Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson is a short book that follows four characters, Hem, Haw, Scurry, and Sniff, on their fictional journey through a maze to find cheese. Everyone will be able to learn something from this book, but the cheese lovers among us will be able to relate to this book on a spiritual level.
Before we jump into this review I should note that I was not feeling this book from the get go.
It had been a long weekend. I was running on little sleep, the book’s front and back cover seemed vague on details (but heavy on marketing hype), and the foreword seemed like a continuation of that same energy.
Generally speaking, that kind of presentation raises a red flag for me. However, I was stuck at the airport with limited options, the book had been on my radar for a while, and it was only 94 pages long. In the end, I decided that it’s over 8,000 5-star reviews on Amazon spoke for themselves and it was time to see what all the hype was about*.
Let’s just get this out of the way up front, this book is cheesy.
The imagery is cheesy, the writing is cheesy, and the lessons are cheesy. This book is self-aware in the best way possible.
This is a short story. Don’t be surprised if you knock it out in one or two sittings. The text is a touch larger than you’d expect, the major takeaways take up an entire page, and the book does a good job of utilizing white space.
This story is about fear, change, growth, and vigilance.
The takeaways and quotes will largely be variations of lessons you’ve heard before. But the author doesn’t waste time with fluff; the narrative is crisp, the pacing is fast, and the packaging of those familiar takeaways and quotes is fresh and amusing.
The book is broken down into three different sections: A Gathering, The Story, and A Discussion. The vast majority of the book is taken up by “The Story” so that’s what we’ll focus on here.
The story arc is incredibly well done for such a short book. Our hero, Haw, is a “little person” who is at odds with his good friend Hem. They’ve run out of cheese at “Cheese Station C” and must enter the vast and seemingly never ending maze to find more.
They’re smarter than their two mice friends, Scurry and Sniff, but unlike scurry and sniff they are slow to decide what to do when the cheese runs out. Hunger sets in and fear of a life without cheese is real.
How did they get in the maze? Why cheese? Where is Stuart Little when you need him? These questions, and most others you’ll have about the plot, go unanswered.
As limited as that plot may be, the author does a great job at keeping the narrative compelling, the available plot moving forward, and the lessons relevant. The book can be a little on the nose at times, but it’s so self-aware that it works.
Quotes and Criticism
This section contains a spoiler. The lessons are the emphasis of this book, not the story, but I thought that should be included anyways.
After fighting procrastination, fear, hunger, and plenty of doubt, our hero Haw finally finds what he’s looking for: A new cheese station full of cheese! As he’s reflecting upon his own personal growth he decides to go the largest wall of Cheese Station N to write a summary of what he’s learned:
The Handwriting On The Wall
Change Happens: They keep moving the cheese.
Anticipate Change: Get ready for the cheese to move.
Monitor Change: Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.
Adapt to Change Quickly: The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.
Change: Move with the cheese.
Enjoy Change! Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of New Cheese!
Be Ready to Change Quickly and Enjoy it Again and Again: They keep moving the cheese.
Those are some great lessons. The Problem? The author decided to call them the “The Handwriting on the Wall” instead of “The Big Cheese.”
It’s outrageous. It’s preposterous. It’s absurd!
How a book this self aware missed such a great opportunity is beyond the pale. On the previous page he even writes:
“He drew a large piece of cheese around all the insights he had become aware of…”
Laughter is the Best Medicine
This will require a post of it’s own, but laughter is the best medicine.
The author consistently reinforces the importance of laughter. That is something we could use a lot more of in this day and age. If we could all take ourselves a little less seriously and laugh a little more there would be a lot less rage, sadness, and anxiety in the world.
If you read the above cheesy quotes and got turned off don’t be. The book has a very real message: conquer your fears, anticipate change, and adapt to the changing world around you.
The concise (and entertaining) narrative coupled with that message is why this book has over 10 million copies in print. Your non-reading friends won’t be put off by it’s length and the lessons are something we can all share in and rally around.
Add this book to your arsenal. If I’m wrong, it will only cost you ~ $1 if you order off Amazon and one or two reading sessions.
But, if I’m right, you’ll have a great book to recommend for very little money and a new way to interface with millions of other people who have enjoyed this little book. That’s my kind of a deal.
That’s all for this week.
See y’all next Monday,
*I didn’t hold this against the book but it did make me smile at the checkout that I was buying this book and a journal (to hand write the outline for this post!) for $22 and $12 respectively. I had lost my notes and outline for the post I had intended to write so now I was stuck paying that premium to get a post out on time. There’s a strong financial lesson in there.
P.S. If you’re curious at the time of this writing there’s a used copy of this book listed on Amazon for $0.24.