Book Review: Living an Examined Life by James Hollis

I was fortunate enough to be asked to preview the latest work of James Hollis, PhD, a well-known Jungian analyst and published author.

After 30 years of writing and lecturing around the world, he felt ready to write this book, his 15th, Living an Examined Life, with the intention of guiding the reader in identifying and then reconnecting with their own, unique, personal journey in this life.

Book Review: Living an Examined Life by James Hollis
James Hollis, PhD

This book is geared for those in their later years who have achieved that point in life when they may well have the luxury of time, combined with depth of experience, and are ready to engage in the most challenging – and intriguing — quest of all: looking beneath the surface to reflect on where one has been, what one most deeply wants from life, and who one truly is.

Living an Examined Life by James Hollis, PhD

The approach throughout these 122 pages and 21 chapters is no-nonsense objectivity tempered with empathy; after all, Hollis makes plain that the struggles he refers to are his own as well. At the same time, tightly written as the book is, it is also beautifully phrased, using imagery from mythology. (Think Joseph Campbell)

Most fundamentally, the author, referring to the archetype of the “hero,” is offering the reader the opportunity, profound as it is, to quest for the hero within themselves, a quest that can be achieved in only one way: one must “show up” in one’s own life.

In chapter two, Hollis sums it up neatly, stating, “This is what is asked of us, to show up, as the person we really are, as best we can manage, under circumstances over which we may have no control. This showing up, as best we can, is growing up. That is all that life really asks of us: to show up as best we can.”


No fluff, just the tools you need for your own path.

There is no blueprint for happiness or enlightenment here. Instead, the author provides the reader with the tools he or she needs to unearth their own path.

Hollis employs an appropriate amount of psychological jargon, complimenting the reader by never speaking down to them, tacitly expressing a belief that a mature and involved reader will go to a dictionary if need be.

The chapter titles set the tone. For instance:

  • Chapter One: The Choice Is Yours
  • Chapter Two: It’s Time to Grow Up
  • Chapter Three: Let Go of the Old
  • Chapter 11: See the Old Self-destructive Patterns
  • Chapter 16: Free Your Children from You
  • Chapter 20: Seize Permission to Be Who You Really Are

A wholistic look at ourselves.

Hollis draws on the wisdom of great thinkers throughout history and from around the world, demonstrating that the questions we need to ask ourselves, if we want to understand what it is to be human, are timeless and common to all, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

The author’s own experiences, as a psychologist and a human being, also come into play as he raises the tough questions the reader needs to ask themselves if they want to connect with their soul.

To make this read worthwhile, the author recommends the reader:

  1. Be serious in taking a look at your life
  2. Be ready to take responsibility for that life
  3. Be honest with yourself
  4. Be kind to yourself (not judgmental)

Finally, Dr. Hollis recommends reading just one chapter a day, the better to digest each one before moving on to the next. One cannot afford – nor does one need – to rush this process.

The book, a Sounds True Paperback Original, will be on sale February 1, 2018.

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