Why do we get so embarrassed when a colleague wears the same shirt? Why do we eat the same thing for breakfast every day, but seek out novelty at lunch and dinner? How has streaming changed the way Netflix makes recommendations? Why do people think the music of their youth is the best? How can you spot a fake review on Yelp?
Our preferences and opinions are constantly being shaped by countless forces – especially in the digital age with its nonstop procession of “thumbs up” and “likes” and “stars.” Tom Vanderbilt, bestselling author of Traffic, explains why we like the things we like, why we hate the things we hate, and what all this tell us about ourselves.
With a voracious curiosity, Vanderbilt stalks the elusive beast of taste, probing research in psychology, marketing, and neuroscience to answer myriad complex and fascinating questions. If you’ve ever wondered how Netflix recommends movies or why books often see a sudden decline in Amazon ratings after they win a major prize, Tom Vanderbilt has answers to these questions and many more that you’ve probably never thought to ask.
In his previous book, Vanderbilt (Traffic) wrote about why people drive the way they do. In this expansive follow-up, he takes a deep look at why people like what they like. Vanderbilt covers the topic exhaustively, examining varied social and psychological factors. He interviews, among other people, the vice president of product innovation for Netflix, the principal engineer at "music intelligence" company Echo Nest, and a Dutch psychologist who also happens to be a judge at a Paris cat show. In each chapter, he explores a different area of taste, including food, social networks, music playlists, and art. As he concludes (in a pithy "field guide to liking"), "Trying to explain, or understand, any one person's particular tastes including one's own is always going to be a maddeningly elusive and idiosyncratic enterprise." Reading this book will cause readers to think twice before clicking "like" on Facebook, rating a film on Netflix, or ordering what the server says is the menu's most popular item.