Asking for a Friend: Three Centuries of Advice on Life, Love, Money, and Other Burning Questions from a Nation Obsessed gives us three centuries of advice-writing, presenting both well-known advice givers (Benjamin Franklin, Dear Abby, Dr Spock, or Ms. Manners) and lesser-known figures, whom I thought were all the more interesting that they have not yet been chronicled to death. The book is both a series of portraits, interesting on their own, and excerpts of the ever-evolving principles of the advice given, sometimes within the span of the advice-givers themselves.
Tag Archives: psychology
It’s awfully difficult to break the world into two parts, and while the author of Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World would very much like us to believe that there are two types of culture in the world, tight and loose, she has to resort to unhealthy contortions (and a few willful oversights) to keep the belief alive.
Not to say that some of her observations are not intriguing. How could it be that 12% of Americans (in a “loose” culture) write with their left hand, while only 3% of Turks do? And we can certainly see how scarcity, disease, and (lack of) diversity would push cultures to be tighter. But there are so many exceptions, which the author waves away (or ignores entirely). It’s annoying. Also annoying is the relentless analysis of recent political changes using the tight/loose distinction exclusively.
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters is in many ways a business book, but the author makes it clear, including in the examples she uses, that her ideas and recommendations apply just as well to family and friends gatherings as to business meetings. It may be a bit jarring to think of defining a purpose for a family gathering — but there is one, always, unwritten and undiscussed, so why not make it more explicit, and perhaps different from the last time we gathered? Why not set the stage with the invitation? Why not worry about how guests will be welcomed, and not just what we will feed them? We may not put on the World Economic Forum, but our next dinner party could be transformed.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has enjoyed great success over the past century. The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing delves into how it was conceived, and the intriguing character of its original creator, Katherine Briggs. She was a tiger mother before the phrase was coined, using her daughter, Isabel, eventually Isabel Myers, as a shining example of the perfect child, to the point where she was quite disunited when she started making decisions for herself, starting with getting married. She then fell for the theories of Carl Jung, from which she created the Myers-Briggs quadrants, which first existed without any kind of testing, let alone validation testing. That came later, interestingly as a result of the use of the quadrants by the ancestor of the CIA (!) and later the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The MBTI empire is also aptly described. A wonderful back story of a surprising 20th century success.
I thought Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness would .provide helpful theoretical underpinning to what makes us feel awkward, and indeed the first chapter starts to navigate carefully between the emotion of awkwardness versus the trait, and the rest of the book presents some interesting ideas about why we ruminate about embarrassing situations (we remember emotional situations better) and how to provoke embarrassment in others to our advantage (I particularly liked the use of silence in salary negotiations). But as the book progresses, it seems that the author is quoting or explaining from the /r/cringe subreddit, with comments at that level of sophistication. Too bad, I just loved that cover picture!
I once worked with a man who was very bright, but also very arrogant and aggressive, never skipping an occasion to berate anyone he deemed to be less intelligent than him (almost everyone!) or having the gall to hold an opinion other than his own. Satisfyingly, he stopped shouting at people who fought back, which I did, often, but it was a thoroughly disagreeable experience.
The author of Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life reminds me of that man, and this book matches his previous book, Antifragile, in the hatred department. (Do read The Black Swan, which has all the smarts without the hatred.) In it, he rages against politicians, academics, bureaucrats, pundits, designers, intellectuals of all sorts, and hints broadly that no one is worthy of reading his book since we are too stupid to understand it. How he reminds me of my co-worker…
If you can get past the hatred, he makes some good points, namely that people who do not have skin in the game can and do make decisions the consequences of which won’t hurt them — so beware! Very true. How many times have you sat in an uncomfortable seat and wondered if the designer had sat in it for more than a minute? Or wondered what crazed bureaucrat created the horrible paperwork you are struggling with? He also excoriates (I think that’s his default setting, excoriation) people who give money publicly to charity as a way to gain notoriety, a position we can agree with, minus the vituperation perhaps. And he points out that a vocal small minority can hold everyone hostage to its views. But is it worth 200+ pages of rage?
Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter combines psychological explanations of why we make basic and predictable mistakes about managing money with practical suggestions on how we can use that knowledge to make better choices. It’s not our imagination: we spend more when we use credit cards than with cash, we get fixated on discounts rather than prices, and we fail to save for the future. The authors give us a lively account of why (so lively it sometimes feels forced) and, the best part of the book, solutions to foil our brains using the very techniques that normally deceive us. An enjoyable way to explore our foibles.