The case presented in this book harps over and over again on the very basic, obvious observation that structure, responsibility, accountability and the process of working toward goals are conducive to psychological and even physical health - and the corresponding fact that most people are not happiest with unlimited amounts of leisure time. Duh.
My question for Mr. Buchholz is: Who does he think he's arguing against in making that point?
Yoga instructors? Shrinks? Meditation practitioners? People who preach the virtues of getting 8 hours of sleep per night? None of those professions or philosophies is characterized by advocacy for a life of sloth. Implicit in any such advocacy for things like yoga, power naps, meditation, taking lunch breaks away from your desk, etc is the assumption that for their target audience, the time spent disconnected from the "rat race" will be the exception that proves the rule in terms of how waking time is spent. The target audience for the messages of the "anti-stress industry" is just the type of busy, overcommitted, ambitious person the author should admire. So it's a bit bizarre that he chooses to criticize these industries, whose mission is just to bring a little balance to peoples' lives and/or to reduce DIStress (the kind or arousal that's both physically unhealthy over time and un-conducive to peak performance) - not to eliminate EUstress (the good, motivated kind).
In that way, much of the book had the feel of a straw-man argument to me - a little bit like rhetoric that advocates any deregulatory economic proposal, regardless of the details, by saying something like: "Governments can't respond efficiently to changes in consumer tastes" and/or "When all wealth is distributed evenly, there's no incentive to work hard or innovate". As if by suggesting that, say, taxpayer-backed bank deposits (via the FDIC) should probably be separate from funds dedicated to hedge fund-style market speculation - or perhaps that companies like Enron shouldn't be in a position to create artificial energy shortages in California that are profitable for Enron but disastrous for Calfornians - they must want Soviet-style central planning. In this case, suggestions that individuals pause to recharge periodically in order to return to work with more focus - or that much of the American "exempt" corporate workforce might be happier with a typical workweek closer to that of post-WW2 boom years managerial and professional America, today's "non-exempt" and civil service America, or corporate Germany - are conflated with the straw-man idea that people are happiest when they're working least, or when they have no competitive drive or ambitions to achieve personal and career-related goals.
Repetitively arguing in different forms against a life of idleness and/or complacency that virtually no one advocates (for working-aged people) appears to serve as excuse for blowing off - without ever really addressing - a number of valid quality of life concerns. Those include an information-age American culture that fosters very long work weeks and the expectation of constant email checking during "off hours" in many industries and various other stress-inducers ranging from suburban sprawl-induced traffic jams and long commutes to "information overload" to all the things parents feel they have to do (with some justification) to make sure their kid has the competitive advantages they'll need in life. They even include the very premise he claims to have started out with when he decided to write this book: the fact that, [I'm paraphrasing] by definition, most people are not in the top few percentile and that to promote a cultural ethos that encourages a singular focus on being "the best", we do a disservice to those who might find greater happiness and self-acceptance in the context of a value system that didn't put so much emphasis on competitive rank.
I wish he'd written the originally intended book instead, because I think that premise is not only a very valid concern and a problem for many peoples' self-esteem, but a distraction from a focus, for "average" folks, on achieving their personal best and cultivating niches for themselves where they can excel - which in turn does a disservice to society in addition to themselves. That's not to say that we shouldn't foster an ethic of excellence in our children, or that peer competition doesn't have its place. It is to say that it's probably doing a disservice to a young basketball player to tell him that he'll surely make it to the NBA if he just practices hard enough, in a way that sets that up as his only goal and his only definition of success, or gives him tacit permission to abandon preparation for other career paths. A better approach wouldn't necessarily discourage NBA dreams - or equivalent statistical long-shots - but would convey the need to keep more numerically realistic ambitions on the table as well. Beyond the superstar career dreams, it doesn't behoove most kids - or people generally - to have their entire senses of self-worth tied to their rankings in peer competitions or to focus all their energy on "shoot for the moon" for which there are no "stars" to land among as a consolation prize. According to the Preface, Mr. Buchholz sensed this initially but changed his mind as the result of his insights about the personal and societal benefits that are by-products of the process of setting goals and seeking to achieve them. Unlike Mr. Buchholz, I don't think the validity of the latter observation (that ambition and the process of striving to achieve have individual and societal benefits) undermines the validity of the former (that most people and society will suffer if their only definition of personal success or focus is to be better than everyone else at everything, or even at everything that interests them). So I think he could still write the book he initially intended to without fundamentally contradicting this one.
The author's historical, societal case - celebrating the results, visible all around us and in our long lives and high standard of living, of a human culture that works and innovates in order to improve personal and societal standards of living, rather being content to hunt and gather and then relax the rest of the time - is no refutation of the concerns stated in the above two paragraphs. It's very possible to be highly productive and ambitious but not overwhelmed, distressed, or captive to an all-or-nothing mentality. His evolutionary case - in favor of the kind of perpetually heightened arousal level that allowed our primitive ancestors to flee predators thanks to a fight-or-flight response that could be activated quickly - is unconvincing as a justification against balance in our modern lives. The whole idea of the progress he celebrates elsewhere is to enjoy better conditions than our ancestors did. We're past the point of needing to remain perpetually vigilant, never relaxing for fear of lurking predators, in order to assure survival and perpetuation of the species. That's a luxury we enjoy. Moreover, the agitated state we associate with the ability to quickly flee predators is very different from the more moderately aroused state most conducive to optimal performance on cognitively demanding tasks.
The one major point in the book that I both agree with Mr. Buchholz on AND think isn't quite so obvious to everyone is the over-glamorization of retirement. For those healthy enough to continue working but who have the means not to, I don't think retirement is always the right choice. I don't think everyone has sufficient appreciation for the potential boredom and possible depression that can set in. Not everyone is good enough at self-structuring their time to stay sufficiently busy, engaged with meaningful activity, and connected to others.
For a book that incorporates and expands on some of Buccholz' better points, packaged much more discriminatingly and coherently, I prefer the book "Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. While "Rush: Why You Need and Love the Rat Race" conflates focused engagement and the joys of skill development, on the one hand, with the kind of agitated stress that comes from being overwhelmed, restless and unable to enjoy the moments as they occur, on the other hand - just as "Rush" and "rat race" imply - "Flow" preaches deliberate cultivation of the former: the "flow" state.