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Book review: Jonah Berger’s ‘Contagious: Why Things Catch On’

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The Details

Contagious: Why Things Catch On
One stars
By Jonah Berger, $26

Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On is a dumb-person book disguised as a smart-person book. Slick minimalist cover, prominent blurb from Harvard professor (Daniel Gilbert, whose book Stumbling on Happiness is entertaining and important), nothing good inside.

Why do certain products, businesses and videos “go viral” (e.g., Barclay Prime’s $100 cheesesteak, the Will It Blend? videos, New York’s Please Don’t Tell speakeasy)? According to Berger, it’s because they offer positive social currency. “Most people,” Berger writes, “would rather look smart than dumb, rich than poor and cool than geeky.”

Duh. And what’s up with that “most”? Are there really people who’d prefer to look dumb and poor?

Another thing that makes products, businesses and videos go viral is “remarkability.” Again, duh. Berger backs up this claim—that people are fascinated by the things they’re fascinated by—with findings from a study that concluded, “More remarkable products like Facebook or Hollywood movies were talked about almost twice as often as less remarkable brands like Wells Fargo and Tylenol.” Who knew? Everyone.

Here’s another gem: “Saving a hundred dollars, for example, tends to be more exciting than saving one dollar. Saving 50 percent is more exciting than saving 10 percent.”

You already know what Berger has to say, so instead of buying Contagious, find a copy of Stumbling on Happiness. Now that’s a book I want to tell people about.

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