Book Review: Everything Bad Is Good For You

Back in August, my MBP developed some hardware issues that required a visit to the Apple store.  The Kansas City Apple Store happens to be on the famous Plaza, and very near to a Barnes and Noble.  So during this time, I ended up spending a large amount of time browsing books at said store.  As I went through the store, I happened to wander over to the science & technology section where my eyes fell upon a book with a very strange title:  “Everything Bad Is Good For You.”  If that wasn’t enough to pique one’s interest, the subtitle would be: “How today’s popular culture is actually makeing us smarter.”

Needless to say (but I’ll type it anyway), I was extremely skeptical.  Never-the-less, it was a provokative enough title for me to pick it up and turn to the first few pages.  The author, Steven Johnson,  begins with a discussion about a precursor to the modern fantasy sports games.  The story was engrossing enough that I went ahead and purchased the book, and once I was home I devoured it.  I just couldn’t put it down.

Johnson describes what he calls “the sleeper curve.”  His basic argument is that popular culture requires an increasingly complex involvement by the consumer to fully enjoy.  He supports his arguments with several specific examples taken from tv shows like “The Bachelor” and “The Sopranoes” and video games like “Zelda.”  I’m not much of a popular culture participant, and was unfamiliar with all three of these, but this did not hinder my understanding of his argument.  While I had started reading the book quite skeptically, by the end, I felt like he had made a good case using the examples that he did.  However, I do think his argument benefited from a selection bias to begin with.

One of my main criticisms is how citations and the bibliography were handled.  There were no in text citations.  The bibliography contained a snippet of the text where the information was used and then the source itself.  It’s a painful way handle sources.  One nice consideration was a section on suggested further reading, however.

Overall, this is a very worth-while book, and while I’m not completely convinced by his argument, I have to agree that Johnson is certainly on to something.  Published in 2005, it is available from Amazon.com, and other retailers.

Other Book Reviews Coming Down the Pipeline:

1) The Tipping Point and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

2) The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

3)  Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner

I realize I’m a bit behind the times, especially with gladwell’s books, but I don’t personally know anyone else who has read them.