Top critical review
98 people found this helpful
Tried hard to like it
on 28 December 2011
2/6/2012 I started listening to the audio version while driving, and my overall conclusion is this: Dr Peters's has a lot of experience in dealing with sports people and prison inmates; what they tend to have in common is youth and elevated testosterone and, arguably, a preference for action over thought. This is a book, presented in simple terms, which focuses on subduing your unhelpful instincts with reason, and so might be a lot of use to people falling into those rough categories. Had Dr Peters worked with geriatric vole-fanciers, he'd probably have written a very different book. So for me, (though not a geriatric vole-fancier), it's not very useful. For you it may be. Have a look at a few of the preview pages and that will probably help you more than any review in making your decision.
18/2/2012 I have decided to re-write this review completely but leave my original review and the update in place.
I wrote the very first review of this book on the Amazon site, having pre-ordered the book before publication and not knowing what to expect. Enough time has passed that I can see this book in context, which I was unable to do before. It is, as it claims to be, a mind management model. The real strength of this system, as I see it, is in real-time emotional management; when an unwanted emotion comes up, you have the opportunity to regard it at the time as an invitation which can be refused, rather than a command which must be obeyed. Most other systems require you to deal with your emotions after the fact.
I would agree with the other reviewers that Dr Peters has done an excellent job in cramming various aspects of human experience and brain functioning into his chimp model. Having read the book once in a few hours and got nothing from it, I have gone over it again with a pen in my hand and did better.
One of the main difficulties for me is in his choice of metaphors. He has taken a chimpanzee to represent our instinctual/emotional side, and a human to represent our rational side, then he turns to mythology to use gremlins for emotional patterns that can be shifted, and goblins for emotional patterns that are apparently immovable. He swings over to astronomy to represent various areas of life as planets, with moons around them to stabilise them, and then perhaps to religion with the Stone of Life (a kind of Ten Commandments containing our values and beliefs), and then to technology and information systems with an Autopilot and a Computer.
For me this is horribly confusing and slows everything down much more than if he'd just stated everything literally. I don't really have any argument with the content, just the presentation of it. Clearly, for other people this may not be an issue at all. Have a look at the sample pages and decide for yourself.
I have also purchased the audio version of the book (even though I dislike Audible and their restricted book formats) and actually find that easier going, and would give it 4 stars. Dr Peters has a good voice and having him reading it makes it impossible to skim over the bits where my eyes would glaze over from reading the words Chimp and Human over and over again.
I would suggest that it's also worth a look at 'Maximum Willpower' by Kelly McGonnigal, which is actually largely to do with the care and feeding of the Human, or else 'Willpower' by Roy Baumeister, who did much of the original research in examining willpower: when we are tired or hungry or otherwise out of balance our rational side tends to disappear.
I have to say I was disappointed by this book. People like Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Dave Brailsford of the extremely successful British cycling team rate the author very highly and the first two go so far as to say that they wouldn't have won their gold medals without him. Brailsford even calls him a genius.
Well and good; however, the book itself is a model of the human condition. A highly qualified psychiatrist takes various aspects of neurology and translates them into a simplified model of human existence, stating that we have a human, chimp and computer inside us, the chimp corresponding to the emotional part of us which is geared towards self-preservation, the human being the rational part, and the computer corresponding to memory and what he calls autopilot. Our problem is to manage the chimp as we cannot defeat it. This is conflated with analogies of planets and moons (have a look at the chapter headings). In a nutshell: we must use reason to outsmart and control passion, in order to achieve our aims and make life bearable.
As I read the over 300 pages, I kept waiting for the punchline, the flash of insight that would make this all fall into place. What I finally realised was that it is just a model with a few simple recommendations as to how to do this. Perhaps with individual attention from the author this translates into an incisive analysis for elite sportspeople which enables them to perform at their very best and control their demons; for me it became irritating having to keep all the stuff about chimps and moons in my head, without being particularly useful. I don't have an inner chimp which is separate from my 'human'. I have emotions and a rational side, and there are strong connections between them (cerebral cortex and limbic system) in the brain. Emotions can be very well managed with techniques like EFT and PSTEC for those who have the determination to do so, and I would recommend either of those techniques over any solutions mentioned in the book, given the choice.
A much more practical guide for most people would be '10 Minute Toughness' by Jason Selk. I've just seen that he's written another book called 'Executive Toughness' for business people and general use rather than sportspeople; no doubt the principles are the same and it's probably well worth reading.
In short, if you've never done any self-development whatsoever, The Chimp Paradox might conceivably be useful, and others might get more out of this book than I did. I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt and have awarded it a massive 3 stars, although my disappointed inner chimp would like to give it 1 star. Oops, there I go, maybe I do have an inner chimp after all! And if you're fond of chimps, and seeing the word chimp several times on every chimping page might excite your very own inner chimp, then take your chimp money and buy this chimp book immediately. You'll be chimpingly glad you did.
UPDATE 28/1/2012 I was so annoyed with this book that I left it at a relative's, and then brought it back again a few weeks ago, as I was trying to understand how I got so little out of it. Seeing a comment on my review last night, I came back to this page to find that 5-star reviews had sprung up around it like a troop of baby chimps, some of them written by very big and successful baboons indeed.
This morning, I took another look at the book and realised that perhaps I'd read it too quickly. I had been expecting some explicit techniques and that is not really what the book is about. It is more a set of principles to be applied across a vast swathe of areas of life. One of them jumped out at me, which was about doing your best rather than trying to win. In other words, 'control the controllables', the things you can control, which is a mantra of sports psychology and a useful principle in life in general. The problem for me is that, although Peters has created this parallel chimpiverse in order to simplify human existence into manageable form, I need to translate it back into terms which mean something to me in order to make it useable. Your experience may be different.
A slightly wicked part of me suspected that this book was produced just before the 2012 Olympics in order to mislead foreign cycling teams into passing around bananas and picking fleas off each other in a mistaken attempt to improve their performances. Having said that, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the chimp metaphor had spread like wildfire throughout the cycling world, what with hooting chimp bike horns, furry chimp toestraps and banana-shaped bicycle pumps.
Anyway, I'm going to keep this book at 3 stars, not because of the content, which presumably works, but because of the presentation, which makes reading it a bit like wading through a book in a foreign language which I don't understand very well. As a handbook and clarification for people who have already had the system presented to them and have adopted it wholesale, no doubt it's excellent (possibly the real reason for the publication date). I've decided to try to read it again and see if I can get any more out of it, which is only fair. I would, however, be interested to know whether others have shared my confusion and had the occasional desire to hurl it at the wall.
The new Jason Selk book is indeed superb for the general public, incidentally, and to that I would add The Winners Bible by Kerry Spackman.