How to identify bad books: Or, How to identify and stay away from books with smart titles and fancy generalizations

On October 25, 2016 By thesuccessmanual Topic: Books and Literature, Howto

This decade has seen a big spurt in non-fiction books with smart titles becoming popular - aka the 'Gladwell books' - books with smart titles (World is flat, Four hour workweek, What would Google do?), books containing 6-10 examples of things the authors came across, and books ending with sweeping generalizations based upon the things the author saw. Racy reads they indeed are, but what use are they to the average reader?

The latest author to do 'Gladwell books' successfully is Jonah Lehrer, who a review indignantly describes as popular science's Tony Robbins. To help you stay away with any book claiming to have fresh insights on this and that topic, I think you must know what is wrong with these books. You know the faults with one of these 'Gladwell books', you will know the faults of all Gladwell books. Here are some damning critiques of what is wrong with Lehrer's new book on creative thinking, from the review:

The reason for dwelling at length on Lehrer’s consideration of Dylan is that almost everything in the chapter—from the minor details to the larger argument—is inaccurate, misleading, or simplistic.

... THERE IS LITTLE to be learned about Bob Dylan, or the creative process more generally, from Jonah Lehrer. What his book has to teach, and by example, is the fetishization of brain science, and the anxious need for easy answers to complex questions.

...IMAGINE is really a pop-science book, which these days usually means that it is an exercise in laboratory-approved self-help. Like Malcolm Gladwell and David Brooks, Lehrer writes self-help for people who would be embarrassed to be seen reading it. 

... I am not an expert on brain science, but for Lehrer to quote a study about the ability of test subjects to answer questions when those questions were placed on a computer screen with a blue background, and then to make the life-changing claim that “the color blue can help you double your creative output,” is laughable. No scientist would accept such an inference.
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