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Home / Book Reviews / The Worst Book of 2000
Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and In Your Life
by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
ISBN: 0399144463
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons
Publication Year: 2000
Publisher Price: $19.95
Cover Type: hardcover

In Who Moved My Cheese? there are two mice named "Sniff" and "Scurry", and two "littlepeople" [sic] named "Hem and Haw." The author tells us that Hem and Haw are supposed to be as small as the mice, but that they look and act like people. That's scary. Anyway ... all four creatures are big-time cheese-eaters. They all live in a maze, and they get along all right, each going about their respective mouse/littlepeople routines of obtaining their daily cheese. Until one day ... THE CHEESE BEGINS TO DISAPPEAR!

Where did The Cheese go?

Who finds out how to get More Cheese?

Who wins in the maze at the end -- who loses?

What is The Secret to finding More Cheese?

What is The Meaning behind The Cheese, anyway?

Who keeps putting Certain Words in Upper Case Letters in order to warn The Reader about Important Messages in this book?


Practically everybody, that's who. Exxon does. So does GM. And Goodyear, Kodak, Marriott, Whirlpool, Xerox, The US Army, Navy, and Air Force, Lockheed Martin, Amway, Nation's Bank, Pep Boys. And about two dozen other megacorporations and governmental agencies, along with scores of unidentified hospitals, churches and schools. Oh, yes, and several other Big Cheeses like Dan Rather and Og Mandino (purportedly "The World's Greatest Salesman" ). And that's just a partial list of Who's Who that is mentioned in the book's extensive promotional blurbage. There's no way of knowing all of those who made Who Moved My Cheese? the number one bestseller for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, etc.

What hath Spencer Johnson, M.D. -- formerly the co-author of The One Minute Manager -- wrought this time?

Well, I'm not sure. And I don't think he really is, either. But at the going rate for this book of $.11 cents a page, times multi-million copies, times who knows how many honoraria paid in advance for corporate speaking engagements this year -- you'll not convince him that he's sniffing down the wrong cheesehole. The Disney and Kraft tie-ins, alone, will enable him to purchase Lichtenstein, if he so desires.

This book should have been titled: WWMD: What Would Mice Do? Johnson finds the instinctive, reflexive, non-rational, unemotional Mouse Mode to be the supreme survival mode if and when The Cheese disappears. In this book, "The Cheese" is supposed to symbolize, well, everything: sustenance, goals, plans, accomplishments, world outlook, sinecure, 401k savings, stock options, Beanie Baby collection, etc., ad infinitum. But when The Cheese Hits The Fan, so to speak, Sniffy and Scurry don't agonize or organize, and they sure as hell don't litigate. Pointedly, they also don't write messages on the maze walls about their ordeal, either [read: they don't write books, maybe?]. "They just respond to what happens", Johnson gushes. Consequently, they find more cheese and survive because, as Johnson intones, "they keep things simple." Whereas "littlepeople" Hem and Haw, though advantageously stunted enough in size to navigate the symbolic Maze of Life as easily as Sniff and Scurry can, needlessly complicate their lives "because their beliefs and emotions took over". Worse, Johnson sees their penchant for creating belief systems leading them inevitably to embracing a dangerous mindset: "We're entitled to our cheese." Hem and Haw discover -- by page 47, no less -- that their false assumptions and emotional reactions can be fatal when the inevitable happens: Someone Cuts The Cheese.

Can you smell The Message? Can you figure out exactly what it is? Is the author celebrating the superiority of rodent cunning and atavistic cheeselust? Is he damning humans for their pathetic "littlepeople" hope in a benevolent, rational world-maze in which there will always be cheese? Or have Johnson's confused and conflicting symbols, metaphors, analogies, misunderstood mice, Upper Cased Talking Points, feel-good consumerism, and corporate downsizing ethics made such a mess of his message as to render this book absolutely meaningless and, therefore, absolutely indispensable for con artists of every size, stripe, or species?

Read one way, Who Moved My Cheese? might be the most provocative, radical, and explosive book published since the Unabomber's Manifesto. Read another way, this book could be the most enlightening and comforting bit of psychobabble, pseudo-allegory, and Prozac-prose ever written! Yet read a third way -- and I know this alternative interpretation didn't make it on the ballot, but I'll offer it anyway, for its symbolic value -- Who Moved My Cheese? just might be the most insulting media manipulation you've ever suffered to sit in your bathroom reading rack. Dr. Johnson's only unequivocal and undeniable message is this [my apologies to The Kinks' Ray Davies]:

Men will be mice and mice will be men, it's a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world except for MOO-LAH, MOO MOO MOO MOO-LAH, MY MY MY MY MOO-LAH$$$$$$$!!!!!

Copyright 2000 by KNS Maré