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This is a Book Review & Summary of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. 

Rating: 4/5

I've pulled the main insights and actionable recommendations from each chapter, so someone can orient themselves to the main upshots of the book quickly, and potentially identify which chapters they'd like to dig deeper into if they'd like to learn more but don't have the time to read the whole book. I hope this can be useful for EA/LW group organizers, and plan to release a post soon applying these insights to EAGs. 


Overall, I really liked it, mostly because it showed me that organizing is not fundamentally up to “luck” or things out of your hand, but is rather something that you can make go better as an organizer. While it’s weak on evidence (you kind of have to take Priya at her word for a lot of this), much of it resonated with my own experience of organizing groups over the years, and it does well to bring in others with experience in the area (like the CEO of Meetup). 

I also really liked the process. I read this book as part of a rationalist group organizer book club in 2022, taking the chapters week by week with in depth discussion of the different topics, and perhaps more than the content itself the meetings provided a space for us to think through organizing problems and solutions that I found quite helpful. It could be worthwhile to repeat such a process with EA/LW group organizers. 

Perhaps my biggest gripe is that a lot of it focuses on business meetings, which I think are less similar to other forms of meetings than Priya seems to assume, meaning some of the examples and lessons are less useful for my purposes. A notable second gripe is that the examples she uses are normally extraordinary, and I come out of reading this more with a sentiment of what to do rather than a good understanding of concrete actions I can take to better my more normal gatherings I reign over.

I would personally recommend anyone who regularly gathers people to read the below, as even if you disagree with her recommendations, she gives you good questions to meditate on for improving your next gathering, whatever type it may be.


One: Decide Why You're Really Gathering

Summary: Your gathering should always have a purpose, a greater why that is the continual focus of designing and executing the gathering. 


  • A category is not a purpose: what you are doing at the gathering should not be your response to "what's the purpose" which should be some more important end facilitated by having that meeting (2)
    • We should keep this in mind when following traditional forms of gathering unquestioningly. Confronted with her husband wanting to join her for her baby shower, Parker realized that the purpose of the gathering wasn't what she thought. If the purpose of baby showers were to prepare for all the changes associated with having a child, to help ease the transition into a family, then her husband would likely have a vital role in such a ceremony. Instead, the purpose seems to be something like "defraying the costs" of a new life rooted in a time when this was solely the role of women. (9)
  • Routine is the enemy of meaningful gathering (8)
  • Your meeting should "refuse to be everything to everyone" (17)
  • Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman says that the more specifical the meetup, the greater likelihood for success, based on research Meetup has done to what makes a group successful on their platform  (18)
  • A good gathering purpose should be disputable, something that begins to be a decision filter and helps make tough decisions down the line (i.e. a wedding's purpose should not be "celebrate love" but rather "a ceremonial repayment of your parents" or "a melding of a new could with the tribe of people with which they feel most open") (20)
  • Avoid multitasking with the purpose for the meeting: choose a central purpose and settle on it (29)
  • Purpose, when done well, is your bouncer: it should naturally filter people out (32)

Things to do

  • Before a meeting, ask yourself (19): 
    • Why is this gathering different from all my other gatherings? 
    • Why is it different from other people's gatherings of the same general type? 
    • What is this that other gatherings aren't?
  • Focus on the why, not the what (21)
  • Figure out what your desired outcome is, and work back from there (23)
  • Starting each session of a conference with a brief exercise, where the host asks three questions related to the subject and then encourages people to discuss can help break the norm of not speaking to a stranger an encourage connection around the shared group identity (33)
  • Discuss the purpose with your group (especially when you meet regularly) so that everyone is clear on why the gathering is coming together (37)
    • "When you don't root your gathering up front in a clear, agreed-on purpose, you are often forced to do so belatedly by questions of membership that inevitably arise" (40)

Two: Close Doors

Summary: Trying not to offend often degrades our gathering when the more charitable thing to do would be to set boundaries and choose both guest list and space in a way that's conducive to bring out your purpose for gathering. 


