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Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life

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A groundbreaking exploration of why we want what we want, and a toolkit for freeing ourselves from chasing unfulfilling desires.

Gravity affects every aspect of our physical being, but there's a psychological force just as powerful – yet almost nobody has heard of it. It's responsible for bringing groups of people together and pulling them apart, making certain goals attractive to some and not to others, and fueling cycles of anxiety and conflict. In Wanting, Luke Burgis draws on the work of French polymath René Girard to bring this hidden force to light and reveals how it shapes our lives and societies.

According to Girard, humans don't desire anything independently. Human desire is mimetic – we imitate what other people want. This affects the way we choose partners, friends, careers, clothes, and vacation destinations. Mimetic desire is responsible for the formation of our very identities. It explains the enduring relevancy of Shakespeare's plays, why Peter Thiel decided to be the first investor in Facebook, and why our world is growing more divided as it becomes more connected.

Wanting also shows that conflict does not arise because of our differences--it comes from our sameness. Because we learn to want what other people want, we often end up competing for the same things. Ignoring our large similarities, we cling to our perceived differences.

Drawing on his experience as an entrepreneur, teacher, and student of classical philosophy and theology, Burgis shares tactics that help turn blind wanting into intentional wanting – not by trying to rid ourselves of desire, but by desiring differently. It's possible to be more in control of the things we want, to achieve more independence from trends and bubbles, and to find more meaning in our work and lives.

The future will be shaped by our desires. Wanting shows us how to desire a better one.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published June 1, 2021

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About the author

Luke Burgis

9 books146 followers
Luke Burgis has founded and led four companies in wellness, consumer products, and technology. He’s currently Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Director of Programs at the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship where he also teaches business at The Catholic University of America. Luke has started and serves on the board of several new K-12 education initiatives. He studied business at NYU’s Stern School of Business and philosophy and theology at a pontifical university in Rome. He’s Managing Partner of Fourth Wall Ventures, an incubator he founded to build, train, and invest in people and companies that contribute to a healthy human ecology. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Claire, and writes regularly at lukeburgis.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 416 reviews
Profile Image for Chad.
148 reviews7 followers
July 20, 2021
This book serves to popularize the work of Rene Girard, and I think it succeeds at that. There's an enticing insight at the outset of the book—we don't want in a rational vacuum, we learn how to want from observing others (models)—Unfortunately, the book doesn't build much more on top of this insight.

The book spends part 1 explaining what memetic desire is and why it is so powerful, and then spends part 2 discussing ways to transform your desires to "thick" desires that will stand the test of time and ultimately be satisfying. Peppered into both sections are "tactics" which are strong nuggets, but I find their implementation awkward. It breaks the split of "understand mimetic desire" and "here's what to do about it" by having the tactics scattered throughout, and the tactics themselves are mostly supported by anecdotes rather than procedures on how to best execute the tactic. I believe books like Atomic Habits or the 4-Hour Workweek would serve as a good guide of how to implement tactics in a way that's likely to be followed and helpful for the reader.

I was introduced to some new ideas from the book, was entertained with some of the anecdotes, and it was a good reminder to reflect more, further examine my life, and ensure I am striving for things that will bring me satisfaction (or maybe not striving so much to begin with, and instead just being satisfied/equanimous). I found the organization of the book a bit chaotic, found the tactics less-than-actionable as laid out, and found too many claims that left me wondering how the author made the logical jump on such little evidence.

To be clear, the ideas here are interesting and do have a big impact on the world. I just didn't find this to get at the deep questions with the level of rigor I was expecting.

P.S. I do find it funny that I mainly bought this book due to the praise from Adam Grant, Jonathan Haidt, and Tyler Cowen (models).

There are also many instances where I didn't find the evidence sufficient for the claim being made, or where Burgis doesn't fully explain his argument.

Early in the book, when discussing an anecdote about a VC who lost a deal by not signaling his aggressiveness, Burgis says this should be a warning and cites the Paradox of Importance. It's not clear if the lesson was the VC was wrong to not mimic others (unlikely), or if the founder was wrong not to go with the VC.

I also found the section on the suicides in Las Vegas related to the Downtown Project to be a very large claim. I don't know that there was enough evidence to say they killed themselves because they couldn't keep up with everyone else around them without a clear hierarchy informing who to model.

There's another section (in Chapter 4) where Burgis talks about using the language of natural disasters to describe human/societal failures that "always seem to sneak up on and shock people." This seemed week, especially since the examples listed were famously predicted in The Big Short, and the quote from Ackman is a prediction.

