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Po Bronson made a name for himself chronicling the bacchanal that was Silicon Valley in the 1990s. His books on the dot-com explosion brought him instant celebrity, complete with movie and television deals and a “sexiest author” nod from People magazine. Having tracked the boom, it’s only fitting that Bronson now looks at the bust. In What Should I Do with My Life? The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question, the author tackles a topic that seemed irrelevant just a few years ago. Then, some people’s biggest dilemma was whether to buy a Lexus or a Porsche with their stock-option booty. Today they’re soul-searching on the way to the unemployment office. If ever there was a moment for a book about America’s recurring existential crisis, this has got to be it. A Giant Group Therapy Session Key parts of the book–Bronson’s fourth–are autobiographical. The 38-year-old author describes his own multiple careers and failed marriage, and expresses remorse about his Pollyannaish boosterism for the New Economy. Mostly Bronson discusses his decision, in his mid-twenties, to give up a lucrative job in investment banking and pursue a writing career instead. It was a career shift that paid off. His first book, Bombardiers, a 1995 novel about the dog-eat-dog world of bond salesmen, was a hit. Next he looked at the Internet boom in The First Twenty Million Is Always the Hardest and The Nudist on the Late Shift. But then the market crashed, and Bronson’s projects and assignments dried up–along with his confidence. “Though I could have hustled up more, I wasn’t sure I should,” he writes. “I felt like the kinds of stories I’d been telling no longer worked.” Like the dot-commers he once celebrated, Bronson had to figure out what to do next. His solution: analyzing our post-9/11 collective identity crisis. In What Should I Do with My Life? he interviews Gen Xers and baby boomers who’ve made bad life choices or faced daunting odds–people, writes Bronson, “who’ve dared to be honest with themselves.” Honest? Perhaps. Enlightened, as the book’s title promises? Hardly. It doesn’t take much reading to realize that Bronson’s subjects are just as tormented and confused as the rest of us. Consider 28-year-old Jessica, a doctor who discovers she’s not cut out for medicine, and sobs to Bronson over coffee at Starbuck’s that her life doesn’t have any meaning. Or Tim, a self-loathing, out-of-work attorney who realizes, after opening up to Bronson, that he’s not cut out for the practice of law and yet, inexplicably, takes another job at a law firm. It’s like watching a giant group therapy session, with Bronson playing chief shrink. He listens. He consoles. He pushes his subjects–sometimes brusquely and often unsuccessfully–to take off their blinders. But throughout the book, the author seems hesitant and his conclusions forced. Few Inspiring Insights The book does have its shining moments. Some of Bronson’s subjects have clearly found the emergency brake and gotten off their roller coasters. There are Nancy and Ross, who gave up their white-collar jobs to grow and sell trees for a living. And there’s Kurt, who turned down the chance to follow in the footsteps of his father, an industrial magnate, and instead became a cop working the graveyard shift in East Los Angeles. Their insights, though unsurprising and late in the book, are still instructive. Happiness, they tell us, doesn’t come from money. And don’t expect any dramatic epiphanies in the search for purpose and meaning. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough Nancys and Kurts for Bronson’s book to work as a source of inspiration for lost souls. Instead, it works best as comfort food. There is, after all, solace in knowing that lots of people make screwball choices in life and torture themselves with regret. If nothing else, What Should I Do with My Life? affirms that we are our own worst enemies. But if you’re looking for answers in these dark times, reread Siddhartha instead. Crawford is a senior reporter at Corporate Counsel.

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