Quite a while ago, I was gifted a copy of "Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes". I poked at it and made some comments about the writing style here, but I am a terrible person, especially when it comes to things that have no formal deadlines, and it's taken me this long to figure out how to make my draft of the book report into a readable document.

I admit to having little patience with these sorts of books. Aside from resisting the urge to snap something about not teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, a lot of them are boring. You can only reword "pay attention to your surroundings and remember to think about stuff" -- which is the actual mechanic of the trick -- so many times before your 300 page magnum opus starts to get tedious. Konnikova peppers hers with bits of memoir, which to me are the more interesting part. She also shovels in a lot of pop psychology, so if you're tired of hearing about how you can only hold X things in working memory or pay attention to Y things at a time, you might want to skim a lot.

Konnikova is obviously trying to write for a lay audience. The book is in sections, each structured according to standard pedagogy. Intro, demo, recap, demo, summary. If you learn well like this, it'll work just fine, with the added bonus that the reinforcing material she adds is largely from the Holmes canon -- she's just as much a fangirl as the rest of us. If you hate this and spent most of your time in school mentally praying for the teacher to shut up shut up SHUT UP because you'd gotten it four repeats ago, this will drive you bananas, because it makes her sound like she's constantly going around in circles. The vocabulary is easily collegiate and the explanations are clearly aimed at adults, but the elementary "lesson book" construction got tedious for me very quickly.

All of these books have one additional issue: They give you what you ask for, rather than what you actually want. I'm not denying that the Sherlocky thing is useful, and even quite fun, but by itself it's not really all that impressive. In a good 90% of the situations where it might actually matter, you can get the same results with a lot less effort just by turning around and asking someone what the fuck is going on. Unless you're working as an actual detective, or in some job that requires you do to differential diagnoses of people and/or machines, it is in no way necessary to learn this in order to succeed in life. An ordinary amount of sense and logic will do. The reason people think they want this skill is not to know stuff, it's to know stuff that other people don't, and bowl them over them with it. They want a demonstrable talent. The presentation of the trick has a lot less to do with deductive logic than it has to do with the kind of cognitive hiccups exploited by magicians like Penn & Teller. Not for nothing did Watson remark, repeatedly, upon Holmes' predilection for the dramatic.

Konnikova does not cover any of the showmanship aspect, and not having seen her in person, I've no idea if she even knows how that part works. Given how important it is to learn how and why to keep your trap shut about all of this so other people don't think you're an insufferable know-it-all, I consider this a serious failing of the entire genre. I'm particularly disappointed at not getting it from this author, since she would presumably have had experience in handling this in both russophone and anglophone cultures, which are vastly different in terms of personal interaction, particularly with relative strangers.

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