on 1 March 2013
I have read and enjoyed Allan and Barbara Pease's other bestsellers Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps and Why Men Lie and Women Cry: How to Get What You Want Out of Life by Asking and therefore was really looking forward to reading this book. It was quite a disappointment. Half of the body language described seems perfectly obvious to me. Some of the explanations were useful, but others were dubious or downright mistaken.
It didn't start well when on page 7 the caption under Schwarzenegger showing the thumb up explained that it meant five in Japan, which is utterly false. I can forgive one mistake, but not dozens, and the book is filled with them. Here are other examples.
On p. 18-19, the authors say that shaking the head from side to side to indicate 'no' is universal. Are they forgetting that in India it means 'yes' ? Over one billion people is not a minor exception.
On p. 20, under the title Universal Gestures, the first example is the shoulder shrug to show that a person doesn't know or doesn't understand. In France it means that the person doesn't care or that it can't be helped. Perhaps their meaning of universal is not the one universally understood by English speakers ?
On p. 109-110, they say that figures E and F are insults in Japan, and figure L means 5 in Japan and 1 in (continental) Europe. None of that is true.
On the next page, under 'Why We are All Becoming American', they say that the middle finger raised is originally an American insult that became adopted in other countries because of American TV and movies. It actually originated in Ancient Greece and Rome and has been used in many European countries (especially Mediterranean ones) for a very long time. The authors claim that the American Ring gesture to mean OK is now recognised in many countries due to American influence. It may be recognised, but is hardly ever used in most of Europe and Asia, where it often has a different meaning. They carry on with the words for toilet becoming Americanised, but what does this have to do with body language ? It is also a fallacy, since most speakers of English today are non-native speakers, and Europeans are far more likely to use the word 'toilet' than 'bathroom' because the word 'toilet' exists in most European languages.
On p.114, they claim that the French greet each others with a double kiss and the Belgians with a triple kiss. The truth is that the number varies from one to five in France, depending on the region and generation. In Belgium it is only once among French speakers, and usually none among Dutch speakers like in Britain.
On p.119, they explain that the American OK sign means zero in France and money in Japan, but they are not done the same way and therefore cannot be misunderstood easily. The OK sign is done with the three other fingers open (pointing up). The French zero is done with the middle to little fingers closed, aligned on the index finger. The Japanese zero is done with the hand placed horizontally, open fingers pointing sideways, and the palm pointing towards the body.
On p. 171, we read that the Japanese are the only ones that don't 'eyebrow flash'. Again it's not true. That's an East Asian thing.
After the ignorance of other cultures come the scientific errors. On p. 171, the authors say that, contrarily to humans, "apes lack eye-whites, which means that their prey don't know where the ape is looking or whether they have been spotted, giving the ape a greater chance of hunting success." Really ? It's a surprising theory to say the least, since all apes aside from humans, and all monkeys are vegetarian.
I also wonder what they mean when on p.192 they write "by animals, birds, fish and primates". Animals sound redundant here.
In the section of personal space (p.193), they explain that lions have a territorial space of 30 miles or more, but that lions raised in captivity have a personal space of only several yards. They confuse personal space (safe distance between two individuals, even of the same family) and the lion's hunting territory, which isn't personal but used by all the lionesses (as it is the females that hunt) belong to the same clan. They make the same confusion afterwards by mentioning countries, cities and other non-personal boundaries. It's sounds highly unscientific and unprofessional on the authors' part to make such a simplification on a book about body language.
I wasn't happier to read on the next page that they were going to compare the personal space radius in (and I quote) "Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, North America, Northern Europe, Scandinavia, Canada or anywhere a culture is 'Westernised' such as Singapore, Guam or Iceland". Wow ! What's the point of saying Great Britain and Scandinavia is they say Northern Europe ? Why say North America and Canada ? But much worse, why on earth would they consider that Iceland is not part of Scandinavia and believe it is not a Western country but a Westernised one like Singapore ? Do they have any idea of how uneducated that sounds ? On p.202 they insist again on saying "Northern Europeans and Scandinavians" as if Scandinavians weren't Northern Europeans. It might be useful for them to look at a world map some time.
