Book Review: Thanks a Thousand – A Gratitude Journey (A.J. Jacobs)

Book Review: Thanks a Thousand – A Gratitude Journey (A.J. Jacobs)

Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey by A.J. Jacobs


Well, first, before we get into the book, and the book review of it; lets get into gratitude. I know its something I need to work on. I honestly feel like, outside of the Dali Lama and maybe Pope Francis (and maybe even him), its just something that we all need to work on…. and I’m also laying odds that even the Dali Lama would say he needs to work on it.

Many would say its like a muscle, it needs to be worked and exercised regularly. For a good, scholarly, scientific study and article on that very notion and idea, here is: “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain” by Greater Good Magazine and Berkeley Education.

So that brings us to why A.J. Jacobs wrote his book. He decided he wanted to show more gratitude in his life, and wanted to figure out a way to do so with his writing skills and abilities. (And the cynic in me says – and a way to get a book contract and launch a simple way to make money doing a TED Talk, book deal, and get to do some traveling and discuss his favorite thing – coffee; all at the same time.)

The Book

How this correlates is that A.J. Jacobs (the author) wanted to show his gratitude, by discussing through his book, how he learned to show gratitude for something he took for granted. In this case – coffee. And he was going to show gratitude to everyone and anyone who helped get the coffee to his cup and to his lips and down his gullet.

Since he picked coffee, that means starting at his nearby coffee shop – Joe’s Coffee – and working up (or down?) the metaphorical tree. From barista, to clerks, to the people who made the coffee cup, the coffee lid, the logo, the farmers, the owner or CEO of Joe’s Coffee, to steel mill people, etc.

A.J. Jacobs is known for doing non-fictional ‘gimmick’ type pieces of work. Those books in the vein of “I did X every day for one year” or “I traveled to Y countries in a year”. Some of his books include:

  • The Know-It All (a book about reading the entire Britannica Encyclopedia)
  • The Year of Living Biblically (as the name suggests – he lived a year according to the Bible as much as possible)
  • It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree (a book about family genealogy)
  • The Guinea Pig Diaries (a book about being used as experiments)

And so – Thanks a Thousand – falls into this trope easily. I don’t want to be too cynical, but, it feels more like “here’s a gimmick, here’s something fun and interesting, here’s something that can attract mainstream attention” and “here’s something that I will enjoy writing and get to do fun things while writing”; rather than truly being about gratitude.

Book Review

I’ve read his “The Know-It All” book and I read his book about family genealogy, and while I must say I did find them interesting, and all, they did strike me as slightly gimmicky, even moreso now reading this, and looking over his history of books and writings. I’m not quite sure how to fully encapsulate that idea or why it is. But the word ‘gimmick’ really stands out with this, and his writings, and his oeuvre in general. Perhaps if he had other books and writings that didn’t rely on a “what if I do something for five months, every day, and write about it”, I wouldn’t think that way of him.

I don’t want to say ‘hack’ or that his writing is hacky or hack-ish. (I find his prose easy and fine to read. And I’m sure most people would say he writes better than me.) But there’s just something to these books. I think some of it, is that we have to take it with a grain of salt. He’s writing these things down post-actions or afterwards, or in a way that we are to assume he wrote some of it while the events were occurring, etc. And I have no doubt to believe he is, and I do not mean to imply in anyway that he is a liar or a cheat; but I think there’s just some level of disconnect. Thinking about him living a year “Biblically” or reading the entire Britannica Encyclopedia, or thanking over a thousand people, etc.

GoodReads Summary of ‘Thanks a Thousand’:

The idea was deceptively simple: New York Times bestselling author A.J. Jacobs decided to thank every single person involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. The resulting journey takes him across the globe, transforms his life, and reveals secrets about how gratitude can make us all happier, more generous, and more connected.

Author A.J. Jacobs discovers that his coffee—and every other item in our lives—would not be possible without hundreds of people we usually take for granted: farmers, chemists, artists, presidents, truckers, mechanics, biologists, miners, smugglers, and goatherds.

By thanking these people face to face, Jacobs finds some much-needed brightness in his life. Gratitude does not come naturally to Jacobs—his disposition is more Larry David than Tom Hanks—but he sets off on the journey on a dare from his son. And by the end, it’s clear to him that scientific research on gratitude is true. Gratitude’s benefits are legion: It improves compassion, heals your body, and helps battle depression.

Jacobs gleans wisdom from vivid characters all over the globe, including the Minnesota miners who extract the iron that makes the steel used in coffee roasters, to the Madison Avenue marketers who captured his wandering attention for a moment, to the farmers in Colombia.

Along the way, Jacobs provides wonderful insights and useful tips, from how to focus on the hundreds of things that go right every day instead of the few that go wrong. And how our culture overemphasizes the individual over the team. And how to practice the art of “savoring meditation” and fall asleep at night. Thanks a Thousand is a reminder of the amazing interconnectedness of our world. It shows us how much we take for granted. It teaches us how gratitude can make our lives happier, kinder, and more impactful. And it will inspire us to follow our own “Gratitude Trails.”

GoodReads: Thanks a Thousand – A Gratitude Journey

There is some interesting anecdotes from the book, and you do learn a little bit about the process behind the coffee getting to your local coffee shop, but it all seems to fall so flat. So little is spent on anything in particular, and its such a quick book, that nothing feels more than skin surface deep. Even his actual comments and work about gratitude itself – the primary thrust of the work – seems to barely scratch pass the epidermis.

I feel like there could be a lot more here. And he does mention an interesting article, “I, Pencil” at one point, which basically follows a similar line as his book does – but about how a pencil is made. (Obviously, without the gimmick behind it all of being about gratitude; but more just about the capitalism and economics side of how the pencil is created.) That sounds inimically more fascinating and interesting than this. This is a hybrid creature of gratitude, capitalism / consumerism, and anecdotes of people who made it all happen, that it ends up flopping around with bird wings, human legs, lion head, and fish gills and can’t breath out of water.

My GoodReads Rating: **
Global Average GoodReads Rating: 3.73 (as f 11.23.21)
My LibraryThing rating: **

Thanks For Reading

Thank you for reading everyone. We’re nearing the end of November, and so far we have been maintaining our blog article per day. On top of that, we’ve had several days with multiple articles (and even got a new writer – Amy – posting as well.)

Also, be sure not to forget our “Free Beer” giveaway. So check that out here:

So be sure to hop on that and try and get yourself some free beer! (Because whats the best kind of beer? Free beer!)


-B. Kline

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