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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People - George K. Simon Jr. One of my favourite episodes in John Sladek's Roderick: The Education of a Young Machine is the bit where the eponymous hero is kidnapped by a travelling carnival. They stick him in a booth, with his power supply connected to a coin-operated meter. If you put in a dollar, he comes alive for a minute and tells you what kind of person you are. Roderick only has one script, but it pleases everyone: he tells them that basically they're too nice, and that they shouldn't let everyone use them all the time.

Roderick, who's a sweet-tempered little robot, puts up with it bravely for a while. In the end, though, he politely asks the carnie boss if he can go back home to his family. But he's bringing in a lot of dollars, and the boss doesn't see why he shouldn't go on doing that. He snarls at Roderick that he's got no sense of gratitude, what the fuck's wrong with him? "Well," says Roderick in his endearing Candide-like way, "basically I'm too nice, I shouldn't let everyone else use me all the time..."

This book is an expanded version of Roderick's spiel, and I'm sure most people will like it for the same reason. I certainly did! And, although I'm making fun of it, it is quite a good book. People around you are, indeed, very often manipulative. They use underhand ways to make you do what they want: they lie to you, guilt-trip you, make you feel that you're to blame for things that are actually their fault, and so on. The author, a clinical psychologist, has a lot of experience of this kind of person. He gives you a detailed list of the most common tricks used by manipulators and some sensible advice about how to counter them. I'm sure I'll use some of his tips myself in the not too distant future.

In fact, there's only one thing I don't like about the book, and that's the unspoken assumption that the manipulators, the "covert-aggressive people" in his terminology, are always "them". Now what could be wrong with that? I'll give you a hint. Why is the Roderick sketch so funny?