Seamlessly moving from music to politics, movies, and fine art, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction explores the uncertain phenomenon of fame — and as you may surmise there is a large dash of luck in every hit. Still, the most intriguing aspect of popularity is the balance between innovation and familiarity, since humans need a bit of both. The author illustrates his argument with fresh, deftly told stories, and he is not afraid to expose the darker side of applying the psychological methods he explains. The book is easy to read but the ideas will stay with you.
Tag Archives: psychology
I often felt like an alien reading You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships, as it twists around stories of women who seem so extremely caricatured that they don’t much resemble the ones I know, let alone my friends. It seems that none want to speak plainly, leaving others to misinterpret their desires or opinions, and that all find hidden meanings in the most innocent of actions or comments. How complicated and perhaps not so representative of the real world.
The author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked takes sometimes meandering path through the psychology of behavioral addiction, and especially how manufacturers of electronic devices and apps exploit our built-in vulnerability to keep us checking our phone and our Facebook account at all hours. It’s just a little sad that all these smart programmers are basically toiling to bind us more tightly to our screens.
Perhaps it will inspire us to give it a rest and take our revenge on the whole conspiracy.
It’s hard to read This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression and not feel deeply sad for the author, whose euphemistically tagged “treatment-resistant” depression has followed her since childhood, with multiple severe episodes following stressful life events. But she seems to attribute most of her problems to her upbringing, which was clearly cold, even neglectful but not out-of-bounds cruel — just clueless. It made me wonder whether holding on to the notion that she deserved a better childhood may not have made it even more difficult for her to live with her illness. It also made me wonder why she clung to a mother whom she describes as indifferent and callous well into adulthood. Wouldn’t she be better off to put some physical and mental space between her and her mother? In any case, the book is a reminder of the great travails of depression, and the gap still to be bridged by medicine when it comes to treating it.
I agree with the author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less that the current mania for not just appearing to be very busy, but wearing it as a badge of honor, is silly and destructive.
But the book is written from a bubble (and addressed clearly at the same bubble) so the point of ridicule. Do you want to be like Bill Gates? Like Charles Darwin? Like Winston Churchill? Then schedule deliberate rest, limit work to 4 hours a day, and please take a nap (never mind that the august characters being cited did not all follow this specific prescription). And why are all the role models male (except for Barbara McClintock)? It does seem like an oversight rather than a deliberate choice, but it left me wondering…
With Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society, Cordelia Fine (of Delusion of Gender fame) is at it again, this time attacking the supposedly obvious finding that biological sex causes testosterone-laden men to take more risks, be more aggressive, and in general want to subjugate the world. She counter-attacks by showing how some classic experiments were designed with obvious biases, or used statistics in frowned-upon methods (the testosterone probably made the researchers do it, right?), and in any case are now supplanted by newer, better-designed studies of animals and humans that show both sexes making similar decisions, seemingly ignoring their T hormone levels.
It’s funny and personal anecdotes are skillfully woven in, which is not a given in nerdy books. The first page features a dinner-table discussion of what to do with the family dog’s soon-to-be-removed testicles. Lovely, in my book!
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds tells the story of the collaboration and friendship between Amos Tversky and Dan Kahneman, which produced so many insights in behavioral economics (and indeed, founded the field). The most interesting part of the book to me was not so much the science, although tantalizing anecdotes abound, but the friendship, and how accidents of life and egos eventually terminated a tight working and personal relationship that seemed to be able to bring out the best qualities of each partner, until they quarreled.