Flipnosis is an entertaining but academically grounded exploration of the science of persuasion, written by a Cambridge cognitive psychologist who was once a market trader. Kevin Dutton focuses on anecdote to involve the reader and to make his points memorable, but he also underpins it with enough referenced scientific experiments to provide substance to the more-than-casual reader. Ultimately, though, this is a book _about_ persuasion rather than a guidebook on how to persuade. Dutton's SPICE model (simplicity, perceived self interest, incongruity, confidence, empathy) is a useful tool for decoding split-second persuaders, and has a lot to teach people planning advertising and political campaigns, but, if you actually try to use a five-point model in real life, you are unlikely to be doing anything in a split-second.
I bought this book after hearing Kevin Dutton on Radio 4. He was interesting and persuasive, and a good advert for the book. As I didn't hear the whole broadcast, I was surprised to find that he was a Cambridge University academic, rather than just someone who likes talking about the gift of the gab. His engaging personality, though, comes through very well in this book, and most readers will find the accounts of psychology experiments as well as the DIY tests and exercises entertaining rather than draining. Naturally, the stories about the wiles of conmen have their own lure, but it is the substance rather than the style which is most compelling.
Essentially Dutton has condensed everything he has learned experimentally and through case work about persuasion to a five point model:
Simplicity -- persuasive ideas are simple (though not all simple ideas are persuasive...)
Perceived self-interest -- persuasive approaches involve an appeal to the benefit of the hearer
Incongruity -- this is the 'flip' bit of flipnosis, where something unexpected throws everything around
Confidence -- easily the most important quality for a confidence trickster, but also for any persuader
Empathy -- the ability to read someone else's emotions and to respond to them
What lifts this book above the ordinary run-of-the-mill self-help 'how to improve your powers of persuasion' is that Dutton then goes on to consider the moral implications of persuasion, and looks at the nature of psychopathy, its connection with persuasion, and also the borderline between psychopath and hero. Ultimately, Kevin Dutton is neither writing this book to make us all arch-persuaders, nor to warn us about their tricks, but rather to understand what persuasion is, how it works, and how this connects to the world of neuroscience.
I enjoyed this book, and I think most readers will -- provided that they are not coming to it looking for a series of tips on how to always win in the persuasion game. Although it gives some good material, this is not ultimately what the book is about, and there are other books which will do that more succinctly.