on 20 August 2009
This is not the book to buy if you want a detailed academic or articulate view of memetics. The author is posited as "one of the world's leadng authorities on memetics", but who awarded this particular acolade is unclear. As far as I can see, Mr Brodie has no academic qualifications in Memetics, nor was his book endorsed by anyone I'd heard of. His one qualification is that he is supposedly the "creator of MicroSoft Word" - a rather nasty silicon virus in my opinion, but that's beside the point.
All this would not be a problem if the content were there and put across clearly. However, I found the author's prose style jarring and annoying, for the following reasons :
- Poor narrative devices : he has repeated paragraphs stating "memes are not conscious" throughout the book but he nevertheless anthropomorphizes every mention of the meme in the book ("memes don't care about you.."), confusing the newcomer and annoying those already familiar with the subject
- Annoying aphorisms at the end of every block of text
- very American-centric, with examples and phrases that were incomprehensable to me - e.g. references to adverts, programmes and personalities on US Tv
- prose is rather vanacular and stop/start, not flowing and poetic
- he attempts to "push the meme buttons" (e.g. fear, personal advantages, etc) continually, at every opportunity, in a rather obvious way, meaning that you switch off very quickly. Perhaps this is his intention, but I suspect it would not help with a more subtle advertiser trying to hook you
There is a lot of good information in here: it's just a shame how it's put across. I am somewhat worried about his credentials, too. I came to this book having read several other books on memetics which give a better understanding, coupled with a great style, so I wholehearted recommend the following instead :
Richard Dawkins : "The Self Gene" (-the inventor of the meme)
Susan Blackmore : "The Meme Machine"
Daniel Dennett : Various
on 14 April 1999
Since its publication in 1996, Richard Brodie's 'Virus of the Mind' has ignited ongoing debate within the memetics community, and signalled the beginning of the new science crossing-the-chasm into the mainstream (for example, Oprah Winfrey invited Brodie on her talk-show in January 1999).
For 'hard' scientific data and mathematical/conceptual modelling (which really conveys why memetics is a legitimate science and not just a controversial upstart), you definately need to look elsewhere (Brodie himself has admitted this to me in extensive interviews). Texts by Lynch, Beck & Cowan, Csikzentmihalyi, Blackmore, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hofstadter are more useful in this regard. Brodie should be considered as a populariser of memetics, able to look at its impact on and relevance to contemporary cultural debates.
Politics aside, Brodie's book is best understood as an accessible introduction to the memetics field, which can capture and hold a general audience's attention. It is closer in many respects to a description of evolutionary psychology drives, 'hot buttons', coercive double-binds, and ideological faith/belief structures used by cults, advertisers, politicians, and religious entities.
Thus, a reading of 'Virus of the Mind' can offer you an accessible text with some insight into how people are programmed, and how to become more aware of your own consensus trance (Charles T. Tart). It continues a self-help perspective developed by Brodie in his earlier book 'Getting Past OK'. Many of Brodie's ideas have been said before in different contexts, but the memetics angle puts a fresh spin on things, and his early chapters on definitions of memes are useful for the layperson in confronting a rapidly growing field.
As long as you don't expect the definitive text on memetics (which Dawkins may one day write as 'The Selfish Meme'?), you will find some useful insights that can be quickly integrated into everyday living. This is the real strength of the book, and partly why it has proven to be so popular.
on 11 July 1996
_Virus of the Mind_ by Richard Brodie is the first popular book
on the market exclusively about memetics, the study of infectious
ideas. I've been looking forward to it since I first heard
rumours of its existence in alt.memetics almost a year ago.
I have to confess that at first I was disappointed with the
presentation style of the book. It seems to be aimed at
an audience with a high-school reading level, with key points
highlighted in boxes and illustrated with cartoons featuring
Eggbert, on oval happy face with spiky hair. Later I came to
the conclusion that Brodie is probably capable of a more
sophisticated writing style, but consciously chose to give
it wider appeal in a deliberate act of memetic engineering.
In fact Brodie takes many opportunities to apply the techniques
he discusses which serves not only to lend weight to the
theories, but should also theoretically increase books sales. :)
For example, he named the book _Virus of the Mind_ rather than,
say, _Introduction to Memetics_ because it will catch more
people's attention due to their association memes.
