Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
I like Patricia Marx’s work. For one thing, she takes the journalist concept of “first person witnessing” to extremes, in very interesting ways. I loved her “Outsource yourself : the online way to delegate your chores” and her experiments with “emotional support animals” were delightfully mischievous. I like her work not just because it is a light hearted slice of life, but also because we learn stuff. Anthropologists and psychologists used to do this kind of thing, back when we funded social science research.
This latest book is an exploration of the “brain training” industry, which, she reports, does billions of dollars of annual sales. Basically, she tried out a whole bunch of the thousands of recipes for improving intelligence, mental functioning, and what not. This book is her humorous report on what she did and what she learned learned.
She includes faux quizzes (which are irritating after the first one), lots of drawings (too small for me to read), one truly terrifying photograph, and a lot of fancy words. The result is a gentle, but devastating critique of the whole heavily marketed industry, as well as some of the “science”.
My background in academic psychology precludes me from taking this IQ nonsense seriously, let alone claims about magic, ten-minute mental workouts that boost your brain power. It’s mostly rubbish. Best case, the science is oversold. Worst case, it’s faith-based junk science or flat out quackery.
While this book is readable (hey, it’s short!), it isn’t her best work, in my view. I liked Starting From Happy (2011) better, and her outsourcing piece was not only hilarious, it drew my own attention to an important front in the “new way of work”.
- Patricia Marx, Let’s Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties, New York, Twelve, 2015.
Sunday Book Reviews