Further in The Invention of Blame chapter, Burgis mentions how "nearly all people are religious in the sense that they subconsciously believe that sacrifice brings peace." He goes on to talk about how destroying your enemies is a form of "sacrifice." I think this could be an argument that violence brings peace, but it seems a stretch from the understood definition of "sacrifice" to think that an enemy being destroyed is a sacrifice. This is shortly followed by the quote "We didn't stop burning witches because we invented science; we invented science because we stopped burning witches" which leaves me wondering what was the impetus to stop burning witches?

In The Mimetic Future chaper, Burgis makes the comparison the "thin" desires beating out "thick" desire was similar to Gresham's law where bad money drives out good. This seems like a misunderstanding of Gresham's law, which as I understand it depends on both forms of money being deemed legal tender. In the absence of a law stating the good and bad money are equivalent, the good (hard) money wins out ("Thier's Law"). There's no connection to the requirement of legal tender that would have led to thin desires beating out deep desires—there was no mandate that both be deemed equal.

There's another statement "Sometimes the market isn't a good indication of what people want. It's good at price discovery for thin desires, but not necessarily for thick ones." This has no justification, aside from following an anecdote that one CEO cut his salary, increased employee salaries, and the company was successful. I don't completely disagree with the statement, but I do think it's a large and nuanced claim and deserves more evidence and exploration.

In the second half of the book, Burgis is building the "Cycle 2 - Creative Flywheel." I'm not sure if he gave up on it, or if it is only supposed to have 3 stages, but the final graphic of the flywheel has 3 parts and looks unfinished (there's no arrow going from the 3rd level "Transcendence" to the 1st level "Mimetic desire").

- The distinction between Celebristan (far models, okay to imitate) and Freshmanistan (near models, imitation seen as competition)
- How we are attracted to people who *want* differently (Steve Jobs)
- The principle of reflexivity ("In situations that have thinking participants, there is a two-way interaction between the participant's thinking and the situation in which they operate")
- People fight when they are similar (more than when they are different)
- The need to keep your rivalries in check, else be consumed by them (Lamborghini, Michelin chef)
- The idea that we all implicitly accept the compromise of the society we live in (The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas)
- The suggestion to talk about the most deeply fulfilling experiences in the lives of those around you
- The plug for Montessori schooling
Profile Image for Hannah Cernicky.
64 reviews7 followers
April 19, 2021
When I started this book, I noticed in the preface, the author made large claims, that this work could be life changing. As a solid Enneagram 6, I took note with skepticism, and read on. This book explains The Theory of Mimetic Desire developed by Rene Girard, how this theory influences society and life, and how one might learn from and use it to grasp its effect and potentially reorient one’s direction accordingly. Sort of like explaining what wind is, how it has shaped landmarks, ocean currents, and aviation, and then teaching the reader how to adjust their sails in the direction they want to go.

The writing is easy to understand and the author skilled in communicating complex concepts. The sequence of the book is logical, and each component is accompanied by many of the author’s personal antidotes as well as many references to popular figures such as Steve Job, Annie Dillard, Ferrari and Lamborghini, Tony Hsieh, and many more. Each story was interesting, and the detail was engrossing. This style reminded me a lot of Malcom Gladwell and Susan Caine.

This book is extremely relevant and timely, asking and answering, “Why do we want the things that we want?” After a breaking down of the theory in smaller bite size pieces, the author goes on to make suggestions, on how this can effect business leaders, politics, social media, religion, management, teachers, parents, and families. We all have models, people who tell us what is worth wanting or not, and we all have values, that properly recognized and ranked can reveal so much about us and what makes life fulfilling. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the why behind our desires. It turns out the claims the author made in the beginning were more true than not, the ideas and 15 Tactics the author lays out has the potential to be life changing and helpful if embraced.
Profile Image for Amanda T.
399 reviews3 followers
April 28, 2021
This book isn't about research done by Burgis - he's based most of the book on the work of Rene Girard. Burgis interviews some people who fit with Girard's mimetic theory, such as the Michelin Star chef who asked not to be considered for the Michelin Guide. That was the most interesting one and it's the best example of why what you think you want isn't necessarily going to make you happy. He also uses an example from his own life in which he lined up a sale to Zappos which ultimately fell through. What I found is amusing is that Zappos was sold to Amazon - which he quietly mentions. For all it's wonderful Zappos culture, they ended up selling out to Amazon.