  • The guest list is the first place to put purpose into practice: "you will have begun to gather with purpose when you learn to exclude with purpose" (35)
  • "In trying not to offend, you fail to protect the gathering itself and the people in it" (38)
  • Even people who don't actively detract from a meeting should be excluded. "This is because once they are actually in your presence, you (and other considerate guests) will want to welcome and include them, which takes time and attention away from what (and who) you're actually there for" (43)
  • This doesn't mean closing off diversity, and instead actually allows you to "focus on a specific, underexplored relationship" (48)
  • Parkers' conception of group sizes and what they mean (51)
    • Groups of 6: great for intimacy, high levels of sharing, and discussion through storytelling
    • Groups of 12: this is still small enough for building some degree of trust and intimacy, while offering a significantly larger array of diversity of opinion, but here and beyond trying to create one group, one shared dialogue, out of this many people becomes fraught
    • Groups of 30: things start to take on the feel of a party here, and there's a certain energy that comes out of it
    • Groups of 100-150: "intimacy and trust is still palpable at the level of the whole group", something more than just an audience
  • Location is important because venues come with scripts, unwritten playbooks are attached to many locations we normally find ourselves in (53)
    • "First you determine the venue, and then your venue determines which you gets to show up" (54)
    • Consider displacement, thinking about where a gathering of the sort you are planning would be expected to take place and then have it elsewhere (63)
    • Moving rooms can be an effective way to help people to remember different moments from the meeting better, that way "the fuzz of the conversation doesn't all kind of blur into itself and become just a single 'it was fun' but instead you can remember specific things that happened at each point" (67)
    • Generally speaking you want to avoid spaces too large for your gathering, and try to achieve an appropriate amount of density for intimacy. One of the reasons people end up gravitating to the kitchen at a party is because people instinctively seek out smaller spaces as the group dwindles (69)
  • The set up of the space can also lead away from conversation. As Parker mentions (and I've experienced a number of times myself) table setups at restaurants where you have two sides in straight lines dining together doesn't really work when you go beyond a party size of four. It stifles group conversation and promotes separate conversations to unfold at either end, leaving those in the middle caught in between. Restaurants (people) would do better to arrange things closer and in a concentric way, creating more of a "closed" space (65) 
    • This means doing intuitive things like removing an extra chair so people can sit closer, but also more interesting things likes making sure to bring a picnic blanket when dining together outside, because this artificial definition of space gives people the pretense to draw closer (66)
  • Don't let people show up late. "People warm up together", they start building a collective experience and having someone show up late encroaches on that (95)
    • If someone can't make it to one essential part of multi-part gathering, it's best to not have them at all because they can change the entire dynamic and erase the rapport the group has built up before (72)

Things to Do

  • Questions to ask to make sure guests are in line with the purpose (42): 
    • Who not only fits but also helps fulfill the gathering's purpose? 
    • Who threatens the purpose? 
    • Who, despite being irrelevant to the purpose, do you feel obliged to invite?"
    • Who is this gathering for first? (43)

Three: Don't Be A Chill Host

Summary: You inherently have power as a host and deciding to be "chill" and not cause a fuss over anything is a failure to gather well. Your goal should be to connect and protect your guests, and you should be ready to use your power to achieve that. 


  • "What they fail to realize is that this pulling-back, far from purging a gathering of power, creates a vacuum that others can fill...exercising power in a manner inconsistent with your gathering's purpose" (74)
  • Authority is an ongoing commitment, you can't just establish it and then not enforce it later on (77)
  • Failing to implement rules and a well thought out structure often fails to protect those most at risk of having a poor time at your gathering
    • "Does your talk-to-whomever-you-want approach help the quiet guest at all if not given a protected turn? Does open seating at a teachers conference help the three newcomers who end up sitting clumped together at the end of the table every time?" (80)
  • Generous authority is running things authoritatively, but for the purpose of collective wellbeing, or the purpose of the gathering (81)
  • The most important use of authority is protecting guests, whether it be "from one another, or from boredom, or from the addictive technologies lurking in our pockets" (83)
  • Connect your guests: "one measure of a successful gathering is that is starts out with a higher number of host-guest connections than guest-guest connections and ends with those tallies reversed" (92)

