Must-Have: The Hidden Instincts Behind Everything We Buy by Geoffrey Miller

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Must-Have: The Hidden Instincts Behind Everything We Buy by Geoffrey Miller

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: A book that knows more about you that you do, and wants to tell you all about it. The question is, wouldn't you rather get on with life without knowing?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: August 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099437925

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If no one can tell the difference, why shell out $30 000 for a real Rolex when a 'mere' $1200 will get you a virtually identical replica?

Why do luxury manufacturers such as BMW spend money advertising in mass media whose typical readership most likely won't ever be able to afford their products?

And just why is the i in iPod so important?

Marketing is a science. It's also a subject that used to barely exist, but has rapidly progressed from a crude advert or slogan to a highly complex and expensive industry that rather disturbingly offers real return on investment. In this book, Miller looks at the subconscious subtleties that influence every purchase we make, from bottled water to hybrid cars.

This book is a real hybrid too, a mixture of psychology, genetics, evolution, sociology, market research, history. It's certainly the brilliantly original, provocative and witty book it calls itself on the back in a true example of what Miller would term fitness flaunting. I do think it gets a bit dense at times, for the most part it is an enjoyable read that makes you think until your brain hurts.

What this book excels at is picking something we, as the general public, either take for granted or haven't got around to noticing yet, and explaining why it is so, from why most magazine covers Photoshop their models' eyes to make them whiter to why the manufacturers of exercise equipment could offer a ten, twenty, thirty year warranty for their stuff and not lose out (hint: it's not about the quality of the workmanship). This is hardly surprising, given that the author is the same person who, a few years ago, scientifically proved the very important fact that lap dancers make more money during ovulation. It's that sort of acute attention to detail that dragged me on during some of the more long-winded sections.

The book is clearly meticulously researched but reads as one fluid argument rather than a mish-mash of others' opinions. This is helped by the lack of those pesky footnotes which do tend to interrupt a text somewhat. I suppose this reflects on my reasons for reading, though, and if you were after something slightly more academic you might just have to make do with the 26 pages of further reading references at the back.

My issue with this and similar books, however, is that the authors always seem so keen on outsmarting the common man, and showing how you can rise above the clichés to become a higher being. Their view of the world is always that it's evolved into an undesirable place where we are all puppets in the hands of marketing puppeteers who jiggle our strings at will. And by the end of the book, you may agree, at least for a while. I always find, however, that over time I glide back into the other, more populated camp that sees nothing all that wrong with a little conspicuous consumption. I was irritated by the exercises at the end of the book, meant to show how far we've drifted upstream and how important it is to paddle back in the right direction with all your might, and it's this sort of holier than thou attitude that made me dock a star.

This book was previously published as a hardback under a different title. This title is used throughout the book which is a little confusing while you try to figure out why the author keeps referencing a different book so much. Just as you might be a little thrown if I were to change my name and start referring to myself in the 3rd person.

Thanks go to the publishers for sending in a copy.

How Pleasure Works talks about why we like what we like. I liked it a fraction of a star more.

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Buy Must-Have: The Hidden Instincts Behind Everything We Buy by Geoffrey Miller at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Must-Have: The Hidden Instincts Behind Everything We Buy by Geoffrey Miller at Amazon.com.

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