I found there was one glaring omission in the book: where is role of advertising when it comes to mimetic desire? Remember the ads for kids cereal from the '80s? You wanted it because the kid on TV was eating it (Mikey - remember Mikey's Life cereal?). There's no mention at all of advertising for explaining what we want or why we want it.

I also had trouble with the scapegoat section - I understand what Burgis was trying to say, but stating that Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos was a scapegoat? Um, nope. She was a fraud - she was peddling a product that didn't work and she knew it. His example of Holmes modelling herself after Steve Jobs, who himself modelled himself after someone he met in school does work as an example of modelling, but not as a scapegoat. I also didn't understand the frat boy pool party analogy and why it needed to be included. A really solid real life example would have been better such as, Lehman Brothers - how they became the scapegoat for the entire subprime mortgage crisis and financial meltdown of 2008.

I like the idea of writing down your Fulfillment Stories to figure out what your motivations are. I'll take the free assessment online and decide if I'm going to purchase the companion book (this section is also based on another author's theory). Although, if I really think about it, I'm fairly certain I can figure out what my own motivations are, but I'll do the assessment anyway.

Nitpicks about the book itself: the illustrations are hand drawn, very small and difficult to read. The Mimetic Matrix on page 197 (of my ARC) is so tiny, I gave up trying to decipher it.

There are a couple of interesting tidbits in this book, but I maintain that I'm not the target audience. The target audience would be considerably younger, impressionable and swayed by friends and influencers. And that isn't me.
Profile Image for Sebastian Gebski.
983 reviews900 followers
November 30, 2021
The topic (mimetic desire) appears trivial and unfascinating. Like something that would fit a single blog post, or two. But somehow Burgis was able to write an interesting book about it - I enjoyed all the chapters, except maybe the last two (13 & 14, because 15 doesn't even count as a full-fledged chapter ;>).

It's one of those books which bring a trivial message to the table, but this message sticks so well, that you catch yourself referring to it regularly in everyday interactions: "why did I behave this way?". In fact, it provides you with better countermeasures to stop doing some particular things than the best books on treating bad habits.

The book is filled with several references to other popular books on behavioral psychology, so if you've read them all (like I did), it may be a bit annoying - but it would not be fair to treat that as a reason to downgrade the rating. The truth is that I enjoyed "Wanting" - I wouldn't call it a breakthrough in my journey to understand myself better, but it has equipped me with a very useful tool, so here we go - 5 stars.

P.S. The idea of Google being a replacement of ... God (when it comes to fulfilling certain human desires) made me speechless. Especially when it struck me that it's a really good metaphor ...
Profile Image for KVG.
71 reviews1,290 followers
November 14, 2022
This book is the apogee of rote business / thought leader books. The formula:

* Take an idea you could fit in a fortune cookie.
* This book’s idea is: “the things we want rarely come from inside ourselves; rather they come from social observation - a phenomenon called _mimesis_, or mimetic desire
* Repeat that idea. Mimesis mimesis mimesis.
* Pad with excessive anecdotes. And make sure to pad each anecdote itself, overstuffing with detail.
* Add more-insightful concepts from better books that people already know about (you guys have you heard of Jim Collins’ flywheel!!)
* Also mentioning “Daniel Kahneman” does not equal research, nor is it unique
* Come up with silly buzz phrases (“freshmanistan”) that you can pepper throughout.
* Offer Wikipedia-esque bites like the the origin of the term “scapegoat”
* List “self-help” tips again based on insights not your own and that are actually more an excuse to share another anecdote than offer a true approach (wow, you researched the story of Zappos, one of the most-told tales in modern business)
* Sell for $30.

Gross. By the end it got so overstuffed and meandering it felt like an anthology of onion parodies if medium articles. The publisher should feel ashamed. Kudos to the writer, I’m sure he got peoples’ money and now gets cherry speaking gigs: smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, bud.

There’s a more thoughtful and generous review here if you want a less severe take. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

For me, there was one bright spot from reading this, I guess. I now know something I truly, intrinsically want: The time I spent on this book back.
Profile Image for Ryan.
1,012 reviews
November 28, 2022
In Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life, Luke Burgis summarizes Rene Girard's mimetic desire theory, and he then criticizes the shallowness of Silicon Valley's companies, corporate culture, and cultural contributions. I wanted to learn about Girard.

Summarizing Girard

Maslow has a hierarchy of needs, but Girard distinguishes needs from desires. We all need some calories, water, and a box shelter (these are Maslow’s basic needs). For most people in the developed world, day-to-day life consists of desires—the things we want or choose. To say “I want” is, conventionally, to assert that “I” have an intrinsically idiosyncratic desire. Girard argues that “I” statement is wrong. We don't want things. We want what we see others wanting. We imitate them—inescapably—like herd animals. Burgis includes a fantastic quote at the start from Dayna Tortorici: "It's penciled-in eyebrows all the way down."