It is difficult to discuss memetics in depth without veering
off into deep philosophy. Everything that exists, everything
with a name, everything we know corresponds to a meme including
memes themselves. What is truth? What are we? What should we
do? The new science of the meme sheds light on all these
questions and Brodie doesn't shy away from tackling these
issues head on, but always remaining practical and open-minded.
The book covers a great deal in its 230 pages. Starting with
general definitions, it goes on to describe how memes are like
biological and computer viruses and how they evolve in their
respective mediums. One chapter introduces evolutionary
psychology (the subject of Robert Wright's excellent _The
Moral Animal_ ),
and how the ancient memes of "sex" and "danger" are still
very much shaping our culture today. Another chapter covers
how we get programmed (infected by new memes), and how these
techniques are used by governments, corporations, cults
and religions. (I paid special attention to the chapter
on how to start a cult :)
It was refreshing to see how charitable Brodie is towards
religion, even after describing in detail how it is really
a cultural power virus, evolving to take advantage of the
natural "push-button" memes of its adherents including
"security", "sex", "belonging" and "crisis" through memes
like "tradition", "heresy", "evangilism" and "repetition".
He concludes that despite all that religions are still very
useful because they give purpose to otherwise meaningless
I suspect even someone already well-read in the area of
memetics will find new insights in _Virus of the Mind_.
Brodie is obviously a bright guy who has thought a lot
about how to teach people about memes in order to create
a future by design. _Virus of the Mind_ should be on
the reading list of everyone interested in the future
evolution of ideas.
on 4 September 1999
This is an incredible book! It's a fascinating subject which offers a new perspective into the way we think and the propagation of ideas. Regardless of reality, if we are convinced that an idea is true, our behavior reflects that belief. We are only able to change our behavior and control our own destiny by understanding why we believe and how others convince us. I've never read anything else that gave me such a clear vision of the power in ideas - not to mention advertising!
Richard Brodie has a conversational style of writing that I particularly enjoy. I've always been frustrated by authors who find it necessary to weigh down their writing with a lot of dry and heavy prose. Richard does a great job of explaining some fairly complex and little known ideas in clear, simple language. Science doesn't have to be boring. Apparently, when an author loves his subject, it can even be a lot of fun. That's the case with this book.
The author doesn't try to pretend that he invented the idea of the meme. We are taken along on his quest for enlightenment about this mysterious concept. Once we gain a general understanding of the meme, he supplies further information into its character. We learn how it can be used against us, and how we can use the meme to our own advantage as well.
This book opened my eyes to the concept of a very influential method of communication. It's a fascinating topic written in a style that is fun, easy, and quick to read. It gets my top rating as a must read. Don't wait. This is a technique you won't want to be the last to know!
on 19 May 1999
This book is a ground-breaker. Yeah, okay it's written at a fairly simple level, but that's one of the reasons it's so effective! In recent years, a series called [Whatever] For Dummies has become wildly popular (along with another, [Whatever] for the Complete Idiot). Of course, these books are for neither "dummies" nor "idiots", but rather for the common guy/gal, the "average Joe", the lay person who wants to get the gist of a topic, a working knowledge, without having to wade through a bunch of complicated extraneous matter to get to the heart of the subject, and get a grasp of it, a good working knowledge that will be USEFUL. And this is exactly what Richard Brodie has done. _Virus of the Mind_ could be retitled "Memetics for Dummies" and probably sell tons more books (cuz hey, the 'for Dummies' buzzword is a pretty successful meme, eh?). I've read several reviews here where 'intellectuals' were slamming the book, cuz maybe it's "not technically correct" about some aspects (in their opinions) of memetics, or it's "written at a high school level", or it uses "cute cartoons" to get some points across. Hey, that's what makes it accessible to so many more people than some of the "loftier tomes". This book is what will (has?) spread the Memetics mind virus throughout the "masses", like a cold spreading through a crowded room!! Hurrah for Richard Brodie.