Things to Do

  • Go around and have everyone try to guess what someone does for a living (77)
  • Don't let friends just catch up in the corner, that fails to protect those who don't have a friend to catch up with and the whole purpose of making your gathering larger than just you and the friend (96)
  • With separated groups, you can delegate various responsibilities to give people a pretense to talk. At dinners, Nora Abousteit likes to delegate a "Water Minister" or a "Wine Minister" to give people excuses to talk. Another practice from the book I've begun doing myself is having guests serve each other before themselves (97)
  • If co-hosting, it’s better to set specific responsibilities rather than just generally share the whole range of tasks

Four: Create a Temporary Alternative World

Summary: You should view each gathering as importantly unique, each a chance to creating an alternative structure to the normal world, usually through creating rules that differ from those we normally operate under. Generally, these rules focus on channeling presence towards the purpose of the gathering, whether it be by restricting phone access or choosing longer meetings for greater depth.


  • Rules can be a major part of this. They can "create an imaginary, transient world that is actually more playful thank your everyday gathering...because everybody realizes the rules are temporary and are, therefore, willing to obey them" (120)
    • Rules serve as an alternative to etiquette, which takes years to learn and implicitly governs our interactions in absence of explicit rules (121)
    • "Etiquette allows people to gather because they are the same. Pop-up rules allow people to gather because they are different--yet open to having the same experience" (121)

Things to Do

  • "I Am Here" Days: choose an area that can be covered by foot; invite a group small enough to be able to sit together at a single table for meals; take into account the weather; and choose one person to be the curator for the day
    • Rules: be there the whole time, turn off all technology, agree to be present and engaged in the group, one conversation at meals, be game for anything (136)
    • Because people had to stay the whole time they could become more relaxed "They couldn't micro-coordinate. They were giving up the option of finding a better option. They were just here" (137)
  • "Spending 12 hours together as a group is fundamentally different from spending four hours together on three separate occasions. The longer you're together, the more reality sets in...walls start to come down" (137)

Five: Never Start A Funeral With Logistics

Summary: The gathering starts before the first moment everyone gathers together, and done right, the time in between the invitation and the event starting is a time of building suspension and excitement. Starting the gathering right is just as important, and logistics (or thanking sponsors) is always the wrong answer.


  • The gathering starts as soon as your guests have been informed, and is your chance to prime guests for what is to come, to take care of logistics so that the gathering can be focused purely on its purpose (146)
  • If you are expecting any "special behaviors" at the event, the time to start getting people ready for that is at the invitation. If your gathering involves brainstorming, think of ways to encourage creativity in the days leading up (151)
  • Example: Michel Laprise, unable to decorate his Christmas tree before having guests over, had them each send him two happy moments from the last year, which he then printed out and decorated the tree with (152)
  • Each gathering involves an implicit social contract, answering what one is willing to give in return for what they expect to receive (156)
  • Names are important and, like with the I Am Here days, prime guests from the start with what to expect (159)
  • The threshold is an important space, and what you do as people enter the gathering from the outside can be quite important in determining how they are going to show up (170)
  • Never start an event with logistics. The start is an incredibly important part of the gathering, a part that guests are more likely to remember, and as such should be treated as an important opportunity (175)
  • The opening should be a form of "pleasant shock therapy" where you are able to instill in guests a sense of welcome and a sense of being grateful to be there (178)

Things to Do

  • Send out "workbooks" before gatherings, consisting of six to ten questions tailored to the purpose that must be filled out and returned before the gathering (154)
  • Having people greet each other momentarily (like when the preacher asks the congregation to "turn and say hello" to your neighbor) at the beginning is a good way to bind people from the outset (183)
  • When you are the common link between your guests, one method is getting everyone's attention to announce new comers, saying a bit about how you're connected and what you like about them, as a way of introduction (186)

Six: Keep Your Best Self Out of My Gathering

Summary: Being vulnerable and inviting this from your participants is one of the key ways gatherings go well, something best done by focusing on people's experiences and leading by example. 


