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Customer Review

573 of 717 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unfocused and embarrassment, September 22, 2011
This review is from: Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (Hardcover)
Will power is an interesting and important topic. A good authoritative book on the subject written for general audience is long overdue. So I eagerly waited to read this book. Unfortunately, this book is not it. It is a readable book but with no significant payoff to the reader.

In recent years, a new genre of books - academics and scientists writing for lay audience - has become very popular. Many such books (for example, Influence by Cialdini, Freakonomics by Steven Levitt, Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert) are surprisingly well written; others are well-meaning but plodding (for example, The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Positivity by Barbara Frederickson); but almost all of them are clearly focused on their subject.

Not so with this book.

If authors know what this book is about, they don't tell the readers. But, to be fair to the authors, it doesn't appear that they have a clue themselves.

What is Willpower? Well, the authors aren't sure. It could be decision making skill. The authors have the solution. Watch your glycemic index. Or it could be strategies to cope with things when you DON'T have self-control. Authors helpful suggestions include that if you are an alcoholic, don't be around people who drink. I could have never thought of that. Or...

How to increase your willpower? Well you cannot. But wait, if you are organized, then you will increase your willpower in other areas. Well not really. When something becomes a habit, it does not deplete your energy. So you have more willpower, even though you don't. Are you following all this? If not, let's take a detour here. Let's go on some completely irrelevant excursions into the Heart of Darkness, Eric Clapton's transformation and behavioral economics. And if you are still confused, here is another suggestion. Maybe you should become religious. The authors know of a study in which religious people are found to have more will power than those who don't. Good enough for us.

Are the authors bothered by contradictory findings? No, not a bit, not our intrepid authors. They have explanations for things that might baffle more enquiring minds. When you lack the willpower to resist the second temptation, it's because your ego is fatigued. When you do have the willpower to resist the second temptation, it's because your willpower is strengthened by your earlier resistance. If parole officers decide to be less lenient when their glucose level is low, that's because they don't have the willpower at all to decide (to be lenient). Deciding not to grant parole is the same as not deciding. Theoretical consistency and reality checks are no concern of the authors. Must be wonderful to find a fantasy niche in science where one's theories are unfalsifiable, no matter what reality says.

Is the book a summary of what researchers found thus far on willpower? Well maybe. But the authors did not find much worthwhile research done by anyone else except by one of the authors. Anything else that is mentioned just supports Baumeister's research. Bit players all.

Is the research reported solid? Yes of course, most of them are based on single studies on voluntary university students. Why bother replicating when you can stretch the implications of single studies to develop beautiful theories? Why consider the possibility of alternative explanations? Why consider testing anything in a more realistic or broader context?

This book lacks the theoretical rigor of books like Howard Rachlin's The Science of Self Control or the breeziness of books like Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational. This book (Willpower) is like a large meal that lacks taste and flavor. Come to think of it, nutrition as well.

Why two stars? I am a generous guy, that's why.

This book is an embarrassment to the genre created by the likes of Bob Cialdini, Dan Ariely, Steven Levitt and Dan Gilbert.
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Tracked by 13 customers

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Showing 11-20 of 126 posts in this discussion
Posted on Oct 8, 2011 9:33:22 AM PDT
Veleno says:
I am not an expert on the subject, but I am interested in it and I thought the book made a lot of sense. Whether the terminology used makes absolute perfect sense from a scientific standpoint, I don't know, but I know that it made sense to me and it provided me with explanations to problems I have faced and I can identify with 100%. In particular the problems with people trying to get organized (the David Allen and Drew Carey piece), or the Esther Dyson comments, or the issues faced by people trying to lose weight. I thought from that perspective, of a book that wants to explain things to laymen, this book was awesome and I would highly recommend it. Was it meandering at times? Perhaps. But I enjoyed most of it and some of it was quite entertaining.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 8, 2011 2:44:55 PM PDT
@ Veleno

Thank you for your comments.

Your points are 100% valid. If you read the book and you found that it helped you, so it did. I can't argue with your experience. People are helped by a variety of sources be it from a newspaper article, a slogan in a poster, the Bible, an encouraging statement from someone or from a book. Inspiration derived from any such source is valid for the person concerned. I'm glad that you found the book helpful.

Since I don't take issue with your review, you don't need to read any further. What is below is on why I wrote the review in the first place.

I was looking for an authoritative book written from a solid research perspective. The book was billed pretty much like what I was looking for - written by a "scientist" and was based on solid research. But when I read through the book I found it frustrating. It did not tell me what willpower was, so I know exactly what the authors were talking about. As another Amazon reviewer put it "Is willpower what is used to make decisions? Is it what makes really weird people do crazy things such as search in the jungles of Africa or stay in a block of ice for several days? Is it what some people term as self control? Is it or is it not what you need to diet, quit smoking, begin exercising, or avoid going to multiple websites while at work? You will be hard pressed to find a good answer in this book."

The book did not consider alternative explanations for research findings. As another Amazon reviewer Catherine (a psychologist herself) put it "The admonition to eat well in order to function optimally is hardly new and does not require justification via this theory about will power. Worse, I think it mixes apples and oranges with regard to literature cited about the effects of "low glucose". I know just enough to feel very uncomfortable with the presentation - I suspect it is seriously flawed. Just because the senior author is well established in his field (social psychology) does not automatically make him qualified to interpret the nutrition/brain chemistry side."

I have also wrote about other serious problems with the authors' exposition in my review.

In the last few years, psychology has a come long way to becoming a science with the works of people like Daniel Kahnemann, Amos Tversky, Gerd Gigerenzer, Hans and Michael Eysenck, Robert Cialdini, Dan Ariely and various others. They are all able to study how human mind works without hypothesizing vague and unprovable concepts like "ego energy depletion" (how's it different from being tired?). Do such pseudo-scientific concepts really help? If psychologists like Baumeister are considered "scientists", and if their papers are published in peer-reviewed journals, I'm afraid psychology is going backwards in time when it was considered nothing more than gobbledygook.

Posted on Oct 11, 2011 3:04:57 PM PDT
T Luke says:
Wow, after reading this review (and the resulting comments) I still want to read the book... but I never want to read a review or comment by any of you again.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 11, 2011 3:48:54 PM PDT
You think this is bad, go and read the comments on books about dealing with a spouse who has AD/HD. LOTS OF CAPS over there.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 11, 2011 6:30:26 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 12, 2011 4:35:30 PM PDT

I feel so reassured that this is not the worst discussion thread on Amazon:) Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 12, 2011 11:02:23 AM PDT
Marcia Davis says:
Brilliant! And much enjoyed (although I'm not entirely convinced that the tongue-in-cheek will be obvious to some readers). But thanks for a terrific reply.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 12, 2011 11:08:33 AM PDT
Marcia Davis says:
Another set of books to look at is anything on losing weight. I'm surprised small civil wars haven't sprung up around the country over the issue. Actually, they have -- but so far they're "civil" enough that they remain on paper. So far.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 12, 2011 4:32:51 PM PDT
@ Marcia

Tongue in cheek? Moi? Are you sure?

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 12, 2011 5:21:51 PM PDT
Marcia Davis says:
@ Chuch - Oui. Vous (I do hope that's the right way to say it).

Weellllll . . . I'm pretty sure.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 12, 2011 6:04:43 PM PDT

Can I get back to you on that? I know only one French word and I already used it up.