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Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us 1st Edition

24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0470638699
ISBN-10: 0470638699
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Annoyances are everywhere: annoying sounds, annoying smells, annoying drivers, annoying friends, annoying strangers, annoying spouses. There's nowhere to hide, and no one is immune.

In Annoying, NPR Science Correspondent Joe Palca and Science Friday's Flora Lichtman dig through the scientific literature in search of explanations for what gets under our skin.

In this widely ranging scientific tour, you'll meet researchers who have made strides in understanding why some things tick us off. You'll find out why people blabbing on cell phones is so irritating and why you can't help but tune in. You will learn the secrets of trash talk and how athletes overcome it, or don't. You'll hear about an illness that makes people annoyed to the point of dysfunction and visit a tiny island where no one seems to be annoyed. You'll discover why chili peppers stand on the cusp between pleasant and painful, why odor is so powerful and how skunks have taken advantage, why raw onion fumes make us cry, and why some chemicals have been irritating life on Earth for half a billion years. The science is there. You just have to know where to look.

And yes, there is a recipe for annoying others. Although most of us know how to do this intuitively, Palca and Lichtman provide a clear, easy-to-follow, step-by-step process for annoying almost anyone. One: find something that your victim finds unpleasant and distracting. Two: make it hard to predict when the unpleasantness and distraction will end. Three: make it impossible to ignore. While you may have been born knowing the recipe, the conclusions scientists are able to draw from it will surprise you.

It turns out that your inability to ignore that cell phone call is a good thing, tearing out your hair in a traffic jam could just be a positive personality trait, and understanding what annoys you gives you the tools to overcome your annoyance—sort of. It also gives you some insight into how to become less annoying yourself, and wouldn't that be a blessing?

So, the next time you're ready to strangle that coworker who keeps tapping his pen against his teeth, don't lose your cool. Pull out your copy of Annoying, place it on his desk, and tell him what an interesting book it is. When he puts his pen down to pick up the book, swipe the pen.

From the Back Cover

Praise for annoying

"Remarkable: a charming and insightful book that explains how studying what annoys you can make you both less annoyed and less annoying. I feel better already!"—Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and Free

"Who would have thought that one of the most charming, graceful, and informative books to come around in a long while is Annoying? You might have been told you are what you eat, but it is your annoyances that really define you. With cutting-edge science, wit, and an eye for a good story, Palca and Lichtman reveal the recent discoveries that tell us of the age-old problem of annoyance. Their book will forever change your view of the restaurant patron who loudly recounts his colonoscopy results over a cell phone."—Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish

"The science of the annoying? I was skeptical. But this book really delivers. In many chapters I saw myself and thought, 'Yeah, I understand, that is exactly how I feel.' Trouble is, now, with understanding, my tolerance for the annoying has plummeted."—Carol Greider, Director of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2009

"Annoying is smart, funny, insightful, and downright wonderful to read. Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman not only illuminate the science of annoyance itself but the often lunatic nature of daily life in the twenty-first century. Read it—the only annoying thing about it is that it's too short."—Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook

"It's rare to encounter a book that could launch a new scientific subdiscipline. Annoying may do just that. Palca and Lichtman survey thinking in psychology, philosophy, and neuroscience, intermixing research with anecdotes, insights, and theories, to examine the scientifically neglected subject of annoyances. This book is a fascinating read for anyone who has ever wondered why minor irritations can drive us to distraction. Ironically, this book about fingernails on chalkboards is a pleasure to read."—Daniel Simons, coauthor of The Invisible Gorilla

"Unlike the stuff we do on NPR, Joe Palca's reporting is based on insight, knowledge, intellectual curiosity, research, and facts. But don't let that turn you off!"—Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470638699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470638699
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #422,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Jean E. Pouliot on August 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman picked a great subject - the science of why and how we get annoyed. Starting with the scenario that irritates most of us -- a cell phone "halfalogue" of which you can only hear one side, they progress to other items that annoy: fingernails screeching down blackboards, skunk smells, subway fingernail clippers and the horror of having perfect pitch in a noisy world.