Therefore, for Girard, people are similar. Jocks and nerds, for example, think of themselves as different but they are the same age and are from the same culture and are quite likely from the same socioeconomic background. They both long for status within the same community. If people are similar, why do they come into conflict?

People don't have to come into conflict, but they are likely to if they see someone as similar and then as a rival. This rivalry dynamic appears to depend on a) whether or not people have a zero-sum mentality and b) whether they can be made to support a shared vision within discrete roles. However, if the two people think of themselves as being in competition with each other for a limited resource (i.e. status?), that competition will escalate. To some extent, what may be happening is that people want to think of themselves as being unique and imitating another or being imitated by another is threatening. We’ve developed an ethical code of copying in which it is OK to model one’s career off of LeBron James, a distant celebrity, but it’s not OK to model one’s career off of a rival from one’s immediate community.

Girard argues that groups minimize internal conflict through sacrifice. A threat or an outsider is identified, one person declares that person wrong, and the group crowds in.

Thinking about Girard…

-It's not surprising that a Silicon Valley person would find Girard interesting. How much has social media done beyond establishing models to copy?
-Girard nudges us away from trying to discover our essential passions. Instead, we’re left thinking about ourselves a bit more loosely and less grandly. We can choose better or worse models to imitate, although I don't really understand how that can happen if it is indeed "penciled-in eyebrows all the way down." What are we as individuals if our desires are so arbitrary?
-Many people hack mimetic desire in advertising, but it can also be hacked to effect a change. When people post inspiration walls or when they join communities (an AA or weight watchers community might be good examples), they are using their mimetic desire for a productive aim. When people “fall in with a bad crowd,” their mimetic desires are leading them astray, I suppose.
-Girard worries more about how quickly people who should be friends become enemies. Girard would remind us that Romeo and Juliet begins "two households, both alike in dignity..."

Is this a good book?

For me, it was not. I’ve noted this before on Goodreads, but I rarely enjoy Silicon Valley writers.
-Every example must focus on a titan of industry like Steve Jobs, as if Steve Jobs is relevant to every argument beyond his wealth and celebrity.
-The tone is always too exuberantly focused on start up success for my taste, and Burgis includes a moment in which he reads 4 Hour Work Week and experiences existential despair for working more than 4 hours/ week. Sigh. I often find that I’d like to hear from these people in twenty years when they’ve had their heart trampled on a few more times or, having just read a book about Freud, after they've gone through some form of psychoanalysis.
-There’s also too much shameless name dropping (e.g. Peter Thiel and Tony Hsieh). I sometimes see entrepreneurs and their allies dismiss MFA writers. Fine. But the entrepreneurial writers are also annoyingly one note.
-The second half is about how Burgis turns his back on Silicon Valley after his start up fails and searches for wisdom that mitigates shallow mimetic behavior. I find it difficult to believe these writers when they discuss joy, wisdom, and fulfillment rather than consumerism. I'd recommend reading David Brooks' Road to Character, the introduction of which he turned into a TED talk about resume virtues and eulogy virtues.

2.5 stars.
Profile Image for Omar.
199 reviews
June 4, 2022
Rene Gigard’s mimetic theory is that our wants/desires are shaped by what others want. The author takes this idea and says that our mental models essentially can set us on healthy or unhealthy pathways both individually and societally. He then makes the case that we should reassess our goals in order to live more fulfilling lives while building a healthier world because what we think we want may not be what we really want, or need. Companies, leaders, managers, etc should help in facilitating this. It’s nothing groundbreaking—common sense really if you’ve ever reflected on your life. It wraps up in new age fashion that genuine fulfillment comes from helping others, that love as the primary intrinsic motivator and a sense of contentedness of what we do have is enough, which is a quasi-enlightened, feel-good, and idealistic take on things.
Profile Image for Amelia.
134 reviews36 followers
September 22, 2021
3 1/2 stars
While this book was accurate it sometimes had fallacies.
For ex all newborns stick their tongues out. It’s one of the first things humans do as infants. So sticking your tongue out to an infant & the infant doing it back does not prove it’s mimicking us.
Despite that bad example, we are creatures who mimic each other.
Also while we do, it’s not mimicry that leads us most. The author didn’t account for ego at all or the need to be loved & accepted, which usually lies under most of our behaviors.
Maybe because I’m one who mostly “swims against the current” the idea that we behave like we do primarily because we mirror others isn’t very convincing. It was also very male-oriented & business oriented. I couldn’t relate to either.
With that said a lot of things presented in the book are interesting & true of human nature.
I’m not sure that it will help most to look at their motivations because it’s not presented in a way to do that. A reader will have to go far from the information to use it in discovering more about themselves.
I still enjoyed the anecdotes & points made. The narration for the audiobook, which I received through NetGalley to review, is well enough done.
It was worth the listen.
15 reviews
April 24, 2021
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I found myself fascinated by the ideas at the onset, and will certainly continue to use and think about some of the information.. I appreciate the inspiration to consider what I have wanted, currently want, and will want... and why.

