I was very excited to read this book, I had been planning to read something by Scott Adams for a while, and the fact this book was about the psychology of persuasion and human reasoning – a subject I love – as applied to Trump’s 2016 election victory, made me really excited to read it.
I was soon disappointed. The opening chapters set a self-admiratory tone which continues for the rest of the book. It is rare that a chapter goes by without a page or two’s quote from Scott’s own blog and a few of his Dilbert cartoons, and he is at constant pains to remind you that he is a ‘trained persuader’ who understands things that you don’t. An early exposition of his own ‘ultraliberal’ political beliefs feels sanctimonious, and by the time I’d reached the section on ‘how to know when you’ve won a Twitter argument’ I’d all but given up hope.
Part 2 is a run through of psychological phenomena such as cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. While highly readable, the tone still felt self-superior and the explanations not particularly deep. It was a bit like a teenager who had just learned a superficial understanding of these concepts and was now telling everyone who disagreed with them on anything that they were suffering from cognitive dissonance.
The paucity of quality on Scott’s list for further reading was also telling. I have read several of the books on the list and know a couple of them to be weak and superficial introductions to the subject where there are much better and more academic alternatives available. For example, Scott lists the tiny book on Free Will whilst ignoring the academic introductions to the subject available, the works of Stephen Pinker, any books on neurology or evolutionary psychology. I can only assume this is because he hasn’t read them.
The book improves from the midway point and Part 3 is an interesting analysis of how things Trump does might seem like political suicide but are well-calculated moves, and how you would know this if only you were a trained persuader like Scott.
Part 4 starts to get genuinely interesting, each chapter being a takeaway from what has come so far. “How to design a linguistic kill shot”, which discusses exactly why phrases like “Crooked Hillary” were so powerful from a psychological point of view – they have visual imagery which has some basis in it, the percussion of the phrase is good, they have some basis in something people are aware of – whether factual or not – and are open to confirmation bias in the future. If I can get you known as ‘Crooked Hillary’, everything I hear about you being dishonest in the future will serve to back up my point of view, I really learned something. Some other great parts of Part 4 included “How to use visual persuasion”, “How to make people imagine you as president” and “How to create effective campaign slogans and logos”.
Part 5 for the most part descends back into self-backslapping and explaining how Scott is so intelligent and knowledgeable he predicted everything right, and how he’s so powerful he actually helped Trump get elected. On the whole an interesting and highly insightful book, but tainted by Scott’s self-admiratory tone.
What I actually enjoyed most about this book was Scott’s unwilling transition to supporting Trump. The somewhat condescending tone and the unstated idea that no-one could understand why someone would vote for Trump, led me to expect a pretentious and self-righteous liberal narrative, but unravels much of the untruths said about Trump and without explicitly saying so, he demonstrates that while the Democrats tried to fake facts, Trump just put a spin on them. The turning point though, comes when Scott, who is triggered by bullying (of course) came to feel that the Democrats were actively stirring up violence against anyone who disagrees with them, that he knew of people who got beaten, their houses trashed and so on for supporting Trump. He also feared for his life and got the paid social media mafia after him.
Scott feels that while Trump may bully his opponents or media figures, they signed up for it, whereas the Democrats were bullying everyone who didn’t agree with them, and physically. Scott lives in California which he admits is massively Democrat. His anti-bullying alarm sounding, Scott supported Trump, although he doesn’t actually vote because he is too clever.
In spite of any criticisms of the book, the fact remains that Scott correctly predicted the 2016 election every step of the way by analysing the persuasive powers of candidates and their actions. He lost most of his friends and endured death threats for saying Trump would win, but turned out to be right about everything. For all his constant reminders of this, he deserves to be listened to.
All in all an interesting book and an easy and enjoyable read. The pretentious tone grates a little and if you’ve read other books on persuasion you probably won’t be blown away, but you’ll still enjoy it.