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on February 20, 2007
I'll begin with a summary which allows you, dear reader, to decide if you should read any more of this review:

The irony of Dweck's book is that if the reader understands and believes what she's saying, then after the first chapter that reader has no reason to keep reading.

And now, the long (Dweck) version. I was first made aware of this book and its ideas in a seminar on motivating students about a month and a half ago. As presented in the seminar, these seemed like great ideas: intelligence is not fixed, it is learnable, changeable, even teachable. Asking the right questions and making the right comments in the classroom can change the way students approach learning and thinking, and encourage them to grow and learn much more than one might expect. Fantastic. The approach seemed sensible, the logic intuitive, the results believable. I adapted some of the material for a class and sought out the book.

It seemed odd when I found the book on the library shelf not with psychological or pedagogical research, but near books of self-help and affirmation, such as Julia Cameron's `The Artists's Way.' Ah, I thought, it's just a categorization issue. Not something to worry about. But I should've worried, as I'll explain shortly.

Returning to Dweck, I found the ideas she presents - or rather, singular "idea," since there really isn't more than one - to be quite interesting, as I'd hoped. Unfortunately, the book itself isn't. As I said earlier, reading a single chapter gets the point across: intelligence is not fixed, it can be changed. It is only our "mindset" that holds us back. If we believe we can't learn, if we believe our abilities are restricted, then they will be. Our limitations are learned and set by ourselves. If we think we can improve ourselves, we will. If we insist that we're unable to achieve, we won't. (Dweck offers a few hasty caveats to prevent readers from believing they can will themselves to do absolutely anything, but always as afterthoughts.)

That's it. That's the core and kernel of the book, summarized in my few weak sentences. While it was only natural of Dweck to take more space than this, there are limits. Frankly, the main argument of the book could have been made convincingly in a twenty page pamphlet. With a thoughtful design and organization, perhaps a very readable, informative, and even inspirational, tome of 150 or so pages. But certainly not as the rambling, repetitive 288-page critter as this book now exists.

As I read the first three chapters of this book (and, in full disclosure, that is as far as I got, about one-third through), several things became clear to me. Besides the dearth of ideas - how far can one stretch this simple thought? - I began to understand why "Mindset" was categorized in the self-help section and not placed with more scholarly work. For one thing, there is little of scholarly weight here. Dweck frequently refers to studies and research, but most of this is not available to the interested reader. The endnotes are strangely non-standard, making it difficult to identify sources, let alone locate them. Much of the evidence cited appears to be unpublished and unvetted research by Dweck and her colleagues (or students). Several searches on Dweck and her co-researchers turned up nothing. The general bibliography, while something to go on, is also very thin. Dweck herself appears to have the credibility and scholarly bona fides one might expect from a PhD working at Columbia, but they are not in evidence here.

In addition, the format of the chapters was disappointing. It revealed why the book belongs in the self-help section. Each chapter consists of a mixture of assertions and affirmations from the author, impressive-sounding but undocumented research, and effusive testimonials - I can think of no other word to use - by students and others whose lives have been changed by Dweck's idea. As a motivational tract, it works. As a scholarly work, to be taken seriously, to offer up convincing and repeatable proof of its ideas, it falls short. It is reasonably well-written, it is entertaining (numbing repetition aside), it is provocative and confident. As a useful piece of research, it disappoints.

As I've stated more than once, the idea of this book is excellent. It is the execution of which I am critical. I look forward to a future volume by Dweck or her colleagues that presents more tangible proof and documentation, with less reliance on feel-good anecdotes and faith in the author's assertions.
108108 comments1,863 of 2,066 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Unless you are a hermit, you can definitely benefit from this book. For those interested in improving their lives,their parenting skills, their leadership skills, their teaching skills and their relationship skills, this is a must read.

Napoleon Hill, in Think and Grow Rich, stressed the importance of a positive mental attitude. Normal Vincent Peale, in The Power of a Positive Mental Attitude, stressed the importance of a positive mental attitude.

Dweck picks up where both of these very famous works fell short. Both Hill and Peale understood the importance of a positive mental attitude. But Dweck shows us how we develop fixed mindset attitudes in many areas of our lives and the damage our attitude inflicts on us and on those we interact with. Instead of dwelling on positive or negative attitude, Dweck used the term fixed mindset and growth mindset.

