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I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World Paperback – January 24, 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (January 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780061710292
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061710292
  • ASIN: 0061710296
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. "Metaphorical thinking is the way we make sense of the world" and neurological research shows that humans experience pleasure when performing the "cognitive gymnastics" of deciphering metaphors to connect two dissimilar things, asserts Geary (The World in a Phrase) in a delightful examination that borrows for its title from a poem by Rimbaud, whose writing aimed to "upset conventional orders of perception." Tests on people who do not understand metaphors, such as those with Asperger's syndrome, uncover the roles that "mirror" and "Gnostic" neurons play in conceptual comprehension and long-term memory. Geary also analyzes how metaphors are used in advertising, scientific discoveries, economics, and politics. "Metaphors, once forgotten or ignored, are easily mistaken for objective facts," he warns, showing how metaphor "surreptitiously infiltrates our purchasing decisions." Voters, consumers, and investors interested in knowing how their decisions may be influenced by well-planned metaphors will be fascinated by Geary's adept explication of the metaphor's role in defining perceptions. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“In his fine new book, James Geary [shows that] metaphors are not rhetorical frills at the edge of how we think. They are at the very heart of it.” (David Brooks, New York Times)

“Smart fun for anyone fascinated by the play of language. . . . Geary traces the history of [metaphor] from Aristotle to Elvis.” (Washington Post)

“The author further manages to weave together a fascinating amount of information. . . . I Is an Other really shines when it focuses on the simple yet profound . . . you’ll never look at a metaphor the same way again—metaphorically speaking.” (New York Journal of Books)

“Geary . . . succeeds in making the case that metaphor is the meat of language and not a sauce.” (Wall Street Journal)

“This book is a prism, refracting the white light of language into a kaleidoscopic celebration of its images and etymologies.” (Ben Schott, author of Schott’s Original Miscellany and Schott’s Almanacs)

“This book is for everyone interested in the subtle operations of language and thought....I is an Other is one of those ‘must-read’ books for this year, for any year. It deserves a wide audience, and it will find one.” (Jay Parini, Professor of English and Creative Writing, Middlebury College and author of Promised Land: Thirteen Books that Changed America)

“Sherlock Holmes could glance at a bowler hat and tell that its owner’s wife had ceased to love him. In this brilliant book about metaphor James Geary is no less astonishing....You’ll scarf down every page of I Is an Other and then ask for more.” (Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and author of Book by Book and Classics for Pleasure)

“Enchanting...It is [its] playful celebration of meanings that makes this book optimistic. And though the subtitle has a whiff of conspiracy about it, the sheer ubiquity of metaphor in everyday life makes the book feel urgent....addictive...Geary writes with clarity and power.” (The Independent)

“An illuminating study of metaphor in all its guises…Required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in language.” (Time Out London)

More About the Author

James Geary is the author of 'I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World' as well as the New York Times best-selling 'The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism' and 'Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists'.

Customer Reviews

I have to begin by saying I enjoyed the book very much.
Eclectic Reader
When things are trending upward, the kind of metaphor used will generally attribute agency to the market - "The NASDAQ climbed 20 points" - as if of its own volition.
David M. Giltinan
James Geary's book has renewed my interest in metaphors.
Iveta Kazoka

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

97 of 98 people found the following review helpful By David M. Giltinan on February 20, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As someone with an amateur interest in linguistics, I've always felt that Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live by [METAPHORS WE LIVE BY -OS] is a book that I should have read. I bought it about two years ago, but despite repeated efforts every 3 months or so, I just cannot make it through more than 30 pages before giving up. I don't question its importance, but it's written in a style that I find impenetrable - an odd mixture of material that veers from blindingly obvious to highly technical, with little apparent regard for the reader

So I was happy to stumble across this book by James Geary, even happier as I was reading it. I no longer feel obliged to punish myself by re-trying Lakoff and Johnson every three months. Geary covers much of the same ground, with a little less emphasis on linguistics and a sharper focus on the role of metaphor in cognition and human behavior. Geary's coverage of relevant brain research is also more up to date, reflecting his book's more recent publication date. But its real advantages are the accessible style and superior organization. Key concepts are introduced and identified as such. The exposition proceeds in a logical, orderly fashion. The examples are interesting, persuasive, insightful, and actually help the reader better understand the concepts being discussed. Geary is organized and engaging; he writes with fluidity, humor, and grace. Occasionally his enthusiasm gets the better of him, but for the most part he is careful not to overstate his case. He never condescends to the reader, and his enthusiasm is infectious.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Eric on May 20, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The premise of the book is that metaphor is everywhere, is unavoidably built into our communication structures, and is both the natural output of our brains and the natural input. Metaphor has numerous side-effects on how we understand things, both good and bad.

This premise is well defended and believable. But if you already believed that, this book is frustrating. I wanted to know more about the side-effects of understanding things via metaphor. This is covered, but slowly. The book is more full of examples than ideas, and it feels constantly distracted as it flits from example to example. I kept reading for the occasional morsels of additional information, but felt like they were being parceled out. Way too often I thought, "I get it! Move on!"

Although the book is good as far as it goes, I was left wanting more meat.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having enjoyed James Geary's previous book, The World in a Phrase: A History of Aphorisms, I was very eager to get my hands in this one. Thankfully, I was not let down. In fact, this book is quite remarkable. To some readers it might seem just another work in a long inventory of pop-psychology books; however, I found it definitely contained quite a bit more. As Geary explains it, "Metaphor is most familiar as the literary device through which we describe one thing in terms of another, as when the author of the Old Testament Song of Songs describes a lover's navel as "a round goblet never lacking mixed wine" or when the medieval Muslim rhetorician Abdalqahir Al-Jurjani pines, "The gazelle has stolen its eyes from my beloved." Yet metaphor is much, much more than this. Metaphor is not just confined to art and literature but is at work in all fields of human endeavor, from economics and advertising, to politics and business, to science and psychology."

The book is chock-full of great and varied research. For instance, just some of the people that Geary cites are: Gerald Edelman (Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge), V.S. Ramachandran (The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human), Daniel Tammet (
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Penny Tompkins on February 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is the best introduction to recent developments in the field of metaphor I've read. Although it's written for the intelligent lay person, I know of several University lecturers who are going to recommend it to their students as a primer. Geary's whistle stop tour of the role metaphor plays in the most important areas of our lives is well-researched with plenty of examples and anecdotes of scientific, commercial and personal interest. With Geary's background as a former editor of Time Europe you know it is well-written. As a psychotherapist who focusses on client-generated metaphors I shall be buying this book for many of my family and friends so they finally have some idea of why metaphor matters.
Penny Tompkins, co-author Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling
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