The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (Random House, $28.00, 400 pages)
Charles Duhigg is a highly educated (Harvard and Yale) business reporter (The New York Times), who is the epitome of the thorough investigative reporter. In past weeks, Duhigg and his publicist have been circulating a flurry of teaser articles and Twitter posts that include excerpts from his just-released book. The teasers are eye-catching because most folks in the USA shop at Target, buy household air fresheners (unless they are featured on A&E’s Hoarders) and like to think that the choices they make are acts of free will. He has also been travelling on an aggressive cross-country tour of major media outlets.
As to whether folks really have the ability to make their own choices, not really, according to Duhigg. His book supports a hypothesis that most, if not all, daily activities are the result of a habit loop consisting of a cue, routine and reward. This behavior loop is applicable at the personal as well as organizational and societal levels. Granted, the author has met and exceeded the burden of proof imposed by such a strong theme; however, too much of a good thing is not always the most pleasing event.
This reviewer was immediately interested in the book after reading an excerpt that focused on Target stores and the extensive shopper profiling that takes place thanks to a sophisticated computer program that slices and dices purchasing data. A quick glance at my to-be-read shelf revealed an advance reader’s edition (ARE) of this very book. A few chapters into the book, a familiar feeling arose. It was similar to the one you get after watching a movie that had fabulous trailers/coming attractions but left little for the actual theater experience. That’s how this reviewer felt – a bit let down, after reading The Power of Habit. All the catchy and engaging information was in the teaser articles. Absent these elements, the book became a traditional survey (overview) of the force of habit.
The sonorous, heavy tone of the text may have been lightened with the final editing process. It’s doubtful that the notes and sources section was reduced. It occupies nearly 20% of the book! Hopefully, the charming diagrams made it to the release version.
Recommended for readers who are extremely curious about the force of habit.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Power of Habit was released on February 28, 2012. The original title on the ARE was The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change It.
Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding by Jessie Sholl (Gallery Books; $15.00; 318 pages)
“In the center of the cement floor sits a four-foot high pyramid of mildewy sweaters, looking like a bonfire ready to be lit, and that’s exactly what I’d like to do, because life would be so much easier if I could just burn this whole house down.”
There is a big difference between watching an hour-long TV show about compulsive hoarding and living with a close relative whose behavior has literally squeezed you out. Author Jessie Sholl is an essayist who has written a touching and engaging memoir about her relationship with her mother, a compulsive hoarder. Her childhood memories and playground embarrassments are all too real and pitiful. No, this is not a sob story or a revenge piece. It is Sholl’s declaration of acceptance of reality and acknowledgment of a fact that she has been stuffing away into dark places in her soul for way too long.
Sholl’s tale is calmly set forth in a measured voice. There are no wild moments of over-the-top drama as are shown on A&E’s Hoarders show or The Style Network’s Clean House. Nor is there a miracle cure after the trash haulers roll away from the house. Rather, the ongoing, really relentless nature of her mother’s disease forms the backdrop for the disintegration of a family.
This reviewer thinks kudos are due to Sholl for her willingness to travel from New York to Minneapolis at a time when her mom is diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is daunting enough without the prospect of caring for someone in a house overrun with hoarded stuff. Between the long-term hoarding and the newly diagnosed cancer, there are more than enough challenges to be dealt with in a relatively short stay. Sholl seems to be a very gracious person. Her father and stepmother are portrayed as the saving grace in this scenario.
The background material, bibliography and discussion points round out an excellent presentation of hoarding. If someone in your life has this condition, Dirty Secret is a highly recommended read. It is a balanced blend of reality and compassion.
This review was written by Ruta Arellano. A review copy was received from the publisher.