Everyone likes a good story and this book is full of them, from Steven Spielberg’s broken mechanical shark to the unintuitive results of a psychological study involving marshmallows and SAT scores. However, the point of the book is ostensibly to enlighten, not just entertain, and this is where the weaknesses start, in my opinion. Every couple of anecdotes, Niven stops to draw conclusions and give tips about problem solving which tend to be counter-cultural and surprising, such as “when you are stuck, find a good distraction that takes you away from your problems” (22) or “don’t follow the leader…[who] in many cases is just the person with bad ideas who has been around the longest” (182). These tips are generally supported by two or three cherry-picked examples or studies and represent a gross oversimplification and overly-broad application of psychological findings. For example, just because doctors in a study who were given candy made more accurate diagnoses doesn’t necessarily mean “eat a candy bar” is helpful advice (though, in case you needed an excuse to break your diet, this advice can be found on page 40).
[Why I read it: I think my friend Joy mentioned it, but I’m not sure. I also had a good feeling about the author’s name, which I thought I recognized, but it turns out I was thinking about a different David Niven (the English actor).]