Top positive review
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A Janus-faced text, with very different halves
on January 5, 2017
Two halves coexist within this book’s covers. One is outstanding; the other is a bit sloppy. Part one is the heart of the book; it explains what habits are about, where they come from, how they’re hard-wired into our brains, and how they can be enormously powerful —both to enslave us and to free us if we only we learn how to handle them well (the book’s mission). I found this part of the book to be truly outstanding: well-researched, engagingly written and extremely persuasive. It combines scientific research, personal life-stories and journalistic interviews to great effect.
While the 1st part is circumscribed to the individual level of analysis, on parts 2 and 3 the author takes the analysis from the micro to organizations (meso-level) and societies (macro-level). The author describes “the power of weak ties” of social networks, and claims that it helps understand the rise of social movements —which it clearly does. But in his explanation, networks are rebranded as “the habit of peer pressure”. Networks —as well as peer pressure, or culture— can be powerful forces for change, undoubtedly. But networks are not habits —as per his own definition. Different phenomena are conflated into the concept of habits, and in doing so the concept loses elegance and consistency.
Intellectually, the book is revealing. On a personal level, it is incredibly useful —and I’m thankful to the author for writing it. I would have limited the book claims to the phenomena it can explain beyond any reasonable doubt. By taking the concept of habits beyond what it can solidly explain, parts 2 & 3 detract a bit of value and credibility from the book. Were it not for that, I would have given 5 stars to the book. In balance, this is still a great book that --with the caveat expressed-- I strongly recommend.