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on June 26, 2008
About: University of Texas at Austin psychology professor Gosling fancies himself a "snoopologist" and studies how people's belongings exhibit their personalities. While he believes belongings give clues to personality, he notes that it does not work for all folks in all situations. Personality is defined as "An individual's unique pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving that is consistent over time." (pg 28). Gosling uses the Big 5 personality traits (Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) to further break down the personalities he describes in the book and spends quite a bit of time going over the basics of these 5 traits. He discusses many studies of how certain behaviors and owned objects of humans fit these personality traits, and even analyzes the office of ABC News anchor Charles Gibson

Things I Thought Were Interesting:

* Only in extreme cases can you learn much from a person's refrigerator

* Formal dress tends to be a good indicator of conscientiousness

* People can match strangers to their cars better than chance

* Bedrooms, Facebook profiles and personal web sites tend to give reliable info on
personality

* Bedrooms of liberals tend to have a larger variety of books, music and art supplies, while conservatives have more flags, alcohol bottles and sports paraphernalia

* Male bedrooms have fewer photos of families and friends, closets that tend to be open with stuff on hooks and more hats and caps than female bedrooms

* In a job interview, dress and amount the applicant leans forward tends to give clues to job motivation

* A more personalized office means a higher commitment to the organization

* Maps in a space points to diverese interests and open-mindedness

Pros: Clear writing, sources cited (but not in-text), interesting "tidbits" of info found throughout

Cons: Parts read like a primer on social psychology and personality, which leaves too little room for talk about people's "stuff" and makes the book seem to be more about what humans do than what they own. People whose work he cites gave him blurbs for the book (tit for tat perhaps?)
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on November 11, 2008
Sam Gosling's book is an anti-materialist's nightmare--or is it? In a time when many are advocating that we "purge" our possessions and live "simpler" lives, "Snoop" is an amusing, clever, and occasionally unnerving brain teaser. It posits that we are, in fact, our stuff, and everything we wear, hang, collect, listen to, display, etc. says something revealing about us. (Even the way people arrange pictures in an office--facing a guest so as to impress, or facing the owner to provide reassurance/emotional nurturance--is significant.) Occasionally the book gets fairly scientific when measuring various psychological qualities (Neuroticism, Openness, etc.), but it's nothing that will throw anyone who's ever taken a Meyers-Briggs test. Gosling also analyzes "hoarders" and "emotional narcissists" who never throw anything away, and his conclusions are thought-provoking. And the charts analyzing different music listeners (gospel, rap, rock, etc.), and folks' stereotypes about these people based on their music choices, are real eye-openers. If anything, the book is too short; another chapter or two would've been pure gravy, especially if it dealt with the current trend of disposability, or "renting" rather than owning (as in people who only take CD's or DVD's out from the library rather than buying them). Some may also find the tone a bit facile, though I thought it was funny and clever (especially a chapter entitled "Knowing Me Knowing You" with several pointed ABBA jokes). Still, after I read this book, I couldn't walk into any room in my home without casting a critical eye at the art, the knick-knacks, the books, etc. It's the sort of book that may genuinely change the way you see yourself, as well as the world around you.
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on July 8, 2008
I enjoy pop psychology books but I found this book a little tedious and droning at times. Some thoughts were interesting, such as identifiers being geared to influence the opinion of others versus to reassure yourself, but because the test subjects were nearly all college students I, as a person over 40, didn't find much of interest for the world that I inhabit. The author did not acknowledge that college students and that time in a person's life is unlike the bulk of an average person's existence. College and young adulthood is a time of trying out new identities, supporting causes, and learning about new social ideals, and few demands made on your time by children, aging parents, and spouses. So while it's interesting to hear about how young adults decorate their dorm rooms and how that reflects their personality it would be more interesting (to me) to visit people out of the academic milieu and learn how to make educated guesses about their personalities.
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on September 4, 2014
To write a book about snooping and not once mention the entire field of ethnographic research is just wrong. This book seems to be more suited for a pamphlet about this one lab's research rather than an actual investigation into what your stuff says about you. I was so, so disappointed in this book.

I finally had to stop reading it when the author actually asserted that everyone's refrigerator basically contains the same stuff so you cannot really learn anything about people from this. Are you serious? This suggest to me the author's work is confined to a single university, single culture, single socio-economic group, and as such is incredibly limited in its reach.

I really, really wanted to love this book.
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on June 16, 2010
I'm fascinated by objects people own and what those objects say about that person. For example, my co-worker's office is crammed with Barbie dolls, teddy bears, free McDonald happy meal toys, and various other toys. You'd think someone surrounded by such playful objects would have a playful personality to match, but she's actually quite serious and rarely smiles. This contrast has activated my imagination, making me wonder if she grew up too fast and these toys are her way of recreating a childhood she wasn't allowed.

I've searched for books that would dissect the meaning behind objects people own, but only found books on body language that barely mentioned objects. When I found this book devoted to just objects, I couldn't wait to read it.

There were some interesting tidbits in here. Most interesting was the section on the Big 5 Personality Profiles and the True Home, although the True Home didn't really fit the focus of the book.

Overall, though, the book was disorganized. For example, the chapters had clever titles like "An Office and a Gentlemen" and "Less than Zero Acquaintance", but it would've been more helpful had the chapters been divided by room (like kitchen or bathroom) or place (like home or car). Since they weren't, and these points are randomly spread around, it was hard to locate a point I wanted to reread.

I also thought the author spent too long on some subjects that were uninteresting or irrelevant, so reading became tedious at times. And this is a subject I find fascinating.