But while I enjoyed the book, I found it unsatisfying and unconvincing. While Palca/Lichtman identified lots of annoying things, they did not get to the heart of the matter. Take fingernails screeching down a blackboard. The authors claimed that this sound was reminiscent of a primate's warning screech. Interesting hypothesis! But aside from stating this, they provided little evidence. Where were the sound graphs showing the similarity? Where were the zoo stories, anecdotal or otherwise, of how irritating primate screams are to humans? Where were the experiments? Nowhere. I found unconvincing explanations like these repeated throughout the book.

Palca and Lichtman's arguments on irritating social moral transgressions were weak as well. Take the guy cutting his toenails on the subway. Is this act irritating merely because it transgresses a rule of American etiquette? Or is there something just GROSS about imposing (even just suggesting) the sights and smells of your unkempt bare feet in public?

The authors do make good points. It seems true that unpredictably repetitive noises are annoying. Take snoring. Part of what makes it annoying is the loud and rasping noise itself. But certainly something comes from the listener's inability to know just when the noise will come next. This is especially true when the person stops snoring. Are they still breathing?
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Deb on April 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Appropriately enough, while trying to finish the very last pages of _Annoying_ while at a cafe this morning, I found myself becoming increasingly annoyed at the loud, non-stop conversation coming from the gabbers at the table next to mine. But, thanks to what I had just read in this book, I knew exactly why my annoyance level was growing!

First off, the event was unpredictable and unexpected. (Normally on Saturday mornings, this cafe is pretty quiet and the conversations from other tables are not such an effort to tune out as was the case with this conversation today.) Second, the conversation was distracting me from my goal of finishing this book. (Couldn't they just keep quiet for five minutes as I read the last few pages?!?) Adding to the annoyance factors were the unpleasant droning qualities of the of the chatters' voices and the uncertainty of when the conversation would end. (If I would have known the droners were going to be leaving soon, it'd would have been much easier to tolerate this temporary annoyance.)

Luckily, I was able to drown out the conversation enough to read the hints in the book's conclusion on overcoming annoyances. I could convince myself that finishing the book wasn't that important and in the grand scheme of things, this temporary distraction wasn't such a big deal. I could try harder to block out the voices and focus intently on the words on these last few pages. Alternatively, I could head-butt the annoyers (as was the approach used by an annoyed soccer player whose story was featured in the book), or at least imagine doing so to help ease my irritation level. Or, I could simply accept the annoyance, and realize that the irritating conversations of others are an inherent feature of cafes.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on April 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Every once in a while a writer or as in this case co- writers come along who choose a subject which everyone is concerned about but no one seems to have written about. Malcolm Gladwell has become one of the world's great non- fiction writers by doing this repeatedly. And too by exploring the subject by making use of the best academic research available on it. Here the subject chosen is certainly one which speaks to every person on the planet, 'annoyance'. This book is an exploration of many of the most common annoyances and what exactly it is which is annoying about them. It provides insights beyond common sense and in some cases will enable readers to better cope with what has in the past driven them crazy. Everyone of course has their own special list. And I hope I will be excused for indulging myself here and listing a few of my own: I am annoyed by 1) Those who litter the streets of the beautiful city I live in 2) I am annoyed by those who talk loudly on cellphones in public places (An annoyance very thoroughly examined in this book) 3) I am annoyed by any sign of rudeness or cruelty to another 4) I am annoyed by those who push ahead unfairly in lines 5) I am annoyed by those people who cannot take any kind of 'hint' and when one wants to finish a conversation, most often a phone conversation persist in it 6) I am annoyed by dogowners who do not clean up after their dogs 7) I am annoyed by inconsiderateness in any of its forms ( Another subject the book in various ways has much to say about)
One more important point about this book. It is a guide not only how to feel less annoyed by others but also about how to be less annoying to them. I know for instance that often I annoy by being in 'good humor' when others are in the mood for being serious.
In any case I believe this is a book one will not be annoyed by reading but rather enjoy very much.
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