Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why I just One-Starred a Book on Goodreads

Picked up a book this morning with enthusiasm.  A non-fiction book (I won't tell you which one) that got a 4+ rating on Goodreads and a mention on a site I respect.

30 minutes of reading and I came to a paragraph that went something like this:
There is a personality trait that is perceived to be very desirable and very important for getting along in today's world.  This personality trait, according to two sources the book cites, is related to DNA and is primarily found in Europeans and North Americans, not in Asians or Africans, because the former are descendants of emigrants.
That is just an unbelievable assertion to make and, frankly, that kind of argument for me is pure racism.

So I closed the book, deleted it from my Kindle and went straight to Goodreads and gave it a one-star rating which means, "I did not like it."  What I didn't do was a write a review expressing my feelings and explaining my rating.

Left the house, did my morning shopping and now I'm back and really wondering if I did right.

In fact, I think I screwed up.

Ever see the Christopher Hitchen's talk where he says (paraphrasing here because I don't recall the exact quotation): "How do you know you are right about anything if this is all you've ever been taught and you have never really bothered to let anything challenge your own programming?"

So here I am having a negative visceral reaction to something I've read and I don't even bother to check out the sources cited.  That's not very intellectually honest of me, is it?  Or terribly courageous.

Was I too hasty?  Should I delete my rating on Goodreads and go back and finish the book so I can give it a fair review?  Should I go and read what the two sources cited have to say before I condemn them?

Surely I can do better than this. OK, I found it very offensive but feelings aren't facts.  If what was said in this book really is utter BS, then surely there are better reasons for criticizing it than just my sense of outrage.

But I'm really torn because I don't want to continue reading the book and I'm not sure I could be fair even if I did finish it.

Your thoughts on this would be much appreciated.


P. Moore said...

Sometimes outrageous things are said to develop an interesting argument or point. I think I would read on and see how it turns out. If it is indeed as outrageous as it looks like in the 1st 30 minutes...then update your 'review' and blast the hell out of them. That phrase does indeed seem quite a bit 'out there', however.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

I went back and re-read it a couple of times (perhaps I misunderstood?) and I still get this queasy feeling about it. How can a personality trait like "openness to the world" be DNA-related? And then throwing in a Europeans and North Americans versus African and Asians. It's creepy and how in the heck would you prove that kind of hypothesis? I will go and read the two sources the author cites. Perhaps in there is an explanation and maybe the author of this book misinterpreted the research. We shall see.

In the meantime, I removed the one-star review and put the book back on my to-read list.

Donna said...

That paragraph is not only repellent, it's absurd--but I think you've done the right thing. In the interest of fair play and understanding different points of view, take some deep breaths and read the whole thing. If the book truly is as disgraceful as that statement implies, then your one-star review will have all the more authority for having read it through.

Please let me add how impressed I continue to be by your reading list, and the hours of study and thought you put into these issues. Thank you!

Sauve said...

Of course you know that it is 'primarily' doesn't mean always. Also you must know that it is true that there is some DNA that is not shared between regions. Humans that did not move from Africa out into the greater world don't share DNA with Neanderthals yet Europeans often do.Just as we know that Europeans and Africans don't often share in the Denisovan heritage. All of this DNA stuff is heritage and that is all it is. Perhaps the line "because the former are descendants of emigrants" should have read 'because the former are descendants of an aggressive invader species' because that would be more an honest observation. The track record of what our little subspecies has done to where ever it has been is pretty good evidence that we, as a people of slightly modified DNA, are destructive and disruptive to all the species of any area we invade.

Many Americans and others want to believe that personality traits are passed down in DNA; Nature over Nurture. There are probably just as many who believe just as strongly in Nurture over Nature. Finally there are those who believe it may be a combination of both or that both stands are so much BS. That's the problem with belief systems. They all require a decision based on sort of magical process and not fact. The fact is that no matter where you are if you need a transplanted organ a match must be found and not any stranger off the street is guaranteed to be your perfect match.

A recent study was done by comparing identical twins personalities as a way to give proof to the belief system of Nature over Nurture. The problem is that those identical twins that are separated at birth are often placed in homes that are not vastly different in cultural & social values. Knowing this, we always are impressed by the publication of how alike some twins are. We aren't impressed by the ones who were found to little in common because they are not presented. Hence, the study was flawed from the start since its goal was to produce that outcome.

I think a person should read books from cover to cover. One can't have too much knowledge. Of course this my belief system and dangers do lie within it. For example, I've read the Bible 6 times, both on my own and through Bible studies and literature. I'm also a student of philosophy and enjoy learning about social and cultures of historic peoples. Those combinations all led to the conclusion on my part that the Bible is just another collection of mythical stories assembled to lend validity to certain cultural belief systems. Accruing more information does change us and sometimes in ways we never expected.

Julia Gandrud (aka JuliaLikesFrogs) said...

Read if your stomach allows, and not otherwise! And, if you do, do please let us know what you conclude!

multiculturalmeanderings said...

Well, some books are worth wading through, some books are worth reading because they challenge our preconceptions and views, but some are not a good use of our time.

You gave the book 30 minutes of your time, made a judgement call (and I have the same reaction) and decided you have better things to do with your time.

As to the Goodreads review, I would keep it up, and note the reason why you stopped reading it. That provides valid information to others.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Donna, Yep, "absurd" is the perfect word. However the wuthor does cite two sources that I ran by someone I know who has PhD in such things and he replied that he'd never heard of the authors or the articles. I think I will go back and read it but not immediately.

And that turned out to be a GREAT idea. I just finished A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis. Well-written, intelligent with substance and depth. Whatever you think of "romance" (which by way as a genre includes Pride and Prejudice) it is one hell of a read.

Cause I'm with you, Sauve. You can't have too much knowledge but...

Andrew makes a good point too which is that not everything is worth slogging through. It is rare that I toss a book but it happens.There are the Diaries of Samuel Pepys (a self-aware kind of guy if there was one) and there's self-help schlock. :-)

LarryC said...

Sometimes I encounter a book or news article that is so intrinsically repulsive that I see red, feel rage. I step back and ask myself what was it that pushed my buttons so.

Curiosity will occasionally nudge me to review once again the article or book. If my original reaction remains, time to toss it and move on.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Larry, I like that approach. Where is that visceral reaction coming from?

95,000 people gave this book a 3 (like it) or above rating on Goodreads. Not one review I've read mentions the paragraph I took exception to.

Something to think about...

Anonymous said...

Hand up to God you silly child it's called an opinion. Review Malcolm Gladwell on thin slicing- gut reaction is not an uninformed opinion. Walks like a duck, might just be a duck. Chill!