In his previous book, Vanderbilt (Traffic) wrote about why people drive the way they do. In this expansive follow-up, he takes a deep look at why people like what they like. Vanderbilt covers the topic exhaustively, examining varied social and psychological factors. He interviews, among other people, the vice president of product innovation for Netflix, the principal engineer at “music intelligence” company Echo Nest, and a Dutch psychologist who also happens to be a judge at a Paris cat show. In each chapter, he explores a different area of taste, including food, social networks, music playlists, and art. As he concludes (in a pithy “field guide to liking”), “Trying to explain, or understand, any one person’s particular tastes—including one’s own—is always going to be a maddeningly elusive and idiosyncratic enterprise.” Reading this book will cause readers to think twice before clicking “like” on Facebook, rating a film on Netflix, or ordering what the server says is the menu’s most popular item. Agent: Zoe Pagnamenta, Zoe Pagnamenta Agency. (May)
Vanderbilt (Survival City; Traffic) pens a fascinating exploration of how human preferences emerge, why we like the things we do, and why tastes change over time. In a narrative that takes readers into the offices of companies such as Netflix, Pandora, and Spotify, whose business models hinge on the ability to predict accurately consumer media preferences, the author also investigates the competitive worlds of cat shows and beer contests to identify what makes an expert judge different from the average person. He considers the impermanence and evolution of human taste, citing examples from the art world, athletic competitions, food science labs, and scholarly research. The result is a fascinating account that encourages readers to reflect upon their own preferences while making a compelling argument that those preferences can, and do, change with little conscious effort. VERDICT Essential for readers who are interested in getting a glimpse of the decision-making process at influential online media companies, as well as those who are interested in the processes that govern individual preferences and taste making.—Rebecca Brody, Westfield State Univ., MA
The science behind the choices we make. After insightfully scrutinizing vehicular driving habits, Vanderbilt (Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, 2008, etc.), a contributing editor for Wired UK, Outside, and Artforum, now explores what compels our selection process in everything from movies and music to munchies and the "chromatic sweet spot" of a favorite color. "We are faced with an ever-increasing amount of things to figure out whether we like or dislike," writes the author, "and yet at the same time there are fewer overarching rules and standards to go by in helping one decide." Throughout the book's entertaining chapters on the partiality of items like foods, Netflix movies, songs, and online social interactivity, Vanderbilt examines the methodology and psychological nature of the "taxonomy of taste." He notes that while websites like Yelp and YouTube enable users to quick-grade products, services, and media-driven experiences and partake in their popularity and likability, these sites also incorporate algorithms that ingeniously weed out fake reviews, which can skew results and overall impressions. Supporting theories on taste development and personal bias, the author interviewed anthropologists on dog breeding and a host of psychologists and psychology professors, who fascinatingly discuss the sensory influences of dessert and a hypothesis attesting that repeated exposure reinforces likability. In his exploration of the predictability, instability, and malleability of our partialities, Vanderbilt also spent quality time with opinionated competition judges and at a beer festival, where, in matters of flavor and variety, the pairings and possibilities were endless. In a conclusive closing section, the author seeks to clarify the multilayered dynamics of predilection, and though he has produced an extremely convincing effort, he admits that examining this subject remains a "maddeningly elusive and idiosyncratic enterprise." Like it or not, there's much to behold in this exhaustively researched, intellectual assessment of human preference.
[A] lively, wide-ranging study… The footnotes have a David Foster Wallace-like wit as Vanderbilt calls our attention to such issues as whether people find donuts less yummy if they taste them in a salmon cannery and whether rats enjoy grape Kool-Aid more if it is infused directly into their stomachs… Convincing… Quite funny… Clear and engaging… He is to be commended for the sheer range of material he makes accessible.”
— Lisa Zeidner, The Washington Post
“To answer an age-old question – ‘Why do we like the things we like?’ – Vanderbilt navigates philosophy, economics, psychology, neurology and data science… As Vanderbilt explores the enigmatic forces driving these decisions, he paints an engaging, multilayered… picture of taste.”
— Benjamin Leszcz, The Globe and Mail
“A brave and timely investigation… engulfed as we are by an ocean of science and punditry that presents human behaviour as something that can be codified, predicted and even synthesized. Swimming cheerfully against that tide, Vanderbilt makes a compelling case that most of our choice-making defies those attempts. The nature of taste in fact remains stubbornly mysterious, despite our compulsion to exercise it – and despite how that compulsion increasingly shapes modern life… Clever… Persuasive and personal. There’s no judgment here. The author leaves that job to us.”
— Bruce Philp, National Post
“Bounces the insights of modern data scientists off the work of generations of critics, economists, neuroscientists, philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists. Taste, we learn, is an extremely relative phenomenon currently swerving through an age of extreme relativity… [Vanderbilt’s] key takeaway is that taste remains a complex and erratic phenomenon that’s endlessly shifting according to environmental, physical, and social pressures… Vanderbilt is a skillful synthesizer, and You May Also Like is full of unexpected connections.”
— Felix Gillette, Bloomberg
“A tour through the world of human preferences and the companies that try to divine them… [Vanderbilt is an] amiable and thorough guide to a subject that can get either fussy or murky fairly quickly, and he has an obsessive determination to get to the bottom of something we exercise so often and unthinkingly we tend to take it for granted.”
— Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times Book Review
“Vanderbilt is an intelligent writer, and there is a lot of interesting material in “You May Also Like”… Intrepid…Vanderbilt is able to identify two factors that have repeatedly been shown to have a significant influence on taste. One is social consensus; the other is familiarity. We get attracted to things that we see other people are attracted to, and we like things more the longer we like them.”
— Louis Menand, The New Yorker
“You May Also Like sets out to understand this mysterious phenomenon of how our preferences change and come to be…the book moves on a whirlwind tour of taste across its many domains, from food and music to color and even cats… [Assembles] a constellation of insights that resonate with one another, each serving to reveal another joint or detail of the bigger picture… Passionate… Enormously refreshing.”
— Sheena Iyengar, Science Magazine
“Essential for readers who are interested in getting a glimpse of the decision-making process at influential online media companies, as well as those who are interested in the processes that govern individual preferences and taste making.”
— Library Journal
“Entertaining… Extremely convincing… There’s much to behold in this exhaustively researched, intellectual assessment of human preference.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“An intensive investigation of what we like, why we like it and why sometimes it’s so hard to decide… Vanderbilt delivers the explanations with ample documentation and enough humorous asides to make his book deliciously palatable the whole way through.”
—Sheila M. Trask, BookPage
"The danger in reading You May Also Like is that when you finally put Tom Vanderbilt’s book down, you probably think he's just made you the most interesting person in the room."
— Faith Salie, author Approval Junkie and panelist of NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!
“We live in an age of bewildering choice, yet we are the sum total of our decisions. You May Also Like is my favorite kind of book— surprising, smart, and superbly researched. It tackles that most mysterious of subjects: what make us tick.”
— Terry O’Reilly, author of The Age of Persuasion and host of CBC radio show Under the Influence
“A fascinating romp through the mysteries of taste.”
— Susan Pinker, author of The Sexual Paradox and The Village Effect
“You May Also Like is the best kind of science writing — deeply reported and researched, a witty investigation that’s precisely to my taste.”
— Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think
"Vanderbilt's fascinating foray into the world of tastes and why they exist makes for a book that's well worth reading...a light, informative read, and one that's thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended."
— Sandy Clark, The Star