However, I also found myself frustrated throughout the read by the delivery of the ideas, and the lack of coherency and logic of conclusions. It was a case of: I love the ideas here, and I wish that it had been edited more. (I did read an early copy, so my assumption is that grammar/copy edits and visuals becoming more readable will be made before final print.) I wanted to see more logic to transitions and explanation of why some pieces were being shared.. landing the ideas.

That said: I think thinking of mimetic desire and its affect on myself and everyone around me will be something I continue to noodle on for some time.
Profile Image for Garret Macko.
202 reviews42 followers
July 4, 2021
Exciting to see Girard’s ideas come to the public eye in such accessible and egalitarian form. It’s definitely not perfect, but I strongly commend Burgis for his effort and application of Girard’s thought.
Profile Image for Peter.
80 reviews1 follower
November 29, 2022
I enjoyed reading the book, but ultimately it failed the test that I set for books that purport to be models for the way the world works, or at least the way people behave - does it have predictive power, that is can I use it not just as retroscope but as a way of anticipating the future?

I'm not sure it does, and even some of the analysis of past situations seems a bit force-fitted.

Some interesting stories, and some stretchy conclusions, but it is at least thought provoking.
Profile Image for Audrey.
119 reviews2 followers
August 22, 2021
A bit frustrating. I’m inclined to agree with the general premise that desire is mediated through other people. However, I wanted the author to make his reasoning more explicit. A greater variety of examples would have been good too. For instance, how exactly does mimetic desire cause entrepreneurs in Tony Hsieh’s downtown Vegas revitalization project to start killing themselves? I also wanted examples of how mimetic desire works more subtly in people’s lives, for those of us who aren’t in epic rivalries with our peers or caught up in pursuing fame and wealth. Some of the concepts in the second half of the book got a bit broad and far from the main topic, again with insufficient evidence/argument that they were connected. I think I personally would be better served by going back to the philosophical source, Rene Girard.
Profile Image for A..
Author 1 book218 followers
July 5, 2021
Do you want to understand the social equivalent to gravity? The real reason we’re all addicted to social media? The origins of anxiety and conflict and violence? Cancel culture’s underlying schemata? Why getting what you want so often proves treacherous? Why you loved—or hated—or felt conflicted reading my novel, THE PORTRAIT OF A MIRROR? Luke’s book, WANTING, and the work of René Girard has powerful answers. Reading WANTING has been a revelation—I feel like Cassandra being believed for the first time—with this whole new vocabulary to discuss the ideas that have consumed me for over a decade, that first compelled me to write THE PORTRAIT OF A MIRROR.
Profile Image for Rick Wilson.
710 reviews263 followers
March 11, 2022
This book does a phenomenal job of describing René Girard’s ideas and communicating them in a straightforward matter.

The couple times I’ve tried to read Gerard have mostly ended with me beating my head against the desk. So it’s great to hear a layman‘s version of his philosophy.

There’s some problems with this book, The personal story sometimes meander, i’m not quite sure how it’s organized, but the overwhelming strength is that it represents an incredibly opaque philosopher in a easily digestible format. One of the few books I’ve checked out from the library and then gone out and purchased.
Profile Image for Manas Saloi.
275 reviews735 followers
October 9, 2021
Giving it 4 and not 5 because the final chapters were a bit meh. I would still recommend this book to all my friends.
Profile Image for scl.ashx.
275 reviews163 followers
February 22, 2022
This book is just an insight into the works of Rene Girard. Basically it's a shell and it's explores and summarises all the works of Girard and nothing more.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
704 reviews29.1k followers
February 18, 2023
Why is the review section so low on the book page now? Hmmmmm.

