REVIEW: Very Good Lives by J.K.Rowling

Published: 14th April 2015

Publisher: Little Brown & Company

Pages: 80

Format: Hard cover – Purchased.

RRP: $30.00

5/5 Stars

In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, Very Good Lives offers J.K. Rowling’s words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life, asking the profound and provocative questions: How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?

Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world-famous author addresses some of life’s most important issues with acuity and emotional force.


Very Good Lives is an empowering speech given by J.K.Rowling to the Harvard Graduating Class of 2008. It’s a short text version of the speech she gave dealing with the ideas of failure and how in fact failure is the very thing we need to have experienced in order to truly succeed in life, and how just a little bit of imagination can go along way.

J.K.Rowling’s rags-to-riches story is perhaps one of the most famous and well known stories surrounding the author’s life. In this short speech she briefly touches on her early life plans, her failures and the power of her imagination to save herself from all else. She talks candidly about a subject (failure) many think taboo, and what’s more she encourages it, for it is through failure that we learn who we really are.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends who value was truly above the price of rubies.

The part of this speech that probably touched me the most, and has niggled in the back of my brain since reading the speech in full, was this sentiment:

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which, you fail by default.

One I thing sometimes I need to remember, as do most people, for we fear failing so much in life that we either never put ourselves out there to try, or we hold back so that if we do happen to fail, the pain and the outcome are limited and softened almost, which is probably worse than outright gave it my all failure honestly.

So given a Time-Turner, I would tell my twenty-one-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a checklist of acquisitions or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

Full of Rowling’s whit and humour that the world has come to know and love, Rowling opens the doors to her life in this speech further when she talks about how the concept of Harry Potter really came about. It might be old news to some, but previously I only knew the story where in Rowling told her children Harry Potter bedtime stories and spent her train trips and coffee shops visits writing the stories down on paper to be rejected by a large number of publishers. I didn’t know what inspired them, or why they became the stories that they were – both points on which Rowling touches on when talking about her past work jobs and the people she met working for “the African research department of Amnesty International’s head-quarters in London.”

If like me, you are a die hard fan of Harry Potter and worship the ground J.K.Rowling may walk upon, than I highly recommend you rush out and grab yourself a copy of this book. It’s enlightening, empowering and reassuring all in one youthful sigh and breath of fresh air. There are phrases and sentiments in this speech that moved me, just like her fictional characters have done before, and made me aware of things I perhaps subconsciously wasn’t aware of and some things I was. If nothing else, reading or listening to the words of one of the time’s great story tellers is a rare treasure and I envy those who got to listen to it first hand.


To purchase a copy, visit the following online retailers:

Booktopia | Bookworld | QBD |




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