  • 15 Toasts: Another way to help break down formalities between people: design a game with a consequence. At a dinner party, instruct everyone that they have to make a toast to "a good life" sharing a personal story or experience to illustrate what they thought, and to encourage people to actually do so, tell them that the last person has to sing their toast (197)
    • Other topic ideas for the toast: to faith, to happiness, to collateral damage, to escapes, to borders, to Them, to fear, to risk, to rebellion, to romance, to dignity, to the self, to education, to the story that changed my life, to the end of work, to beauty, to conflict, to tinkering, to the truth, to America, to local, to the fellow traveler, to origins, to the right problem, to the disrupted, to the fourth industrial revolution, to courage, to borders, to risk, and to vulnerability (213)
  • Push for people's experiences over their ideas (210)
  • Gatherings shouldn't always be positive, and in fact, you should sometimes encourage the dark or negative (212)
    • Parker found that the topics that sparked the best discussion from the 15 Toasts above, those that "let people show sides of themselves that were weak, that were confused and unprocessed, that were morally complicated" (213)
    • When asked why letting people be dark was a good thing Zoe Warncke replied "because I think if they know who they really are, they don't have to compensate with anger or self-hatred or all those things" (214)
  • It's often easier to confess deep and honest things to strangers than people we already know in gatherings. "With strangers, there is a temporary reordering of a balancing act that each of us is constantly attempting: between our past selves and our future selves, between who we have been and who we are becoming. Your friends and family know who you have been, and they often make it harder to try out who you might become" (216)

Things to Do

  • Conversation topics to encourage intimacy (217): 
    • To start: How have your priorities changed over the years? How have your background and experience limited or favored you?
    • Second: Which parts of your life have been a waste of time?
    • Third: What have you rebelled against in the past and what are you rebelling against now?
    • Fourth: What are the limits of your compassion?
  • Be more open yourself: early in the gathering you need to go where you want your guests to go, and perhaps go even more personal, because your engagement sets a level of depth for the group (223)

Seven: Cause Good Controversy

Summary: Good controversy can add both energy and life to gatherings (225) and it’s a failure mode to prioritize harmony at all costs. 


  • "Sometimes, the elevation of harmony over everything else merely makes a gathering dull. Often, though, it is worse than that: The goal of harmony burrows its way into the core of the gathering and becomes a kind of pretender purpose, hampering the very thing the gathering was supposed to be about" (229)
    • "The group was suffering from what many of us suffer from: a well-meaning desire not to offend that devolves into a habit of saying nothing that matters" (232)

Things to Do

  • Make a "heat map" for each group to understand where the controversies might lie to know how to address them. You can start to do so by asking questions like (237):
    • What are people avoiding that they don't think they're avoiding?
    • What are the sacred cows here?
    • What goes unsaid?
    • What are we trying to protect?


Eight: Accept That There Is An End

Summary: Just like people often fail to start meaningfully, people often fail to end well. Generally, this is an opportunity to meaningfully reflect on what has happened and what you will bring from this back out into the world.


  • Gatherings should have a "last call", something that makes the guests aware things are coming to a close and gives them time to settle anything outstanding (254)
    • One way you can do this, and help address the problem of having both tired and still quite involved guests, is to switch rooms, opening up those who are tired to leave (256)
  • A strong closing involves first looking inward, contemplating what you learned or experienced there today, and then looking outward, how you will incorporate that into your outside life (259)
  • Strong Closers
    • Closing a weeklong event, the "If These Were My Last Remarks" session "features approximately twenty participants, each of whom is given two minutes to tell the group what they would say if this were the end of their life" (261)
    • In the Jewish funeral ritual "the person presiding over the funeral asks everyone except for the immediate family to form two lines facing each other, making a kind of human hallway from the gravesite to the cars. Then the rabbi asks the immediate family to turn away from the grave and walk down that makeshift aisle, and as they do so, to look into the eyes of their friends, who 'are now like pillars of constancy and love...a way to usher them into the next part of their journey" (280)
    • "It's the yoga classes that end in a collective 'Om'...it's teachers who end class on a story...it's walking your guests to the door to say goodbye" (280)
  • With longer events designed to build bridges especially, incubating the world participants will step back into when they leave will be quite useful, a stress test of sorts and chance to put what they've learned into practice (264)
  • Never end on logistics (271)
  • Make thank yous the second to last part of the meeting. And actually, instead of thanking, honor people for what they've contributed (278)

