Skip to main content

Copycats and Contrarians - Michelle Baddeley **

I think what Michelle Baddeley is trying to do with this book (or more likely the publisher with its positioning)  is to recreate the success of Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, and it may have been possible with this topic - but this is certainly not the book to do it. Various recommendations describe this as a 'tremendous read' and tell us that Baddeley has 'terrific writing skills' - but I have to be a contrarian: I found Copycats and Contrarians almost unreadable.

The concept is simple - that there are two significant behaviours: going along with the herd and standing out and being different. Each has advantages in different circumstances, though it can be difficult to know if following the herd, for example, is a good or bad thing in a particular circumstance. And, Baddeley suggests (contrary to David Sumpter in Outnumbered), our social media bubbles turn us too much to herd behaviour and keep out the contrarians who could change things for the better.

All this sounds very interesting, and I think it could have been. However, there are three significant problems with the book. The first is that it sometimes feels more like a business book, with their typical approach of having a few points made over and over again, than it does a science book. Secondly it's very weak on narrative. When Baddeley does built in some kind of story - for example, describing a specific experiment - things pick up. But all too often what we get is just a collection of facts, theories and opinions. And, finally, what science there is tends not to be given enough of a detailed treatment. There is relatively little content with a proper scientific basis (even Freud gets a look in without real criticism) and where studies are mentioned there is nothing about, for example, whether the sample size is big enough to draw any significant conclusions.

I came away from the book with very little insight beyond the second paragraph above. It just didn't work for me.

Hardback:  

Kindle:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The World According to Physics - Jim Al-Khalili *****

There is a temptation on seeing this book to think it's another one of those physics titles that is thin on content, so they put it in an odd format small hardback and hope to win over those who don't usually buy science books. But that couldn't be further from the truth. In Jim Al-Khalili's The World According to Physics, we've got the best beginners' overview of what physics is all about that I've ever had the pleasure to read.

The language is straightforward and approachable. Rather than take the more common historical approach that builds up physics the way it was discovered, Al-Khalili starts with the 'three pillars' of physics: relativity, quantum theory and thermodynamics. In simple language with never an equation nor even a diagram in sight, the book lays out what physics is all about, what it has achieved and what it still needs to do.

That bit about no diagrams is an important indicator of how approachable the text is. Personally, I'm no…

Jim Al-Khalili - Four Way Interview

Jim Al-Khalili hosts The Life Scientific on BBC Radio 4 and has presented numerous BBC television documentaries. He is Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey, a New York Times bestselling author, and a fellow of the Royal Society. He is the author of numerous books, including Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed; The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance; and Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology. The paperback of his novel Sunfall is published in March 2020 by Transworld. His latest book is The World According to Physics.


Why physics?

I fell in love with physics when I was 13 or 14, when I realised not only that I was pretty good at it at school – basically common sense and puzzle solving – but because it was the subject that answered the big questions I had started contemplating, like whether the stars in the night sky went on for ever, what they were ma…

Outbreaks and Epidemics - Meera Senthilingam ****

This book was written before the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, though it has been updated to include it: it's certainly not any kind of attempt to cash in, but rather a sober reflection on how outbreaks and epidemics work, what process the world has in place to deal with them and how a changing, globalised world has magnified risk.

If I'm honest, I'm not a great fan of medical books, but Meera Senthilingam gives an important introduction to disease outbreaks and epidemics, giving enough detail to make sense of them without ever being too technical for the general reader. This is careful journalism, which can sometimes come across as rather dry, but that's not necessarily a bad thing given the topic.

The book starts by plunging us into the beginnings of the 2003 SARS epidemic, then brings in COVID-19 (as of, by the look of it, around the start of March 2020) and measles before plunging back to smallpox and the origins of vaccination. There is a strong section on disea…