Anyways, finally finished this. Lot's of good stuff in there.
Profile Image for Venky.
961 reviews348 followers
July 2, 2022
The Norwegian-American economist and sociologist, Thorstein Veblen coined the term, “conspicuous consumption’. This term explains the practice of consumers purchasing goods of a higher quality/greater quantity than is necessarily practical. More specifically it refers to luxury goods or services to publicly display one’s wealth or status. Hence a ‘conspicuous’ attempt at ‘keeping up with the Kardashians’.

However the concept of human desire was lent a groundbreaking and pioneering flavour by the French historian, polymath and philosopher Rene Girard. Girard may as well go down in history as the most underrated philosopher responsible for unearthing the most consequential theory of human desire in the 21st century. Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Director of Programs at the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship, Luke Burgis, attempts to expand the scope of Girard’s paradigmatic philosophy beyond the perimeters of an exclusive club of acolytes – that include the likes of serial entrepreneur and multi-billionaire, Peter Thiel – and succeeds beyond the wildest of imaginations!

Girard propounded a theory which he named “mimetic theory”. Unlike the theory of conspicuous consumption which places emphasis on the individual, mimetic theory asserts that human desire is a collective or even a social phenomenon. At the root of all conflict and violence that has tarnished history and civilization, lies this collective aspect of human desire. Girard, while teaching the classics discovered that from Shakespeare to Dostoevsky, most of the characters appearing in the great works were driven by mimesis. Their desires were predominantly an outcome or an output of someone else’s wants.

As Burgis illustrates, Girard’s mimetic theory progress through the following four sequential phases:

Mimetic Desire: Subsequent to the satiation of a human being’s basic needs such as food, sex, safety, shelter, people progress into the domain of desire. This domain does not have any guidelines or yardstick. The only barometer for desire is to ‘want’ what other people want. Desire is thus social.

Conflict: Desire which is social inevitably leads to conflict since multiple individuals compete for the same goods.

Scapegoating: The invariable and inevitable conflict permeates society leading to chaos. The only perceivable way to mitigate this induced chaos is to find a convenient scapegoat. Hence warring factions single-out a single individual or problem as the root of all evil and brutally expel or expunge the scapegoat from the community.

The Cover-Up: The final phase in the mimetic theory is that of the cover-up. In a pretentious act of gentility, the perpetrators of violence birth an opportune culture by enacting taboos, prohibitions, and other laws to prevent the scapegoating mechanism that the very legislators engaged in. This vicious cycle keeps on repeating in a cathartic manner until it becomes a common place occurrence in every nation, community, organisation and family.

Burgis himself was an unwitting victim of mimesis and its attendant virtue signaling. When the late CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh expressed interest in acquiring Burgis’ e-commerce venture for wellness products, FitFuel.com, Burgis began mimicking Tony Hsieh and his maverick lifestyle. “Within a few weeks of hanging out with him, I ditched by True Religions (I know) and started shopping at the Gap. I began to wonder if I should drive an older and dirtier car” (Hsieh drove a beat up Mazda 6 and dressed in plain jeans and a Zappos T-shirt). The deal unfortunately fell apart.

Burgis informs his readers about the perils of mimesis. Mimesis has the potential to sabotage our noblest ambitions and chasing after wrong desires might prove downright deadly. Steve Jobs sold his IBM Seleric typewriter to an eccentric student named Robert Friedland. When Jobs reached Friedland’s door with his typewriter and let himself in, he was shocked to see Friedland having sex with his girlfriend. Friedland nonchalantly invited Jobs to sit down until he was done! This absolute disregard for taboo had a lasting influence on Jobs. Jobs own quirks included walking barefoot, not taking showers and soaking his feet in the toilet.

Ferruccio Lamborghini found out that the Ferrari he was driving had an inherent problem with the clutch mechanism, and in earnest approached Enzo Ferrari only to be insulted and rebuked. Ferrari brazenly stated that the issue was with Lamborghini since not everyone knew how to ‘handle’ a Ferrari. Lamborghini calmly retreated, replaced the wobbly clutch in his Ferrari with that of a sturdy tractor (he was a tractor manufacturer) and outwitted every Ferrari for pace! But even after he started manufacturing his own brand of cars, he refused to be drawn in a dance of death with Ferrari by not competing in the world of racing. Not for Lamborghini the mimetic ‘contagion’.

