Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was a extremely disappointing book. From the blurb I was interested because how the human brain works is a interest of mine, both psychology and neurology sides of the coin, with a even bigger interest in how to make my own brain function better. So this seemed to be right up my alley. I was expecting/hoping for a book along the lines of other casual-science books such as Mind Wide Open by Steven Johnson, or Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. Both books I enjoyed and learned things from. This book was not added to the books I enjoyed list.
First annoyance started right at the beginning and continued off and on through the book. This was published in 1990 and it really does exemplify a mindset that seemed to have been common then (and now, really) that the world was sliding over the edge into disaster. Reading this book I get the feeling that everyone was either getting killed, mugged, their house burned down, or all at once. He does seem to be painting a picture of utter anarchy and crime -Everywhere!- that isn’t true now, and really wasn’t true then. I even double-checked the first statistics he presented in the book and found that he was either wrong, or lying. Which led me to not bother checking any of the others. Which was easy, because he gives like three actual pieces of data in the entire book.
Which leads right too the second major problem. This book was a lot more abstract and vague than I had been expected. He talks a lot about what he thinks or feels about things, but only rarely refers to anything scientific except the occasional single example from really flimsy sounding studies. So I never had any feeling that the author knew what the hell he was talking about.
One of my favorite non-fiction books is Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science by Martin Gardner. It is a wonderful exploration of some of the most out-there pseudoscience theories and scientists. In the introduction of that book he explains that, aside from the humor, his main goal for that book is to show people that pseudo-scientists have very similar patterns of thought and expression that are independent of whatever their theory is. So you don’t need to be a scientists or know much about science to be able to spot a crazy theory, you just have to look for certain patterns of behavior and reaction. I saw a lot of that in this book. The author of Flow may, or may not, have some science backing him up, and it is a subject I both enjoy and seem to agree with him about, but he writes exactly like a pseudo-scientist. Which makes it hard to take anything he says seriously, at least for me.
Not a book I’d recommend. I think it’s time for me to go back to reading ponies now that paid non-fiction has failed me. Huh. Wonder if you could write pony fanfic non-fiction. Guess not, since you’d have to make up all the details.