Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us
by Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman
[#50 in my
52 60 book challenge]
A non-fiction book featuring a series of chapters about various life annoyances and the science (usually brain-related stuff) about why…I’ll sum it up for you: most of our annoyances appear to come from evolutionary responses to things that used to be really dangerous (fingernails on a chalkboard have the same frequency as a scream). That or they come from our expectations not being met — like the expectation that a repetitive sound will stop. The book explains how the science of annoyance is a very new, under-studied science and annoyance is hard to standardize and quantify. Neither of those surprised me, but I found the ideas behind why we would want to quantify and study it quite interesting.
Things I learned included: why skunk smell bothers us, why cell phones in public drive us crazy (learned a new word: halfalogue), and where to buy a novelty item specifically designed to annoy people with a random beeping (look out, family!). The book covered annoyances in multiple senses and cultures, and everything was very well researched.
This was my seventh (and final) audio book for 2011. I felt really, really dumb when I realized that the authors are from NPR. I was listening, thinking, “This sounds more like NPR than an audio book?” Well, duh. I often listen to Science Friday and didn’t even realize that Flora Lichtman is the familiar voice from that show. As audio books go, the NPR-factor made this a very difference experience because the authors read with a much more conversational style. At times it was off-putting, and Flora Lichtman can be a little much over 6.5 hours of content (there wasn’t much of Joe Palca). Don’t get me wrong — I LIKE her. She has a very unique, interesting voice. But I did get sick of her eventually.
A lot of people ’round the web compare Annoying to the books of Malcolm Gladwell (have you read The Tipping Point? You should). I think that comparison is a bit ambitious. However, the comparison makes sense because they are similar books that would appeal to the same audience. Overall, a worthwhile read if you are a science nerd or love NPR. It was a little dense for me at points as a non-science person, but I suffered through and did get something from it.