Burgis sets out 15 ingenious and implementable “tactics” which act as rudders in steering our desires towards more intrinsic and value based aspirations (‘thick desires’) as opposed to purely extrinsic and temporary goals (‘thin desires’). A few of such tactics include:

Name Your Models: Burgis explains that naming problems, emotions and talents bestows a degree of control. Thinking about exemplary ‘role models’ in both our professional and personal lives influences our desires in a positive and encouraging way;

Find Sources of Wisdom that Withstand Mimesis: Stop being influenced by the “cult of experts”. Their expertise is but a product of mimetic validation. Instead bank on sources that have stood the test and scrutiny of time.

Use Imitation to Drive Innovation: Always remember the Lamborghini v Ferrari story

Establish & Communicate a Clear Hierarchy of Values: Map out your priorities. Write them down. Defend them like hell.

Arrive at Judgment in Anti-mimetic Waves: Be independent. Formulate your thoughts without being influenced by social thinking.

“Wanting” is easily one of the best ever books that I have read till date. Whether you agree or disagree with Girard’s thinking, your thought process would never be the same again.

Thank you, Mr. Burgis!
Profile Image for Lydia Wallace.
382 reviews49 followers
March 20, 2021
A groundbreaking exploration of why and how we come to want what we want, and a toolkit for freeing ourselves from chasing unfulfilling desires. This author really opened my eyes involving my nineteen year old daughter who is a college student. She is so undecided about her future and her goals. I can see her being influenced by her friends who themselves have no solid, realistic and well thought out goals. I gave this book to her because I think it will really open her eyes as to how to set goals within her ability to achieve. I can't wait for your next book. I highly recommend this informative book.
197 reviews1 follower
December 14, 2021
My husband’s choice of audiobooks for a cross country drive. We are very lucky that his phone did not fly out the window.

Closest thing I have ever experienced to a snake oil salesman in a book. I’m going to tell you about this theory that very few people know—-no, I haven’t done any original research on the topic, but I do know an incredibly odious Silicon Valley billionaire so I must be on to something. I promise this book will change you life.

Plus, the writing is awful.

I’m definitely not the target audience.
Profile Image for Thomas.
252 reviews48 followers
May 31, 2023
A good contemporary pop introduction to Girard
Profile Image for Tamzen.
527 reviews7 followers
April 9, 2021
"Wanting" dives right into something I had never thought about before-mimetic desire, AKA the fact that everything we want is based on what other people want. That in itself was really interesting to read about. Burgis uses personal stories and anecdotes of others (like Ferrari and Lamborghini) to convey and explain mimetic desire and how it works in terms that are fairly easy to understand. Sometimes I have a hard time powering through nonfiction, researched books, so I appreciated the brevity and succintness of this book. The first half discusses what exactly mimetic desire is, while the second half goes on about how to reorient your desires to be less about you mimicking others' desires and more about what you yourself desires. A good read for someone interested in how society works, and wants to carve out a life that is more fulfilling for themselves.

Thank you to Netgalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for Michael Parent.
56 reviews1 follower
November 1, 2022
Reads like a 50 page lit review of Rene Girard followed by 150 pages of boiler plate business pop psychology.
Profile Image for Kerry Pickens.
871 reviews18 followers
August 16, 2022
This self-help book is based on the studies of Rene Girard, who I first read about in Elif Batuman's book The Possessed. While I am not a big fan of this genre, the relevance of the book may be based on my own stage in life. I recently retired and have finished raising two sons, so it's a time for reflection. I have read the criticism of the book, so here is my response. Luke Burgis works in the high tech industry which I also worked in. We were constantly inundated with team building and leadership training ad nauseam. The value in this book is in it's extreme relevance compared to the wagonload of crap we were force fed. I am an INFJ by the way, the Advocate on the Myers Briggs personality (so I am advocating for Mr Burgis). The themes of the book is also very Jewish. Girard's theories on scapegoating are based on Leviticus in the Torah, a story I know very well as it was my older son's parashat for his bar mitzvah. The competition between brothers is also another theme, and that's all through the Torah starting with Cain and Abel. The author also quotes Rabbi Jonathan Sacks about what spirituality means (see my notes) and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry about workplace motivation.This is some wordly stuff for the workplace compared to "Who Moved My Cheese?" I recommend reading this book as well as Girard's books. I feel like this subject has brought new insight to my outlook on life as well as my reading.
Profile Image for Barb.
54 reviews1 follower
February 17, 2022
This is the kind of book I want my friends to read so we can discuss it together. How do we want the things we want?

Burgis explains the theory of "mimetic desire" and how it shapes who we are, our culture and basically...everything. You learn about what it is, how powerful it is, and that few of our desires are actually our own. They aren't. They are taught, through models. It is the water we swim around in and have no idea it is the water we swim around in.