Things to Do

  • End your meetings before things have started to die down, such that people have left with a feeling of being at the peak of things and have something they want to come back to. 
  • Questions to answer to figure out when to end (257): 
    • What is your equivalent of the twenty-people-left-on-the-dance-floor moment?[1]
    • When, by transitioning into that last call, are you still in charge of events instead of being carried by them?
    • When are you still quitting while you're ahead?
    • When are you allowing things to go on long enough to feel satisfied with the event--but not so long as to feel the energy draining from the room? 
  • Questions you should answer in guiding what guests should take back out into the world (267):
    • We've collectively experienced something here together, so how do we want to behave outside of this context?
    • If we see people again, what are our agreements about what and how we'll talk about what occurred here? 
    • What of this experience do I want to bring with me?


  1. ^

    This was an earlier example, where Queen Elizabeth's party planner emphasized that letting a gathering naturally peter out is unideal, and you should instead have a critical mass at which you call things done (which for her was 20 people on the dance floor)





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I've heard from a lot of people that they've got a lot of value from this book. I'll be honest, I started it but didn't finish it. It didn't sit right with me at the time. 

I found The 2-Hour Cocktail Party to be far more valuable. I'd recommend it to anyone organising events, particularly social meet-ups. 


  • Short and to the point
  • Gives you a clear (and very detailed) algorithm to follow
  • I used it to host a gathering and it was a success
  • Despite it being tailored to a very specific scenario, I've used the advice in other scenarios and it's worked well


  • The author makes a big thing out of the importance of icebreakers and name tags. I didn't follow that advice and it was absolutely fine. His advice is unusual for a US party but I think even more unusual for an EU party, so I didn't want to risk it (people were already weirded out by relatively small things, e.g., a weeknight party for no reason and an RSVP page)
  • The advice is tailored to a very specific scenario (~15-person weeknight social gathering)

Would love to hear more about what you didn't like, but the other piece sounds like it's worth checking out, I'll try to give it a read soon! 

Ha yes that would have been helpful of me, I agree! Unfortunately, I can't remember much, it was a couple of years ago. I remember experiencing a significant vibes mismatch in the section on excluding people (but maybe I was just being close-minded) and frustration with its wordiness. 

Ah I searched for a post a while back but didn't find anything, might have been because I searched for the full book title, not sure, but thanks for flagging. 

Executive summary: The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker provides actionable insights on how to organize meaningful and purposeful gatherings by being an intentional host, creating a unique experience, and fostering connection and vulnerability among guests.

Key points:

  1. Every gathering should have a clear, specific purpose that guides all decisions about the event.
  2. Hosts should carefully curate the guest list and choose an appropriate venue to align with the gathering's purpose.
  3. Hosts should exercise "generous authority" to protect guests and facilitate connection, rather than being "chill".
  4. Create a temporary alternative world with unique rules and norms to make the gathering a distinct experience.
  5. Prime guests before the event, and never start a gathering with logistics; instead, begin with a meaningful opening.
  6. Encourage vulnerability by focusing on guests' experiences and leading by example.
  7. Embrace constructive controversy and avoid prioritizing harmony at the expense of the gathering's purpose.
  8. End the gathering intentionally with reflection, looking inward at the experience and outward to its application in life.



This comment was auto-generated by the EA Forum Team. Feel free to point out issues with this summary by replying to the comment, and contact us if you have feedback.

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