On p.199, trying to justify that people become more aggressive when their personal space is invaded, the authors claim that "areas that have the highest human population density also have the highest crime and violence rates". This is another factual mistake. Countries with very high population densities like Japan, the Netherlands, England, or even India, tend to be more peaceful and have lower crime rates than sparsely populated countries like most of Africa or South America, or even the USA.
On p.268, Mr and Mrs Pease claim that "Twice as many women smoke as men". This is completely wrong. The WHO data shows that in average, worldwide, smoking is five times as prevalent among men than women. There is hardly any country where women smoke more than men, and in some Muslim countries the percentage of smoking men is one hundred times higher than for women (for example in Morocco and Algeria).
After the factual mistakes come the dubious theories. On p.260-1, we read that one of the most common forms of mirroring is yawning, and that "It was one thought that the purpose of yawning was to oxygenate the body but we now know that it's a form of mirroring that serves to create a rapport with others and to avoid aggression". The problem with this theory is that yawning is most commonly done when people are alone or with close relatives at home, and therefore doesn't serve to avoid aggression.
I also want to add that the quiz at the end of the book is terrible. The pictures are very unclear and it's hard to find all the signals even after reading the descriptions.
on 15 September 2011
Whilst containing a lot of useful information this book is very poorly written. The authors often make outrageous claims without including any evidence and that really undermined my confidence in the rest of what they were saying. One such claim is that Hitler used a certain type of body language in a certain way because he only had one testicle. If this was backed up by any facts or discussion whatsoever they might have got away with it but alone it just sounds ridiculous and frustrating. The book is littered with other examples of this throwaway style that lead the reader to believe that the authors have a very warped perception of the world outside body language.
Another thing that irked me was the constant grounding of everything in the old evolutionary history of who's dominating whom. Perhaps this is the scientific root of body language but the authors frame every single interaction between friends or lovers in a perpetual struggle for sexual domination. I'd like to tell the authors that in the 21st century it is possible to have a conversation with someone without being either submissive or dominant.
on 25 October 2001
Being a full time martial arts instructor in a large school, dealing with people from every background is the norm, and establishing a rapport with them is crutial to buisness. So studing body language seemed lodgical. Allan Pease has written this book for 'everyone' the layout is normal type but very easy to understand, with a humourous feel. The graphics are somewhat comic style but get the information across well. You will find yourself reading it all in a matter of hours simply because it is one of those books you cant put down. A must for anyone who uses comunication in buisness. It will give you the edge to know what your clients are thinking before they say anything. Well done Al!
on 12 May 2006
I bought it because I had not a hope of interpreting other people's body language - it was a blind spot for me.
The book does what it claims to do. It explains why we use certain traits and how we do it, what to look for, what they mean. I found that it worked, I could observe people at work, social settings etc. and pick up things and interpret them - even found it quite fun. I use it in work too to my advantage. This week I explained what someone on TV was doing with their body language and even sounded like I knew what I was talking about - quite suprised myself!
A plus is that it explain WHY certain signals are made - which makes them easier to spot and interpret. Also it's written interestingly with a lively tone, helpful drawings, anecdotes and references to primates and primitive man to make it all fit together. Lots of photos of famous people and interpretations of their body language - very interesting!
It goes through body language methodically: hands, feet, face, arms, handshakes, head etc. which works well. I felt encouraged to use the knowledge in the real world. Lively, and encouraging, easy to read stuff.
A friend who could read the basics in people easily (as many people do) found this a bit of a case of stating the obvious. You may find this if you're quite an aware person, although I think almost everyone could gain something from this book.
If you're looking for a book because body language is not easy for you, there's no better starting point, I think. If you're looking for very advanced stuff, you may find you know all this already.
on 21 October 2013
This is one of many books on body language, but it is unique, in the fact that it does not try to be above itself and confusing, but it is succinct and self explanatory.
For someone who has been studying body language for many years, and is used to a more intense level, this may not be the book for you. But as an introduction to the field, I can think of few books that would be better.
As other readers have stated, the 'humour' can be a little irksome, and some of the points are hard to believe or take seriously, but inclusion of bad humour and comedic tales are something, which unfortunately, are almost impossible to avoid when reading into such a deep subject at a very basic level.
