Top critical review
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A terrible book about a useful concept
on October 5, 2006
As an academic, whose job is to report research and organise research projects, I find mind mapping a useful tool for organising ideas, drafting outlines, monitoring progress, planning meetings, keeping minutes, etc.
So I bought the book from the guy who "invented" mind mapping to learn more about it. What did I learn? In a nutshell, DONT WASTE YOUR TIME AND MONEY, the book might even put you off for good from a quite useful tool.
Of course, if you have a special kind of humour, you can read it as a perfect parody of a "scientific" how-to book. This book is a wonderful mixture of unbearable hype, awful jargon and artful use of pseudo science. Not that the author wouldn't be clear about it: Tony Buzan (I guess Barry had his reasons for emphasising in the starting chapter that it was written by Tony ...) states right at the beginning that this book will basically solve all the problems you've ever had (in fact, not just you, !mankind!) by introducing you to "a new concept in the development of thought" and "a revolutionary new tool". It gets even better later on when you learn about mind mapping as "the next step in the evolution of the human mind".
To a certain extent, the whole thing works; it does stimulate your creativity - I'm writing my first ever book review on Amazon - and it helps you practice speed reading - there is so little information amidst all this breathless writing that you can easily finish it in an hour.
But let's be serious. The first couple of chapters teach you how your brain works, empty blah based on "scientific research" mostly dating back to the 1970s (of course, only material from sources of various quality exactly supporting a preconceived argument). That's a bit like James Watt explaining a fuel cell powered car to you - not completely off the mark, but, you know, a few things have happened in the meantime ...
Then you get to learn the principles, "the laws" (I would have liked commandments; it would fit the style). Common sense dressed up as wisdom and nothing turned into something through fancy relabelling. I really like the distinction between the Mini Mind Map (TM) and the full Mind Map (TM). "Power words" and "basic ordering ideas" for comprehensive categories is also pretty cool. From there, you move on to applications. Same story. I skipped the end; at last I heeded other reviews of the book.
But the thing that makes the book a real turn-off is the way it is written and typeset:
- We know that repeating important bits aid your memory, so you get LOTS of repetitions (especially mind mapping is SUPER, mind mapping is REALLY super, you get the idea ...).
- We know that metaphors help you memorise stuff, so you get LOTS of them (really hilarious stuff, I failed to note it down while reading).
- We know that using the odd adjective and slightly colourful language enhances readability, so you get LOTS of it. This is where the book scores 12 out of 10 points. It's littered with superlatives like infinite, enormous, gigantic, etc. and very large numbers (trillions, quadrillions, 1's and lots of 0's behind them). An example "... means that we are all magically and eerily different from each other. ... You who are now reading this sentence contain, in your brain, trillions of associations shared by no one else, past, present or future" (p. 72). Spooky would have been nice there!
- We know that highlighting text adds emphasis, so we get LOTS of HigHLIghTEd text.
- We know that using different fonts add visual clarity, so we get LOTS of different fonts.
- We know that boxes are useful for setting apart important points or illustrative material, so we get LOTS of them.
- We know that a good image says more than a thousand words, so we get LOTS of psychedelic mind maps, most of them unreadable, but very LOUD.
- We know that selling nothing as something can work if you dress it up well, so you get LOTS of it, e.g. "Intuition is a much-maligned mental skill which I and neuropsychologist Michael Gelb prefer to define as 'superlogic'" (p. 111) which then allows you to engage in "superthinking" (you know, my friend and expert-of-the-human-psyche Joe Abrahamovitch Miller and I like to call it the thing only our wives have ... Joe, by the way, is a the bartender in the local pub around the corner). You also get the "parabrain", the "paraconscious", you get the regular urban myth that we only use a fraction of our brain, and so on and so forth.
I could go on, but I guess you get the picture. By the way, if you're still reading, you stand a good chance of finishing the book ...
Here are a few suggestions for improvements in future editions (of which there will be many, I'm sure):
- don't be shy of large numbers, I missed the quintillions!
- referring to the Greek and the Romans as well as a lot of people with weired slavonic names is ok. But times are changing: These days you have to have some Indians and Chinese in there and Atlantis doesn't hurt. You could also refer to the wisdom of the animal kingdom and wisdom acquired in earlier lives.
To conclude, a comment by a colleague of mine: "Can you inject the stuff?"