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Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion – Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini ****
This is a rarity I’ve only seen once before (Your Money and Your Brain) – a business/popular science crossover. It contains fifty examples of ways to persuade
your customers, co-workers or others to change their behaviour, but instead of being a typical business book, driven from experience, this is driven from experiment.
It starts with the classic example of the use of our need to conform to what others do, looking at the little sign in a hotel that requests you re-use towels to save the environment. The sign is changed to say that most guests re-use towels to save the environment, resulting in significantly more re-use. The book goes on to catalogue the many ways that we can influence others, often with very subtle changes of approach. The way, for instance that adding ‘even a penny will help’ will increase giving to charity – recognizing that we don’t like to make large commitments, and that once we’ve overcome reluctance to act at all, we will go significantly further than you might expect. (It’s just a shame this message isn’t properly understood by those charities who say ‘just give £2′ but then consistently pester you for more to the extent you never give to them again don’t have the same idea.)
There are two reasons that the book doesn’t make a full five stars. Firstly, the examples rather tail off. You get the ideas they set out to have 50 secrets first, then tried to fill the slots. They didn’t have enough great material, so padded it with ‘persuasionish’ stuff – so some of the ‘secrets’ feel a little flimsy. The other issue is that this is a business book that does science, rather than a science book covering business. There is rarely enough detail of the studies to know about how they really worked, and it’s rarely stated (for instance) how large the study was, or whether it was duplicated, which may mean that a fair number of the results lack true scientific validity.
However, these are relatively small issues in a book that manages to combine some very practical and effective lessons for business with some real insights into how people behave. If the writers were setting out to persuade me they knew their stuff and really could make a difference, they’ve succeeded.
The Cold War period saw dramatic developments in science and technology, coinciding with the flourishing of the science fiction genre. In Rockets and Rayguns, Andrew May draws on the parallels between reality and fiction, each influencing the other.
Inevitably a major Cold War theme was the threat of nuclear war, and May opens with the bomb. It's fascinating that fiction got there first - nuclear weapons were featured in science fiction when many physicists were still doubting the practicality of using nuclear energy. Of course, it's a lot easier to simply take a concept and dream up a weapon than it is to make it for real - for example, H. G. Wells' prophetic nuclear bombs from his 1914 The World Set Free were nothing like the real thing. And some science fiction devices concepts - notably ray guns and force fields - came to very little in reality. However this doesn't prevent the parallels being of interest.
May gives us a mix of the science - describing how nuclear we…
Near the beginning of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, he refers to a ‘Tuscan artist’ viewing the Moon through an optic glass. He’s talking about Galileo – one of history’s greatest scientists, but not the most obvious person to slap an ‘artist’ label on. Yet Galileo lived at a time – the Renaissance – when it was fashionable to dabble impartially in both the arts and sciences. Look up ‘Renaissance man’ on Wikipedia and you’ll see Galileo’s picture right there underneath Leonardo da Vinci’s. It’s a less well-known side to his life, but it crops up again and again – interspersed among his many scientific achievements – in this excellent new biography by Pietro Greco.
If you’re looking for interesting trivia, you’ll find plenty in this book. Galileo’s father was a musician with scientific leanings, who carried out some of the first experiments on musical acoustics – which Galileo may have assisted with. As a young professor of mathematics, Galileo delivered a couple of lectures on …
I’m going to start this review with a longish quote from the author’s preface, for several reasons. It explains De Rújula’s purpose in writing the book, as well as the audience he’s trying to reach, while giving a taste of his idiosyncratic writing style (which he keeps up throughout the book). It’s also a good starting point for discussing the book’s strengths and weaknesses. Here’s the quote:
'This book is not intended for (very) young kids nor for physicists. It is intended for anyone – independently of the education (s)he suffered – who is interested in our basic current scientific understanding of the universe. By "universe" I mean everything observable from the largest object, the universe itself, to the smallest ones, the elementary particles that "function" as if they had no smaller parts. This is one more of many books on the subject. Why write yet another one? Because the attempts to understand our universe are indeed fun and I cannot resist the tempta…