on 7 October 1997
Brodie did a supurb job in explaining the fundamentals of memetics in a way the common person can understand and relate to. He is not above his own cultural bias of course, and some of his political views are evident, but it's his right to express his opinions just as it is anyone else's. I have reccomended this book to many friends, some of whom have read it and have been changed by it as much as I have. It gave me a new way of looking at culture and media. Before I read this book, I knew what industry and media were doing to the population, but I couldn't quite explain HOW they were doing it. This book gave me new insight about how to catch these influences before they started infecting my family and myself. Virus Of The Mind is brilliant in the way it acts as a intro to a science book and a self help book at the same time.
on 21 April 2010
This is a book on memes. A meme is like a mental virus - someone starts doing something in a different way, and for some reason the idea catches up with other people, and they begin to imitate that behaviour. Many things in the world happen that way, but very little attention has been paid to that phenomenon until recently. The discovery of memes and the invention of the word is commonly attributed to Richard Dawkins. He mentioned it only briefly, though (in "The Selfish Gene"), and there are hardly any books actually dedicated to this subject. In fact, I've only found two, and the other one isn't too good either.
Even though "The Selfish Gene" isn't about memes, you might consider reading it before this one. It covers some background stuff that is useful to understanding memes better, and Mr. Dawkins explains things much better than Mr. Brodie.
I don't like this book at all. There are basically two reasons to that.
1. Sickening apologetism. Whenever Mr. Brodie describes a part of objective reality that he thinks someone would dislike, he goes out of his way to assure the reader that he is merely describing what is, not suggesting what he thinks is good. It's very annoying. Should you ever see a history book written by Mr. Brodie, don't buy it, because it would probably go like this: "The troops of Genghis Khan conquered the city of Chang Chung and killed five thousand people. Now, folks, please don't get mad at me. I am not saying that it's okay to kill people. In fact, it's an horrible crime. Please understand that I am merely describing what happened, awful as it may be. I am in no way advocating war and murder."
2. The author is himself badly infected with mind viruses, especially political correctness. He is clearly unable to distinguish between "wrong" in the meaning "not in accordance with objective reality" and "wrong" in the meaning of "morally unacceptable". He names in the book some scientifically proven (to say nothing of obvious) facts and states that the "belief" in them is a mind virus. Well, if an author has such an obvious political bias, I find it difficult to take anything he says seriously. What a contrast to the intelligent and matter-of-factly style of Richard Dawkins!
Scientists now accept that the dinosaurs were exterminated by the impact of a large asteroid with the Earth. With some luck, Richard Brodie's VIRUS OF THE MIND may perform the same service for the legions of psychologists and psychiatrists now infecting our cities like so many bloated cockroaches. Brodie has [rather shamelessly] adopted Richard Dawkins' concept of the 'meme' to explain why so many people, confused and distressed by today's complex life, turn to these parasites for enlightenment. The reason so many of these people end up spending fortunes over many years 'working it out' with their therapists is that the 'advisers' have no idea what's going on either.
Brodie's book isn't the definitive 'science of memetics', as some on this page have faulted him for, nor is it intended to be. Brodie is offering people, in plain, unadorned language, an opportunity for those in distress to take charge of their own destinies. The best aspect of this book is that it offers a concrete, easily understood foundation for why they feel the stress in the first place. No-one can shed stress, which is often viewed as 'the devil we know', without adding to the condition until a new path is adopted. Brodie makes abundantly clear how little we need to cling to the known devil and how pleasant a task it is to cast it off. He's to be congratulated, not condemned, for not writing a scientific treatise on how memes work. Calling this book a 'self-help' volume should be a viewed as a compliment, not pejorative. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
on 2 August 2009
Brodie basically repackages concepts around conditioning in the context of dynamic sharing of ideas. This is a very informative read for anyone coming to these concepts for the first time. His style is clear and not overly complicated. A nice repackage of standard ideas.
on 14 September 2009
I think the author has hit upon a profound new way of looking at how we are emotionally programmed and how we may come to understand this in order to change our way of behaving and so enhance our life. I work as an energy healer and can understand exactly where he is coming from - we spend a lifetime accummulating baggage from conditioned patterns and our responses to situations, creating a false belief system for ourselves that does not actually serve our purpose. We are a mind's eye view of what our mind creates which cuts us off from our true feelings - 'when we let go of what we are, we become what we might be - Lao Tzu'.