Customer Review

286 of 299 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent title, but slightly disappointing content, January 25, 2013
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This review is from: Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (Kindle Edition)
The first thing that strikes you as you read through the book is that it feels like a collection of essays and articles stretched into a book more than a fluid book itself. Indeed, Mastermind was based on a series of articles that the author wrote for two different web sites: Big Think and Scientific American.

Another issue with the book is that it isn't quite sure if it wants to be a psychology book, explaining key cognitive concepts through the framework of Sherlock Holmes, or a pop culture book, looking at what Sherlock Holmes can tell us about cognition and psychology. As a result, it fails to really be either. The book alternates between analyzing the deductive prowess of Sherlock Holmes and explaining current research in cognitive psychology, but the switch between the two is sometimes jarring. There isn't a fluid amalgamation of the two. Furthermore, it struggles to be an elaborate analysis of Holmes' deductive reasoning, with latter chapters reframing concepts from earlier ones. The book takes a very long time to explain too few concepts that require less detail than what is actually given.

The book ultimately might be mistitled. One would expect a book subtitled "How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes" to actually have instructive steps and exercises, but it does not. The only clear recommendation is to maintain a journal. Other elements are analyzed, but no actual instructions are given on how to successfully implement them in daily life. For example, after reading extensively about mindfulness, you really only come away with the idea that you have to be more mindful, and very little on how exactly to set up a successful regimen to train yourself to be more mindful.

Most of the book can be summed up with the idea of simply being mindful of your surroundings and your thinking methodology - essentially meta-thinking - yet the book only approaches a few key elements of critical thinking, and there is not enough of an examination of the actual process of deductive reasoning. It talks about imagination and knowing your own weaknesses, but fails to cover any significant ground on memory techniques to improve recall. Holmes wasn't just a great deductive logician, but also had a keen memory.

Lastly, much of the final chapter seems like it was tacked on for good measure, but it was wholly unnecessary. In fact, the final chapter is mostly an examination of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's spiritualism and foray into a faerie investigation. Konnikova seems almost apologetic for Doyle's folly, asking us to remember to see things through the context of Doyle's life and surroundings. It seemed vastly out of place.

Mastermind is an excellent choice for those who are fans of Sherlock Holmes and want to see how his abilities relate to cognitive psychology, but if you've taken a college level course on memory and learning, you'll already be familiar with the concepts presented in this book. If you're looking for instructions on how to actually think like Sherlock Holmes, you'll come away with about four or five ideas to ponder as you think about your own thought processes, but ultimately you'll want to examine reasoning and critical thinking topics in other books for more details.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 28, 2013 10:36:32 PM PST
Michael says:
This review is spot-on and more detailed than the one I was going to write. You've got it covered. I have read the Holmes' stories several times over the years, as well as more substantial thinking books such as "Thinking, Fast and Slow" and can't say I learned a thing from this book. As you say, it's quite repetitive and has very little practical application. I was going to give my copy to a friend, but I don't think it's worth her time. Am going to donate to my public library instead.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 29, 2013 4:32:21 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 29, 2013 9:02:46 AM PST
Michael S. says:
Yes, I think Mastermind suffers most from being poorly transitioned from a collection of articles to a book. That's the area from which most of the repetitiveness comes. The author is clearly passionate about Sherlock Holmes and I commend her for following the path that she has followed, but the execution felt a bit off to me.

Posted on Feb 9, 2013 7:51:26 PM PST
P. Lio says:
I also came here to leave a review but found this one better than my own and spot on in every way. This is a perfect review of this book. Thank you, Michael S.!

Posted on Feb 13, 2013 6:40:59 AM PST
Ben Hill says:
Good review, I would like to know what you think are good books on critical thinking and reasoning.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 13, 2013 11:00:52 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 13, 2013 11:01:54 AM PST
Michael S. says:
Probably the best book I've read on this is David Levy's Tools of Critical Thinking: Metathoughts for Psychology (Second edition). It's geared towards use as a college textbook so it's very expensive, considering the length; however, it's extremely lucid and covers a ton of material between the covers. Konnikova covers a few of the fallacies also covered in Levy's book, but Levy covers upwards of thirty fallacies in critical thinking. It's definitely worth the price. I still need to post a review for it, but it's five stars in my opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 15, 2013 2:50:13 AM PST
Alan W says:
Thanks - that sounds incredibly interesting. Ordering!

Posted on Apr 17, 2013 7:18:52 AM PDT
Couldn't agree more with this review. Its absolutely spot on, I consider books like these to be a failure of editing more than writing.. there are gems there, but are scattered so badly they serve the reader very little.

Posted on Apr 24, 2013 11:35:03 AM PDT
Thank you for such a brilliant, brilliant review! It says what I really felt about this book very much better than my poor excuse for a review.

*C.S. Light*

Posted on May 20, 2013 9:08:51 PM PDT
The Graduate says:
I concur with the opinion that it is repetitive. I found myself skipping over large portions of the book to get to the good stuff: HOW to think like him, not what the pitfalls are that he avoids. The book largely fails to teach the 'How' part of the title. For anyone who has kept up with anything even remotely related to pop psychology within the last three to five years, all of the science revealed in this book is just a rehash. The explanations of the cognitive psychology behind Holmesian thinking doesn't do much to teach you HOW to think like him, they just explain WHY we do NOT think like him. I would rate it two stars, not three.

Posted on Jun 19, 2013 10:35:55 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jun 19, 2013 10:44:07 AM PDT]
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