices is up to you.
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on August 6, 2005
Though I haven't read this book in 20 yrs. (I lost the old one, and plan on buying another copy.) I remember thinking at the time, that this book would've saved me a lot of emotional trauma had I only had it ten years earlier. To the point, this book looks at things with a no nonsensense approach when it comes to relationships and obligations. It looks below the the surface of the 'social contract" and asks what obligations do we truly have to ourselves, each other, and society at large? And whether you choose to accept Mr. Brownes' options or not, at least you've been made aware of the fact that these choices exist.

Many people have a vested interest in keeping the status quo, especially those people we sometimes refer to as "takers". Mr. Browne points out that we are in no way obligated to support anyones addiction, neurosis, or world view, except our our own.

I found this book refreshing, informative, and relevent to my life. I strongly reccomend it to anyone who needs a little freedom in their life.
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on June 9, 1999
I first read this book in 1974, in college and starting a career. I was hell bent on changing the world, and this book stopped me dead in my tracks. I read it now as a personal ritual once a year, it has saved me a lot of time and wasted energy, not to mention money. I've been far more successful AND happy changing my own world, and you will be too with the help of this book. Invariably the people I've met over the years who practice these principles are the most open, generous, productive, happy people I've known. Too, the ones who preach (and practice) self sacrifice and "unselfishness" (i.e., Altruism)invariably have their hand in someone elses pocket, yours perhaps, or are quite willing and eager to sacrifice others as well, you perhaps, for your own good, of course. Don't let 'em get away with it.
BUY THIS BOOK. Except for Libertarians, freedom is a concept largely ingored these days, most likely because freedom involves responsibility--for yourself--what a concept! READ THIS BOOK. Browne doesn't let anybody off the hook. GIVE THIS BOOK AWAY. Then people won't wonder how you can be so self assured and still be a nice person. You'll be an enigma! And there aren't nearly enough of us enigmas out here....
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on November 17, 2007
A lot of what's out there is just a repeat of other books with a thing or two added in. This book is really refreshing in the amount of original content and the power of its ideas. My favorite was his discussion of how to find freedom from social restrictions- I copied and pasted a little of my notes to give you a sense of this book:

"Whatever your social standards, the best place to find like minded people is the same place where you would most like to be. If you crave companionship that's more intellectual, you might try courses in the subjects that have always interested you. And since you could run into potential friends almost anywhere, it's important to display your standards openly and honestly wherever you are. Only then can others recognize you as a kindred soul.

For if you wear a socially acceptable mask, those whom you seek will walk right by you. And those whom you attract with the mask will only add to the pressure that you be something other than yourself.

If you make your actions and words consistent with who you are and what you admire, you'll know which people are compatible- just by their reactions to you. Those who disapprove will seek someone different to be with, and those who have standards similar to your will react favorably toward you. In effect, you let others tell you about themselves through their reactions to what you are.

So it's important to reveal yourself as you really are. If you're ambitious and show it, people who appreciate ambition are more likely to notice you. If you are careful to respect the property and lives of others and clearly you want the same treatment in return, you're less likely to wind up with thieving or freeloading friends.

When you act as you want to act, you stand a far greater chance of meeting the people who could be valuable to you. When you let others determine your conduct, you acquire nothing but restrictions.

Many people hide their identity, tolerate restrictions, and remain in bad relationships because they're afraid of being lonely. But I wonder what they mean by lonely. Aren't they very lonely when they deal with people who don't understand and appreciate them?

What you are is the most valuable asset you possess for finding others and the best way to find those people is to advertise your real self and by being honest about who you are.

No matter where you go, you never know whether someone you're seeking might see you. What a shame it would be if that person passed you by because you didn't reveal the qualities that both you and she admire most.

To reveal those qualities, you have to be willing to accept the disapproval of those you aren't seeking. It takes courage to overcome the embarrassment, self-consciousness, and even ridicule that might result from honest exposure of your nature- but that's the only way to form the relationships you seek. The kind that are far more rewarding than what you've tolerated in the past.

The best method of advertising is simply to live the way you want to live. Furthermore, your greatest pleasures will be those you experience when you can be yourself completely. Only then will you be free to enjoy every good thing the experience has to offer you."

Overall, an outstanding books. I feel like an entire weight has been lifted from my shoulders and new clarity brought to my life. That's what a good book should do for you. Highly recommended.
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on May 19, 1999
My father passed away when I was at the age of 6. In his will he left this book,"How I found freedom in an unfree world" to be given to me at the age of 18. This book is the only thing that I have that may tell me how my father would have offered advice to me in growing up. Every sentence I read feels like it is coming from the lips of my father. Thank you Harry Brown for your contribution and completion to my life.
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on August 28, 2000
99.9% of self-help books are mixtures of idiotic positive thinking and dubious information designed to sell you 'dreams of prosperity' and pluck your cash out of your wallet. Browne's classic 1973 book is the ANTITHESIS of all that. Notwithstanding Browne's LIBERTARIAN convictions which you may have disagreements with, there is NO ONE who reads this book who will not benefit enormously and feel a huge burden lifted off his or her shoulders. Browne is an expert at simplifying complex amounts of information for the layman without in any way affecting its essence. Suffice it to say that after reading this book, you will FIND IT VERY HARD TO ALLOW YOURSELF TO GET MANIPULATED INTO 'TRAPS' ever again (and you certainly will never look at GOVERNMENT the same way again).
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on July 18, 1998
I read this book at a tender age, and realize after twenty-five years that my life was shaped largely by the lessons I got from Harry Browne. I teach a self-actualization/creativity class, which owes much of its enormous success to principles first introduced to me in this wonderful book.
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HALL OF FAMEon November 28, 1999
A number of time when politician write books, they have one thing in mind - money. Harry Browne is not a politician, although he did run in 1996. What separated Browne from the "traditional" politician, Browne has core values and moral convictions.
Browne has written a book that should be on the best sellers list. This is more than self-help book, this is a life-changing book. You can find books on financial freedom, but this book shows you how to be free and independent without losing any freedoms along the way.
The book is broken down into three parts, Why you are not free, How you can be free and A new Life. Browne presentation is easy to follow and comprehend, you'll have to spend some time practicing the technique to prefect it.
I liked the book's overall message, its simple, straightforward and motivating. I found that this book, unlike so many others allows me to make the choices I think are necessary to change my life. Harry Browne has certainly done himself proud with this book. An excellent piece of writing for all to read!
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on February 22, 2003
This book correctly asserts that we have more liberty than we often consider. In it, Harry outlines important freedom-enhacing principles that propel the reader toward self-determination and thus a fully-actualized life. This valuable book merits my highest possible recommendation. It is a virtual handbook on personal freedom.
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on September 22, 1997
I first heard Harry Browne speak in the early 70s on NBC's Today Show, where he was promoting his book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. I had never heard someone speak with such clarity, rationality, and insight. I bought the book and found it so remarkable that I have never stoppped rereading it. In fact, despite the book's being slightly dated now (and the original is out of print), I continue to have my students read, analyze, and react to Browne's ideas in the courses I teach at the the Pennsylvania State University. I was therefore thrilled to read the following announcement I just received about a re-issuing of the book:

"LiamWorks Publishing: 387 pages, $24.95, hard cover. This 1997 edition contains a new Foreword and Afterword by Harry -- both written following his 1996 Libertarian presidential campaign."
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