The book is not just theory. Dweck explains how the fixed mindset was in part responsible for the downfall of Enron. She also contrast the fixed mindset of basketball coach Bobby Knight with that of the growth mindset of legendary coach John Wooden (UCLA). The contrast and the results are startling.

As far as parenting and teaching skills, there are some very valuable lessons. We should learn to praise work and not talent. No one ever failed by striving for constant learning. History is littered with failures who relied on their God given talent.

The book is a real eye-opener. The fixed mindset verses growth mindset is not an either or situation. We can possess a growth mindset in certain areas but a fixed mindset in other areas of our lives. If you are honest, you will do some "Ahha" when you discover some fixed mindsets traits about yourself.

If you are a teacher, you will be challenged to ask yourself are you doing the best job you can do. There are some very inspiring stories about teachers doing outstanding jobs with childern everyone else had written off.

Lastly, Dweck tells how we can develop a growth mindset and improve our lives and the lives of those around us.
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on March 22, 2007
I learned of Dr. Dweck in a profile in Stanford Magazine, where she is a professor. Her research and resulting conclusions are fascinating and resonated deeply in our family. But the book is disappointing. As pointed out by C. Daley and J. Williams, the anecdotal material is extremely repetitive and not at all helpful. Notwithstanding its general reader focus, the ideas for how to move beyond a fixed mindset were limited. The Stanford Magazine article, which is excellent, is available online.
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on September 4, 2007
Mindset makes the argument that people who believe they can improve themselves will be more likely to take chances and grow.

There. I've said it. Now you don't need to read the book.

The rest of the book consists of stories that illustrate the above idea. Many many stories. All with the same lesson. The book is really a pamphlet.

Also, I think the book is misleading. The latest research shows that we all have strengths and weaknesses and that we do best when we leverage these natural abilities. I think Mindset misses this point and, in fact, suggests the opposite.

Now, Discover Your Strengths is a much better book for those seeking personal growth.
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on September 6, 2007
The text as written certainly succeeds with many. In my case, I got the message after 3 or 4 repeats of the 'growth mindset can do it' theme. As story after story repeats the same theme, which is a good message, I began wondering when some background exploration would begin. It never happened.

I've read other works by Dweck. She plays the role of editor in the recent "Handbook of Competence and Motivation" (in this book the two mindsets are called 'fixed' and 'incremental'). It is very academic and technical, but a treasure trove of insights. I liked it so much I'm going through it again with a fine tooth comb. I'd check Mindsets out at a bookstore or library. If you find yourself wanting more, take a look at Dweck's other books.
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on October 29, 2014
I agree with many others about the repetitiveness of Dweck's book. A shorter version with fine illustrations is "The Little Engine that Could." (Platt & Monk. 1930).

I believe we should encourage our children in positive ways to learn from their mistakes, persist, and strive. However, I'd rather not group all of humanity in two camps, with the many I have loved and respected wasting away disreputably among the vast majority of the lesser camp. I have a great curiosity tempered with skepticism and doubt and yes, self doubt, so I'll likely be joining them. I predict "Growth Mindset" will quickly be disingenuously co-opted by corporate leaders who want to promote group think. If you are critical, you have a "Fixed Midset" and you need to switch that. It's a binary equation. Eventually the buzzword will be overused and replaced with another. I'd like to see Horatio Alger's "Pluck" come back in style. We love this stuff, because we are a nation with a long history of individual reinvention and a short memory for pop psychology affirmations.

Reading Mindset made me recall a much earlier work of psychology, "The Story of Adam and Eve" that does more with metaphor than psychology does with reams of research. In that story, we learn that like no other creature, we struggle with desire, hunger for knowledge, and shame. That's what being human is and it is wonderfully complex, mysterious, and darkly absurd. It's what drives us, civilizes us, and destroys us. This self-help book, like so many others, proposes a simple solution that is perfectly obvious to any successful sociopath. Without shame, your knowledge will grow and your desire for success fulfilled. Like it or not, shame is part of being human and like desire and a hunger for knowledge, it drives us as a civilization to both darkness and light.
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on March 8, 2011
Although the ideas covered in this book are very interesting the book itself is unbelievably poorly done. The first 200 pages basically repeat the same general example over and over again - if you have a fixed mindset you will be less successful in the long run than if you have a growth mindset. It repeatedly tells you to "switch to a growth mind set and try again." Finally, in the end it tells you how to actually make this switch. Oh wait, no it doesn't. After suffering through all the examples to finally get to the "lessons" it never really covers how to switch from one mind set to another. It gives a little bit of vague situational advice and talks about how her workshops can teach you to do it, but never really teaches you the information you suffered through the whole book to read.
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on October 24, 2010
She says the same simple basic stuff over and over again. Common sense stuff. Its not so black and white on everything. Growth mind set vs. fixed mind set. Yawn, yawn, yawn. I soooooooo wish my boss had not made us read it. Wasted time I could have read enjoying other books.

