The Mind of the Market: A Wandering Odyssey

Gregg Miller


The Mind of the Market is deeply concerned with the expansive topic of evolution. The evolution of man, markets, social structures, and the intersection of all three. If Michael Shermer’s book were to be inserted into the same theme, it would be at the evolutionary stage of “primordial ooze.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; primordial ooze is full of nutrients, activity, and all those good things necessary for life, but it is also chaotic and disorienting, pushing and pulling you in different directions. But where this work falls in terms of utility for a general audience – and specifically one of marketers – is questionable.

I’ll cut right to the chase: this book’s structure really hurts it. In tackling such enormous topics as multiple evolutionary perspectives in such a small space, Shermer would have benefited greatly from having a specific focus and more concise progression. We open with a sophisticated and quite interesting comparison of biological and economic evolutions. The principal problem that this presents right off, though, is that biological evolution and economic evolution are two enormous subjects with thousands of people devoting their entire lives to understanding just a small area of either field.

After this fresh and enlightening first chapter I started to lose track of what Shermer wanted to say; there was just too much of it. Topics ranged from the mechanisms of adaptation to professional cycling with degrees of focus as narrow as an explanation of how an MRI works to numerous broad discussions of human evolution as a whole. We learn why money can’t buy happiness, how trust works, the structure of morality and how it can be influenced by specific environments like the Abu Ghraib prison, and a handful of other interesting human psychological and social structures with primary research properly used to support each. The problem, though, is that Shermer moves rapidly between topics and degrees of focus without enough flow or structure to provide the reader with the context that explains how all of this is working together to make some larger point. Each element of discussion is interesting and provides some insight into the human experience in its own way, but without structure these subtopics are just little bacteria in the primordial ooze lacking higher purpose, not to mention that each could warrant their own independent detailed discussion. I’m not the kind of reader that wants his hand held, but I would have greatly appreciated some sub-chapter headers or more attention paid to the larger picture and how all of the moving pieces interacted to produce a more focused communication.

So where does this all leave us, and who will most benefit from reading The Mind of the Market? I would most recommend this book to people that have little or no experience with psychological or sociological/anthropological literature that are interested in how people think and how we got where we are. However, for the reader that is uncertain of whether this book is for them and is a) looking for a cohesive, well-written, and entertaining book b) familiar with modern publications of popular science (like Predictably Irrational or How We Decide also reviewed on our blog) and/or c) a professional in the business world seeking greater understanding of how to influence consumers, I would say that The Mind of the Market is not a high priority. Shermer’s work does not provide what we seek most at Sentient: a novel contribution with insight into human behavior with a level of explanation helps us understand and influence why people do what they do.

The Mind of the Market, Michael Shermer ** / 2 of 5 stars
Enjoyable Reading
: 2/5
Applicable to Business: 1/5
Behavioral Insight: 2/5

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