Saturday, June 27, 2015

The rise of "talking point" books

"When it comes to high-calibre non-fiction, risk-averse trade publishing houses are producing too many copycat ‘smart thinking’ books that promise more than they deliver… Where 15 or 20 years ago the big trade publishers were, oddly, swamping the market with sort-of-scholarly micro-histories of salt or longitude, they now seem, with exceptions of course, to be tiptoeing away from specific, knotty, deeply researched and nuanced books about things. The sorts of book on which they tend now to rely are investigations of “big ideas”. Their lodestars or exemplars are the Malcolm Gladwells and Daniel Kahnemans and Nicholas Carrs. I do not mean to denigrate those individual authors, rather to say that they produce a particular type of work."
I partially agree with the analysis. The article doesn't mention the works of Seth Godin, but the business book genre is in particular is filled with nonfiction books that are little more than glorified PowerPoint presentations. 

I do also read the "talking point" books, for what it's worth. Whenever possible, I try to get the audio version, as this is the type of book that is easy to listen to while driving or working out. (Right now, as chance would have it, I've got one of these "talking point" books in my iPod: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.)

While I concur with the objective assessment of the Guardian article, I don't necessarily see the situation overall as a crisis. When I visit Amazon, I'm still able to find plenty of new doorstop-sized history texts that provide an in-depth assessment of German military strategy during WWI, or the evolution of global currency wars since the 1700s. 

I usually glean at least a few valuable insights from the "talking point" books. (Otherwise, I wouldn't read them at all.) I just remind myself going in that these books are going to consist of a few key ideas wrapped within a lot of fluff.

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