Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Avoid Boring People" - JD Watson

OK, this is not relevant to Talking Brains, but I figure it's a public service announcement ... I just bought a book based on its title.

James Watson just wrote a biography, and I thought the title was really good, in all its ambiguity: Avoid Boring People. As a professor and someone who lectures occasionally, I realize that nothing is worse than boring people. And as a human being, few things are more irritating than having to hang out with boring people. So, Watson's title is pretty good, and it promised to be an interesting read.

Fatal flaw: this book is boring. He bored me, and showed himself as boorish. The book is an endless series of anecdotes about his stations in academia, what a lovely guy he is, how many Radcliffe undergrads he dated, how many people's careers he helped, and so on. This might be riveting, if you're in a circle of people who already know everyone here, but otherwise it's just plain boring. So he committed the cardinal sin of boring me. This is disappointing, because his snarkiness and directness promised to make for some amusing stuff--but I guess he just turns out to be another old fart who needs to recycle old files in his cabinet.

Possibly the most annoying part of the book isn't the boring anecdotes or the boorish remarks on his relationships with women, but the pretentious "remembered lessons" at the end of each chapter. These are supposed to be life lessons that give interesting insights into how to do science and be a big deal, but they end up being comments at the level of "work with a teammate who is your intellectual equal." Gee, thanks, JD. That's real good. Who woulda thunk it. Never occurred to anyone.

So while I love the title and I absolutely agree with its message, in all its ambiguity, this book is really weak.

6 comments:

marcj said...

So, apparently he's a bit of a racist schnook as well, at least according to the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/7050020.stm

Sad that there's a hundred ways to be smart, and you only need to be one of them to get a Nobel prize (or a Nature pub!)

Bill Idsardi said...

Very clever way to get the hitcount up ;-)
More from Wired:
http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2007/10/the-dog-ate-our.html

Anonymous said...

This is a bit like announcing that the milk's gone sour -- I believe you , but I kind of want to smell it too.

David Poeppel said...

I think that the comments that Watson has made in the past few days show, alas, that maybe he's not that smart after all. Maybe he was just a decent chemist who was at the right place at the right time. He could not avoid boring people and also not avoid insulting people, so I suppose we should not give him any more press, not buy his book, and have him skewered by Colbert.
And in that spirit: Colbert for president. Yay.

Gregory said...

A follow-up:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071025/ap_on_sc/controversial_scientist;_ylt=AjGd_oo12cD4Sj5ny3aCZNkDW7oF

nina kazanina said...

I couldn't follow Greg's latest link, so I could be posting the same stuff again, but Watson's official reply can be found here:

http://comment.independent.co.uk/commentators/article3075642.ece

I don't think it helps him much though as various UK universities canceled his talks even after it was published.