Best-Seller Blues

Do you ever worry that you’re basing your life decisions on bestseller books?

I’m talking about new, fresh off the presses books where the authors are still alive and doing press junkets on Regis and Kelly. The ones that sitcoms always warned you about following. I know it seems like everyone’s chasing their guru of the week, but lately there have been a lot of good gurus to read. You have Levitt and Dubner telling us why swimming pools are more dangerous in your home than handguns. Malcolm Gladwell says that success in the NHL can be attributed to something as random as a January birth date. Seth Godin has us looking at that resume and wondering if it’s even worth the paper it’s printed on when it comes to landing a job.

Right now I’m reading Nicholas Taleb’s book, “Black Swan”, which talks about the nature of improbable events and that lack of knowledge is just as important as knowledge itself. I’m sure my mind is going to be blown and I’m yet again going to take a hard look at how I make my decisions in life. What does that mean? Why am I willing to make choices based on something that millions have already read? If the ideas in these books are so good, the world should have already changed based on what we’ve learned. Traditional commercial advertising should be dead and buried already. We should know that easy access to birth control methods results in less crime. We should have a comprehensive energy conservation plan already. Yet we don’t. If most of the world can’t do anything with same knowledge that I’m getting from the exact same book they are reading, what chance do I have of doing anything different?

The problem with that world view is that it assumes that everyone has read the same bestseller I have. Most people don’t have the time to read them. The fact that these books are bestsellers has nothing to do with how the knowledge inside them could be used. Reading them is easy, but implementing the ideas in real life is something else entirely. Besides, we’re still in love with the idea that success is something magical, ordained by prophecies and other mumbo-jumbo. No one will laugh if you tell them that the key to your success was found in your local library. Unfortunately, no one will believe you, either. Your confession will end up as one of those quotations,  passed off as one of those trite particles of dime-store wisdom drilled into the heads of school children. It might even be used as a chapter heading in your biography, which by that time will be a bonafide best-seller.

2 thoughts on “Best-Seller Blues

  1. Sara

    “The knowledge of the world is only to be gained in the world, not in a closet. Books alone will never teach it to you; but they will help suggest many things to your observation which might otherwise escape you.” – Lord Chesterfield

    No, books alone are not the sole cause of action, but they can often be one of the many catalysts that create action. I have a hard time believing the writings of Socrates, Plato, Thomas Paine, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Locke, Adam Smith, J.S. Mill, J.M. Keynes, etc. did not influence political and economic changes in history.

    I also think fear of true reflection plays into several best-sellers not being widely adopted. To think that you are doing something wrong in your life that needs to be fixed can be very uncomfortable for a lot of people. Therefore, we search for individualized quick fixes that give a lot of platitudes, instead of truly thinking about how we can change ourselves. I don’t mean to be overly critical, as I’ve sometimes fallen victim to this as well. I’ve tried to change this by reading a variety of opposing opinions on a topic (for example, education) and not just sticking to a philosophy that I’m initially attracted to.

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