So I read Pavlina's book, Personal Development for Smart People (Amazon), with my mind on putting together my opinion of the book. My reaction to the book is rather complex, but in brief I think there is value to the book, but I think there is much in the way of problematic ideology that I guess will make this book somewhat pernicious for some of its readers, and will alienate many other readers who might otherwise find some value in it.
It occurred to me that Daniel Davies had a similar, if definitely more negative, opinion of Levitt & Dubner's Freakonomics, which drove him to write his wonderful critical assessment of "Freakonomics" series. So I decided to write something more ambitious than I planned, though less ambitious that what Davies is still engaged in, three years on. Behold, the review outline:
- Part zero: Reviewing Steve Pavlina's Personal Development for Smart People, or Why I offered to do this review;
- Part one: Verdict and outline of review;
- Part two: Pavlina's three basic principles and a cognitive parallel;
- Part three: Power and Mary Poppins;
- Part four: Truth, authority and self-awareness;
- Part five:Love, oneness, and the microcosmic self;
- Part six: Courage and other virtues;
- Part seven: Intelligence and the seven principles in perspective;
- Part eight: How applicable are Pavlina's seven principles?;
- Part nine: The marriage of idealism and cynicism;
I had planned not to read any other reviews before arriving at my verdict, but when I saw that the excellent Jose Quesada had written a review in the Academic Productivity weblog, I could not resist reading it. I share in some part his misgivings, but I think it is problematic to reject an exercise-based program that in part is meant to work by changing one's subjective orientation on the grounds that it is not evidence based. Perhaps the trickiest issue is how to get a handle on assessing the effectiveness of the techniques, which I hope to make some inroads into in part three. In any case, it is clear that Jose is numbered among the alienated readers.
Steve Pavlina suggested posting an Amazon review, which would include a stars-out-of-five rating. I would give it a three. Steve has interesting ideas, but I don't think he has really got the knack of book authoring, as opposed to weblog authoring, and I think his publisher has let him down at the editing stage. His next book, hopefully, will be better.