Titles better than their books

What got you here won’t get you there. I’ve been thinking about that title lately. Some things that used to be the best use of my time no longer are.

I bought Marshall Goldsmith’s book by that title shortly after it came out in 2007. As much as I liked the title, I was disappointed by the content and didn’t finish it. I don’t remember much about it, only that it wasn’t what I expected. Maybe it’s a good book — I’ve heard people say they like it — but it wasn’t a good book for me at the time.

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I’ve written before about The Medici Effect, a promising title that didn’t live up to expectations.

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“Standardized Minds” is a great book title. I haven’t read the book; I just caught a glimpse of the cover somewhere. Maybe it lives up to its title, but the title says so much.

There is a book by Peter Sacks Standardized Minds: The High Price Of America’s Testing Culture And What We Can Do To Change It. Maybe that’s the book I saw, though it’s possible that someone else wrote a book by the same title. I can’t say whether I recommend the book or not since I haven’t read it, but I like the title.

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I started to look for more examples of books that didn’t live up to their titles by browsing my bookshelves. But I quickly gave up on that when I realized these are exactly the kinds of books I get rid of.

What are some books with great titles but disappointing content?

8 thoughts on “Titles better than their books

  1. I’ve struggled to find a good book on practical software engineering. I’ve waded through several books covering UML, patterns, agile, OO, and on and on. Most of the books are stuffy, hand-wavy, and seem to be oriented toward staying as far away from actual code as possible.

    Not to name names but I’ll name names. _Software Architecture in Practice_ seemed like the perfect book for getting some nitty gritty software engineering ideas. Nope. Lots of high level descriptions, boxes with arrows, and very little about specific engineering practices.

    The best S.E. books I’ve found are Microsoft’s. _Code Complete_ and _Writing Solid Code_ are still the best practical S.E. books I’ve read.

  2. The Bayesian Game: A Maggie Alexander Novel promised to be an exiting, Bayesian themed thriller but turned out to be poorly written and not related to Bayesian statistics at all… I’m now looking forward to “Statistical wars III: The return of the prior”.

  3. I had to read “What got you here won’t get you there” for a management workshop. What I got out of it was the following: you got ahead in the organization by stabbing your co-workers in the back and making them look bad. But now that you’re in a management position, your job is to make everyone look good.

    I read the comic book version though, so this may not be the whole story.

  4. My most recent disappointment was “Liars and Outliers” by Bruce Schneier. I was expecting interesting reflections about statistical outliers in society, and mostly got a collection of blog posts.

  5. I was disappointed by Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food by Felipe Fernández-Armesto, and by Why We Eat What We Eat by Raymond Sokolov. Neither was bad, but both had serious problems of disorganization and proof-by-assertion. For that matter, I could probably say something similar about Guns, Germs, and Steel, which managed to pack 150 pages of important insight into 1000 pages of randomized text.

  6. In the realm of science fiction, there are some amazing story titles whose actual stories didn’t quite live up to the promise, at least for me. A few such:

    Harlan Ellison:
    I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
    “Repent, Harlequin” Said the Ticktockman
    Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes
    The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World
    I See a Man Sitting On a Chair, and the Chair Is Biting His Leg

    James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon):
    All the Kinds of Yes
    Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
    Love is the Plan the Plan is Death
    With Delicate Mad Hands

    Cordwainer Smith (Paul Linebarger):
    No, No, Not Rogov!
    Think Blue, Count Two
    The Dead Lady of Clown Town
    The Game of Rat and Dragon
    The Colonel Came Back from the Nothing-at-All

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