Book Review: Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova

This review originally ran in the Tuesday, January 8th issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

With Mastermind, Maria Konnikova (who writes the "Literally Psyched" column in Scientific American) promises to teach us how to think like Sherlock Holmes. Though the great detective might have been fiction, she argues, "his rigorous approach to thought was very real indeed."

It all starts with understanding our brains and their biases and their annoyingly practical tendency to choose the easiest path in any given situation. Once we understand those habits, we can work to change them, starting with observing the world around us more closely and purposefully, then moving on to combining that observation with imagination of what could be or could have been. From there, the art of deduction flows naturally, further proving Holmes's constant claim that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

Though it can feel repetitive at times, Mastermind ultimately succeeds in helping readers to understand better how Holmes is able to think the way he does--though putting it into practice ourselves may prove harder than it sounds. Mastermind draws on many examples from the Holmes canon, and so will be best appreciated by those already familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories; others may struggle fully to appreciate Konnikova's examples from the texts or be disappointed to encounter the outcome of a story before having enjoyed it themselves.

Mastermind | Maria Konnikova | Viking Adult | Hardcover | January 2013 | 288 pages | Buy from an independent near you

1 comment

  1. This looks so interesting! Have you read Diane Ackerman's An Alchemy of the Mind? It sounds similar. Our brains are such strange and fascinating things, aren't they?


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