I was so taken with The Confidence Game, Maria Konnikova’s book on not just why, but how we fall for deceptions, that I immediately added her earlier book – Mastermind – to my Amazon cart, not really caring what it was about. I wasn’t disappointed, exactly, but I doubt many books could live up to the expectations I had for this one based on my effusive review of her follow-up.
Mastermind has a similar enough conceit to The Confidence Game, in that it does not merely demonstrate the mental tricks Sherlock Holmes uses as a master of deduction, it shows the reader how he or she can bypass their own mental shortcuts to be more observant. Granted, for the modern reader, being more observant means you figured out your company could save hundreds of dollars by switching paper suppliers rather than solving a kidnapping, but it’s still an amusing diversion. And, as always, Konnikova does an excellent job keeping her interpretation enjoyable without pandering; a good balance of breezy prose and hard data.
I do wonder if I would have enjoyed the book slightly more if I were more of a Sherlock Holmes fan; I don’t dislike the character, but have only seen the BBC show and a movie here and there (and House, if we’re counting looser adaptations) and Konnikova necessarily delves deep into Doyle’s books.
One thing I truly appreciated in Mastermind’s assessment that escaped my notice – often Holmes is wrong, or he will use Watson to get him started. He will base his more detailed assessments in correcting Watson’ erroneous ones, but we the readers give him credit for the whole deduction, or forget the parts that don’t fit based on our assessment of Holmes as a mastermind. It is little surprise that Konnikova followed this book with one on manipulation; part of being a mastermind like Holmes involves getting people to assume you are one in the first place.