Also frustrating was the author not committing to a meaning behind an object. He'd say this object could mean this, or it could mean that, or it may not mean any of these things. I understand he doesn't want people jumping to premature conclusions, but there still must be obvious giveaways. Otherwise, how was he able to accurately describe one person's age, gender, sexual orientation and more simply by looking at their contents in a box?

In the intro, the author teases the reader saying they, too, will be able to perform this magic trick but never fully reveals his tricks. In the end, I walked away with the same knowledge of object meaning as I did coming in.
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on September 15, 2014
Insipid, overintellectualized, analyzed and stupidly supersized. I IIam no anti-intellectual, but this could have contributed something with better editing--a lot--
and less overgeneralization. If you are an omnivorous bibliophile like myself, don't bother.
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on December 5, 2009
A reviewer had referred to the type of psychology apparent in this book as "pop psychology". I am in no position to evaluate that subject, but I am more sceptical of this book than I am persuaded by it. I accept that one's personal possession may tell people some things about that person but the conclusions are probably speculative and the error rate may be high. If, say, a person has only books on pop music in his room, it may suggest that this person enjoys lively contemporary music; but can we safely conclude that he is a shallow person or a person with superficial character? There are some very interesting discussions about personality types - people with "openness" and "narcissistic" people, and I enjoyed all that. Gosling's defence of employing "stereotyping" is a little questionable although he may be right that people do act and react to others especially to strangers with some degree of stereotyping. It is probably more enlightening if he cautioned against the dangers of stereotyping, and emphasized the importance of detecting moments when we stereotype people. Ultimately, one has to ask, why do we want to snoop? Should we not get to know a person better by knowing him than by snooping around his bathroom or office to see what he had accumulated?
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on June 21, 2008
I run an architecture firm and know of Sam Gosling's work. My wife posted above immediately after she finished reading Snoop, and reviewed this book without disclosing that a process we use with our clients called the Truehome Workshop is discussed in the last chapter of this book.

She was not attempting to be deceptive. She simply did not believe her tenuous connection impacted the relevance of her review. In any case, we apologize for any misunderstanding.

Because I do know this man's research, I am here to tell you that in real world situations, understanding both how your personality and values impact your decisions about your home - and separating "trash from treasures" - make a big difference when it comes time to making decisions about changing your living space.

I mean a big difference in time, money and how you feel about your new living space when you have completed your project.

People tend to think of such issues as "fluffy" but in truth they are central to creating a home that fits. After all "home" is really an emotional experience.

You "feel" at home.

A house is made of bricks and sticks, tile selections and floor coverings, but not a home. The difference between a house and a home is created by how much your living space fits your lifestyle, tastes, values, budget, emotional needs and personality.

So we are talking about emotional assessments cued by features of your home environment like comfort, self-expression, a feeling of safety, privacy, control, lower stress levels and the like. Real world experiences!

Almost all of those "feeling of home" are a result of your automatic emotional response to features of your living space that are unconscious, often from childhood, and most of us are not aware of how much they influence important financial and aesthetic decisions.

Our clients almost always lack an understanding of the impact of these deep emotional and psychological influences on their decisions. That is why we spend a lot of time learning about them - and helping them become aware of them - BEFORE we begin a design.

The more you know about who you are relative to your living space, the better job you can do of making choices that will have lasting value.

That is the deeper level of what this book has to offer while it trains you to be a "Snoopologist."
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on November 29, 2008
The book introduces readers to the art of learning about people by only looking at their "stuff". The author, a tenured psychology professor at a leading university, is clearly an expert in the field. He is apparently renowned for sending teams of students into other students' dorm rooms to analyze their belongings and has been featured on national television. In this book, he summarizes recent research by himself and other academics.

Most of the book consists of common-sense advice (don't let one prominent detail send you off-track - for instance, the research team thought the occupant of one room was female because there was a pair of stilettos on the floor; they actually belonged to the occupant's girlfriend and all the other clues pointed to a male occupant) and basic although interesting comments (if you are going to describe someone using a few adjectives, some positive, some negative, whether you say the positive adjectives first or not influences other people's opinion of that person; I also enjoyed reading about the five traits of personality).

The focus of the author on dorm rooms and the student population, which has been pointed out by other reviewers, was a bit frustrating. For instance, the author explains that college students like to talk about music when they don't know each other, and a good place to snoop would be their iPod playlist. That's all very good, but what about people in their thirties or forties? Not as many have iPods, and they make valid snooping subjects too.

I was also disappointed by the lack of discussion regarding a possible bias in the studies, regarding the fact that the students volunteered to let researchers analyze their dorm room (or their webpage, or their Facebook profile). There is obvious potential for a selection bias. In particular, the author finds that people don't lie on their webpages and instead represent themselves as they are. But those are the people who agreed to be part of his study to begin with. It makes sense that people who want to project an image different from their true self would stay away from research teams, to avoid being found out. I also thought the book should have had one proper chapter about online snooping, since most people don't have easy access to the dorm rooms or offices of potential friends.

Another annoying point is that the author occasionally hints at snooping around the apartment of his love interests; at one point, he also suggests the pictures his friends tagged of him on his Facebook profile are racier than the bland ones he put on himself. He also briefly comments on his use of Internet dating services, and text-messages an acquaintance for information when he finds medication in the medicine cabinet of one of his love interests. Now, the author is in his early forties, and I would have expected behavior more in line with his age. The book would have been stronger if the author had stuck to showing us his professional world.

Overall, "Snoop" is an interesting read. Many best-sellers are a lot worse, and I found it better than "Blink", to which it has often been compared.
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on May 22, 2009
Disappointing on two levels. Feels as if it was an attempt to write an academic text that was twisted to try to make a "popular" work and ends up being neither. While there certainly are a smattering of momentarily interesting facts scattered through the book, more often it seems full of the obvious. Not really worth the time.
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