"The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People" is much, much better than this repetitive thing...

"Be curious! Believe you can learn! Don't give up! Have a good support team! Use it! Take risks! Don't be afraid to fail!" And on and on and on . . . That is the growth mind set. And the fixed mind set is simply the opposite of those things.

Another book that is much, much better than this one is, "Influencer: The Power to Change Anything".
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on March 29, 2006
I was fortunate to have read the author's previous work, Self-theories, a collection of essays exploring her research into motivational patterns and achievement, and while I found her prose wonderfully accessible and lucid, especially for an academician and researcher, I wondered how she would fare in Mindset, which goes head-to-head with books in the pop-psychology mainstream. I was delighted to find that she has fleshed out the theories and conclusions from Self-theories in a light, fast-moving and enthusiastic style that makes for a compulsive read.

My son goes to a recently-formed progressive school where students have a lot of input into the class offerings and teaching styles are quite varied and adventurous. If enough want a course, the school strives to make it available within the mandatory class requirements. So languages, for instance, include French, Russian, Hebrew, Arabic and American Sign Language. I gave a copy of Self-theories to the founder and driving force of the school and he devoured it, claiming he now had a powerful academic foundation to answer those curious about and critical of the school's approach. I think he will find Mindset an even more persuasive tool, since it shows in example-laden manner how mindsets developed early in life can dictate our potential and our limitations - and what we can do about it at any stage in our lives.

What makes Mindset particularly compelling is the avalanche of vivid stories from lives of the ordinary and the celebrated in the worlds of business, science, education and sports. (Some readers may be surprised, as I was, to find a respected professor of psychology to be almost exhaustively knowledgeable about sports and its superstars, as well as the ins and outs of the corporate world.) Each chapter is filled with anecdotes from everyday people as well as names still making headlines today, demonstrating how a fixed mindset can constrict a life while a growth mindset can liberate and empower one. And Dweck is refreshingly fearless in taking some of our major icons of public life to task, in often tart prose, for their failures and stubborn blunders. John McEnroe, Lee Iacocca, Bobby Knight and others come under her knife. There's a certain wicked satisfaction to be found in puncturing the self-importance of the rich and fatuous. She even turns the lens of her criticism to her own life, reviewing not only her successes but also the failings and her struggles to apply the insights she's exploring.

While each chapter also ends with a checklist for evaluating one's own mindset and its life consequences and there's something of a primer for shifting mindsets at the end, this is not merely a how-to manual. It's the cumulative effect of the individual stories that makes the most persuasive argument for Dweck's theories. I find myself coming up with my own examples of dueling mindsets among family, friends and co-workers, so apparently merely reading the book (and it's a quick 255 pages) begins building the recognition skills the author stresses as an important first step to making changes in one's own life. And as she carefully points out, it's never too late to change a mindset that is limiting one's potential and accomplishment in any aspect of life, including love and relationships.
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on March 20, 2007
The review by C. Daly sums it up pretty well. The idea for the book is great, that people have the ability to move from a "fixed" mindset to a "growth" oriented one. It's filled with examples of the differences between the two and why a growth mindset will ultimately bring you more satisfaction, better performance, etc.

Look, I agree with the idea, but I don't really see how this book will help me move to the "growth" mindset. After chapter 3, I wondered if the book was all just stories and anecdotes, and I can tell you after finishing it that my fears were confirmed. I've learned very little about how to actually move to the "growth" mindset other than some basic ideas which amount to affirmations.

Towards the end, she talks about how she gave a workshop for 7th graders teaching them the growth mindset, but that it took weeks, and wasn't really fit for a book like this. The problem is that this is exactly what I (and others) purchased the book for!

Overall, I'm very disappointed, but I'm giving it 3 stars because I think the idea is great and it sounds like there's some solid research behind it. I look forward to continuing my research about this elsewhere.

My recommendation is to google Dweck or look up the NYMag article about this topic and save yourselves the 20 bucks and several hours on this book.
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