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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars MY GRANNY TOLD ME THAT, 14 April 2012
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This review is from: Willpower: Rediscovering Our Greatest Strength (Hardcover)
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I felt let down by this book. It was marketed as a scientifically rigorous examination of an important part of our make-up. Instead, it comes across as firmly in the pop science/self help genre, complete with chirpy style and second hand anecdotes (Eliot Spitzer, H.M. Stanley, Oprah). Many people enjoy and even benefit from such books; but it does well to know what one is buying into.

Baumeister and Tierney argue that will power - the definition is vague but we know it when we see it, or perhaps more relevantly, when we fail to exercise it - is like a muscle. It depletes through over use and it may be strengthened through exercise. Within any depletion cycle, it is zero sum: if one uses it up being too effective at work, then one is more likely to be nasty to one's spouse or to take that second scoop of ice-cream after dinner.

There is a catalogue of things that enhance will-power: being Asian American (some evidence for genetics but mainly cultural), being part of a religious organization, being tidy and having good posture, being monitored, committing oneself publicly to a goal, keeping up one's blood sugar level etc. There is also a list of things that erode will power: sparing the rod (or its PC equivalent), alcohol, being hungry, PMS, being stressed or tired etc. In fact, just the things that Grandma told us about.

The authors draw on scientific evidence to back up Granny. There is relatively little discussion of genes and just a bit more on data drawn from brain scans. Most comes from the type of experiment in which a group of student volunteers is sealed in a room with a bowl of M & Ms, shown a depressing Continental movie and asked to stick their hands in ice-water or squeeze a handgrip. Not much chance of cloning a sheep or finding the Higgs Boson here. I often think that there is more to be learned about human psychology in reading the 37 plays of Shakespeare than in the entire library of the Psych faculty.

Towards the end of the book, the authors provide some suggestions as to how to improve one's exercise of willpower- pretty thin soup compared to the shelves of self-help books to be found in airport bookstores.

I was annoyed at myself for finishing the book rather than spending the time more fruitfully, but somehow I just couldn't get around to abandoning it.
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Initial post: 16 Aug 2012 18:23:05 BDT
Thanks a lot for the good and thoroughly review. This along with another review made my mind about this book clear.

Now just a little extra...
It should by now be clear that Shakespear really was sir Francis Bacon although the academical discussion still lives.
That actually makes your statement about the comparision regarding the 37 Shakespear readings and a psych library the more realistic in as sir Francis Bacon was the Imperator of the Rosecruzian Order which held human development high.
So, whadda ya know! :-)
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