He also goes back in history and talks about human sacrifice and scapegoats, especially how it relates to mimetic crisis. It's fascinating to see the ties to today. Especially in our current, extremely divided climate.

The author is an entrepreneur, so a lot of his examples are business related. But the info is so fascinating and relevant that that shouldn't dissuade you if that isn't your jam.
Profile Image for Chitrak gangrade.
57 reviews6 followers
July 6, 2022
An amazing amazing book. The concept of mimesis very powerful and is something everyone should be aware of. I am going to recommend this to all my friends and family. The concept of mimetic desire is life changing imo.

Chopping one star because the book is hard to follow and the writing can be better. It was hard to understand and also really apply in your present life. The depth per page I felt was lower. More real life examples or exercises to decipher mimetic desire for oneself could have been helpful. Left me wanting for more.
Profile Image for kranthi.
17 reviews2 followers
January 30, 2022
Startup bro discovers philosophy and sociology. Thinks this ' mimetic desire ' explains everything because Peter Theil made 5$ billion.

Nevertheless, learnt a few things. Could have been summarized in a short article.
Profile Image for Mike Stokes.
21 reviews2 followers
May 24, 2022
An antidote against an empty life.

This book will have you questioning the true sources of your wants and desires.

The author, Luke Burgis, introduces the reader to Mimetic Theory (desire learned through imitation) popularized by Paypal founder Peter Thiel and his teacher, professor Rene Girard.

We learn that our desires aren't arrived at through independent thought or reasoning but learned by copying others wants and desires (imitative models). These imitative models can be similar to us (colleagues, friends, family, peers etc.). For the sake of simplicity, Burgis refers to those occupying similar rungs on the status hierarchy as Freshmanistan. Other models, occupying higher rungs in the status/dominance hierarchy as Celebristan (hollywood entertainers, billionaires, CEOs, heads of state).

Conficts emerge where desires converge. When those similar to us compete for the same scarce objects of desire tensions flare. In order to quell any violence or unrest we have learned to release tensions through sacrificing scapegoats. A scapegoat cannot fight and its sacrifice is cathartic to mob unrest. When a pre-modern society experienced famine or was ravaged by disease a human or animal sacrifice was offered to supernatural forces. Today we fire CEOs of underperforming companies and coaches of losing sports teams.

Burgis discusses that the attainment of imitative desires often leaves people feeling unfulfilled. He encourages introspection through questioning the source of our wants and suggests an alternate path, the pursuit of thick desires. Thick desires are arrived at through greater self awareness and self reflection. These are the desires worth striving for and whose realization brings us deepest fulfillment.

It is not possible to cease wanting for things but choosing the wrong models of desire can lead to a lot of unnecessary suffering. Much of our suffering can be traced to comparison to others and obsessing about ghe future.

Wanting is a book you'll continue to think about long after you've read it.
Profile Image for Lakshman.
22 reviews
August 7, 2022
2.5/5. Didn’t feel there was anything new/deep that the author contributed. More just reinforced the general belief that our desires are mimetic (i.e., we want something because the people we are close to or the people we admire want it), and it’s something we should be conscious of.

That said, there were some fun anecdotes that I enjoyed, even if they had very little to do with the main substance of the book:

1. The cool history of Lambhorgini: Turns out that Lambhorgini (i.e., the guy who founded the car company) actually made his fame/fortune on tractors, and would buy expensive cars with that money. One day he was frustrated with the clutch issues in his Ferrari and took it apart, only to realize that it was using the same clutch that he used in his tractors. He went to Enzo Ferrari and complained about this / gave him ideas on how to improve the car and use a better clutch, but Ferrari was irritated and told him to go back to thinking about tractors… this drove Lambhorgini to go and start building cars himself… and the rest is history.

2. This guy Eddie Bernays was the “Father of PR”, got people to do all sorts of stuff in the 1900s and was hired by companies and countries alike. His main claim to fame was getting women to smoke.

3. The term “Scapegoat” comes from Yom Kippur (day of atonement in Judaism), where 2 goats are brought to the temple and one is sacrificed in the name of all the sins committed.

4. The term “Sour grapes” comes from an Aeosp’s fable where a fox wants grapes that he can’t reach, so automatically concludes that the grapes must be sour.

5. Montessori schools are actually named after a person — Maria Montessori — who founded the style of education.

6. If someone becomes blind later in life, they'll still have visual dreams for the rest of their life. But if someone was blind when they were born, their dreams will be based on other senses (primarily auditory).
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