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People Will Talk: The Surprising Science of Reputation [Hardcover]

John Whitfield


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Book Description

30 Nov 2011
How to get a good reputation—deserved or not!—and why we care what other people think Why does a fish only bite another fish if no one else is watching? Why do people overshare online? Why do some people meet trivial insults with extreme violence? Why do so many gods have multiple eyes? In People Will Talk , science writer John Whitfield shows how reputation helps answer all of these questions, and more. What is the secret to getting get a good reputation? Unfortunately, there′s more to reputation than being a good person or being good at what you do. Your reputation belongs to other people, and it′s created by what they say about you behind your back. You have a good reputation only if you have a strong social network—a large and close–knit network of friends, family, and allies—to spread good news about you and shout down ugly rumors. If you’ve ever wondered why we care about the lives of celebrities, why young men publicly upload to the Internet pictures of themselves engaged in drunken or dangerous antics, how to make the “honor system” a little more widely honored, how to keep politicians honest, or what keeps gossip going, reputation will give you a clue. Almost from the moment we are born, we are trying to work out whom we can trust and trying to make others think the best of us. We carry on doing so throughout life, even when we don′t realize it, every time we meet another person in business, friendship, or romance; every time we read celebrity gossip; and every time we tweak our Facebook profiles. Whether you’re buying a car or selling one, looking for a job or hiring, asking someone out on a date or deciding whether to accept the invitation, reputation matters. Read People Will Talk and discover how to polish your own reputation, understand what you hear about others, and make the most of both.

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From the Inside Flap

"In a global world made smaller only by social interaction andnetworking, no company or individual can afford to ignore theirreputation. People Will Talk merges the science and art of this increasingly complex and critical field. Properly applied, Whitfield provides a clear prescription for building trust, credibility, and integrity."—Jeffrey M. StibelChairman and CEO, Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. and author of Wired for Thought "In People Will Talk, John Whitfield pulls off a remarkablefeat of balancing nature and nurture, animal biology and humanbehavior to explore the universal goal of creating—and maintaining—an admirable reputation. The result is a book both wonderfully readable and pragmatically useful, an artful illumination of the ways that we can manage both our public and private personas to best effect."—Deborah Blumauthor of The Poisoner′s Handbook: Murder and theBirth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York praise for In the Beat of a Heart A Library Journal Best Sci–Tech Book of the Year "Vividly readable. Whitfield′s lively account focuses on thepower of a beguilingly simple idea about how the living worldmight work, and on the remarkable men who conceived it."—Nature "Balanced yet provocative, witty but never flippant, clearwithout being simplistic, and far– but never over–reaching."—Philip Ball author of Critical Mass and The Music Instinct

From the Back Cover

Why do people overshare online? Why does a fish bite anotherfish only if no one else is watching? Why do some people meet trivialinsults with extreme violence? Why do so many godshave multiple eyes? In People Will Talk, science writer John Whitfield shows how the idea of reputation helps answer all of these questions and more. Almost from the moment we are born, we are trying to work out whom we can trust and trying to make others think the best of us. We carry on doing so throughout life, even when we don′t realize it, every time we meet another person in business, friendship, or romance; every time we read celebrity gossip; and every time we tweak our Facebook profiles. Reputation has left its mark on our bodies, brains, and even, you might say, souls. Whether you′re buying a car or selling one, looking for a job or hiring, asking someone out on a date or deciding whether to accept the invitation, reputation matters. What is the secret to getting a good reputation? Unfortunately, there′s more to reputation than being a good person or being good at what you do. Your reputation belongs to other people, and it′s created by what they say about you behind your back. So you have a good reputation only if you have a strong social network—a large and close–knit network of friends, family, and allies—to spread good news about you and shout down ugly rumors.?? Besides being a crucial component of individual success, whether a society flourishes or rots depends on how it uses reputation. Whether they′re in Machiavelli′s Italy, a California college sorority, New York′s drug culture, or the online world of The Sims, people′s concerns for their reputation can either push them toward altruism and cooperation or make them turn to deceit and brutality. If you′ve ever wondered why we care about the lives of celebrities, why young men publicize their drunken or dangerous antics on the Internet, how to make the "honor system" a little more widely honored, how to keep politicians honest, or what keeps gossip going, reputation will give you a clue. Read People Will Talk and discover how to polish your own reputation and understand what you hear about others and make the most of both.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars People should be talking about this book 15 Aug 2012
By Lawrence - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a good book; a really good book (I'm giving it 4 stars only because I'm reserving 5 stars rating for a book that blows my mind).