Finally, I'd like to say, that this book will make you think! I know several people who have read it, and all of them said that they found themselves unwillingly noticing things from the book, about other peoples body language. This can be a little intruding, but it eventually wears off, or you can use it to your advantage!
on 7 April 2001
Clear analysis of body language using many illustrations to demonstrate a point.
I often give copies of the book to executives who need to make the jump from operational Manager to strategy-setting-people-influencing Leader/Director. (I'm a trainer, consultant and coach). I offer the book to coachees who need to develop greater "presence" and "charisma" but who may currently send out unhelpful body language messages such as anger, subservience, low self confidence etc.
The book is also good for anyone interested in people and establishing rapportful relationships both socially and within the business context.
Lucy Barnes-Watson, Patina Performance.
on 26 November 2011
Allan Pease is a motivational speaker. There is no shame in this - so am I! Allan Pease is neither an academic psychologist nor a professional equivalent. Therefore, Allan Pease is not an expert. I would not call myself an expert on body language either, although I have taught several university courses on the subject. So neither Allen Baird nor Allan Pease can author a definitive book on body language never mind "the" definite book. To suggest otherwise is anywhere between fraudulent and embarrassing. Come on Allan, get some perspective, mate!
The books on body language out there are legion, for they are many. Ignore them. Go back to the sources. Read Desmond Morris, Ray Birdwhistell, and Edward Hall if anthropology is your thing. Or if you prefer a psychological slant, try Albert Mehrabian and Paul Ekman. Pease himself referenced these in his far superior first book called 'Body Language'. But leave this kind of pop-psychology, infotainment mash-up alone. Unless, that is, you're looking for something lite while the shrimp burns on the barbie.
BTW to 'big-note oneself' in Australian slang means to brag or boast. See also 'skite'. "The" definitive body language book? I think not. Neither is The Beano the definitive exemplar of the graphic novel. Neither is William Shatner the embodiment of Thespis' art. This is not snobbery; this is factual accuracy.
The same goes to the Pease's books on gender. Once again, stick to Simon Baron-Cohen, Susan Pinker and Louann Brizendine. Ad fontes! Otherwise, you will find yourself mired in insights and techniques lacking any scientific basis or even nuance. Less conference hall, more laboratory please. If not, the once noble self-help genre will continue to deserve its much sneered reputation.
on 15 November 2002
I brought this book into my office and we have had some very interesting conversations around the issues raised - why people sit the way they do when we are in a group etc. This book provides a useful overview of the non-verbal signals used by everyone (even without realising) and helps you become more aware of what your own gestures mean. Whether this helps you control them (most of them are subconscious anyway) is another question altogether.
on 17 February 2005
I suppose I was looking for something a bit more indeph than this book, it was an easy read but tended to focus on body language in the work place, ie. dealing with interviews, handshakes, etc,. I wasn't really interested in that side of things and more looking for more of human on human interaction, this book is really quite basic and 'common sense'. I read it all in 3 hours! This is ideal for someone who hasn't a clue on basic body language but a little tame for those who do.
on 27 February 2005
If you've ever had a gut feeling about someone, or an intuitive sense about a situation you find yourself in with other people, it's probably because you're unconsciously decoding body language signals. This book explains where those hunches come from.
The conscious awareness this book provides of the unspoken messages we are transmitting to one another is fascinating. I have found myself recognising signals in meetings at work and in meetings with clients and feeling like I have some inside information on how things are going.
The book is useful for two reasons: becoming conscious of your own body language to send the right signals; and knowing what to look for in others to assess the situation more accurately.
I was impressed with references to the Pease's own research and their frequent use of others' research to back up their points - plus I found myself agreeing with their explanations because I know I've made the same mistakes!
The book covers just about every kind of interpersonal interaction you'd want to know about: handshakes and palm gestures, smiles, cultural differences, lying, eye signals, territories and personal space, arm, leg and body gestures, cigarettes, glasses and make-up, courtship and attraction gestures, seating arrangements, interviews and office politics.
I particularly liked 'The 13 Most Common Gestures You'll See Daily' as a quick reference guide. The book is predominantly written from a western perspective and gives examples of many geographic variations.
This book is written with a great sense of humour, whilst at the same time making sense of some very complex science. Well worth it.