This is not a "one idea" book (so many books nowadays have a catchy title but their content can be summarised in two pages). This is a substantive work that delivers on its promises. This book discusses the many facets of reputation a layer at a time, backing each point (which are insightful, surprising and some counterintuitive) with scientific research.

If you ever wonder why people provide reviews on Amazon, you should read this book (and if you don't provide reviews, you are freeloading!). If you want to know about the strengths and weaknesses of online reputation, you should read this book. If you think you own your reputation, you should definitely read this book!

The book left me hanging for more on how these ideas can be applied; especially regarding the use of reputations to regulate politicians and bankers. The book only tantalisingly scratched the surfaces in this regard. I'm also very intrigued to learn more about the effects of rumours. However, these are minor gripes (if the author is reading this, something for your next book perhaps?).

Finally, if you have read this far why not rate this review or drop a comment? I would love to know what others think (your rating and comments will help me write better reviews. If everyone pitches in for the social good then everyone benefits; an area that's explored in details in the book).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reputation, reputation, reputation 19 Mar 2013
By Tim Tyler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a science book all about the topic of reputation. Reputations are an important reason why humans cooperate. They lubricate reciprocal interactions by allowing creatures to consider a long history of an actor's behaviour towards others before dealing with them. Reputations are largely a product of sophisticated communication mechanisms and so represent something which humans have that most other animals lack.

I've been interested in the science of reputations for a while. In 2009, I made a video titled "universal karma" - which proposed we make more use of reputation systems, to better keep organizations in check, and for many other purposes.

This book is a popular science book covering what scientists know about reputation. The book is brilliant. It's well written, about a very important topic, and covers a good balance of subject areas. The author is evidently very smart, which always helps. Most of the book is devoted to explaining the science, but there are occasional sections about how to use the discoveries to improve the world.

The main message of the sections about how to change the world is that anonymity results in bad behaviour, while traceable identities and surveillance tend to make people behave well.

The book met or exceeded my expectations in practically every area. However, there were a few things I would have like to seen included that were omitted. I was expecting coverage of religious folklore oriented towards reputations. For example, the Hindu concept of Karma, or the idea that as you reap so you will sow. I also would have liked to see a bit of a historical perspective, showing the rise of reputation systems over time. The book does have a chapter about the internet era, and it's a pretty good one. I still wanted more though. Technology improves memory storage and facilitates surveillance - it has a powerful effect on the effectiveness of reputation systems.

The part of the book I was most irritated by was the section at the very end about global warming. The author is trying to find ways to apply reputations to big global problems, but I rate global warming as an awful choice of problem - it is a bad cause which already attracts far too much attention - without people trying to add further weight to it. Fortunately this section was short.

Overall, this book is pretty sweet. There aren't many science books on reputations and this is an excellent one - I recommend reading it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great overview 26 Oct 2012
By Allan Dafoe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For those interested in the science of reputation, I highly recommend this book as providing a light, but thoughtful survey of the research and findings.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read for anyone who wants to understand the power of reputation 16 Oct 2013
By kpgarrod - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
John Whitfield makes complex concepts easy to understand. With the most entertaining examples from mother nature, this book will change the way you see the world. I highly recommend this book.
4.0 out of 5 stars great insights and gems of wisdom 6 Nov 2012
By Prof_ST - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
We all have a reputation and most of us worry about what it is and how we get it and whether we can use it to our advantage. Certainly we use what we know about others' reputations to decide whether or not to do business with them and whether to trust someone on a personal level before we commit ourselves too far. Just think of all the reviews of food, travel, equipment, hotels, film and even books! They are all going to the establishment of a reputation for others to use.
Whitfield used to write for Nature. This book about reputation is his second. He holds a Ph.D. and reviews the scientific literature about reputation in a thorough but helpful fashion so that we can understand how we gain our own reputation (not always what we deserve) and how we lose it and how we use it. Fascinating, detailed and informative. It is a great read and has some great insights and gems of wisdom.
It helps me to understand how politicians, religious groups, Facebook and the Internet work and why faceless bankers and bureaucrats are so difficult to control.
This is definitely well worth the concentrated effort you will need to get the most out of the book, but then most books require some concentration if they are of any value at all. I put this high on my list of must reads. When you finish you will be a lot wiser and a lot more chary about how to behave with friends and strangers alike.
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