Book Review: How To Read A Person Like A Book

How To Read A Person Like A Book, by Gerard I. Nierenberg

It is quite well known among anyone remotely familiar with me that I enjoy reading books and that I have a great deal of interest in the problem of interpersonal communication [1].  This book is a particularly practical book, and an immensely worthwhile one for anyone who is a speaker or anyone who draws the sort of responses from other people that I have often done.  It is a book on nonverbal communication, and is an attempt to help make people more responsive and observant to the tells of people’s posture and gestures while it is still possible for someone to successfully navigate the stressful process of communicating with other people.  To be sure, the book is written in such a way that the author draws a great deal of attention to his own success in teaching others how to be more observant and how it improved them–like all self-help books this one has a certain amount of salesmanship and gamesmanship about it.  It is remarkable, given the extent to which communication is nonverbal, that we are often so unobservant about it, but at least I can say that I know a few people who are quite insightful about my body language and gestures, even if they are not the sort of people I would most wish to be able to read me like a book.

In under 200 pages, the author manages to give an entertaining discussion of gestures and body language that looks at how we use nonverbal communication in a variety of ways.  I know I was able to see a lot of myself in these pages, with pictures and descriptions of gestures and body language that shows openness, that shows someone desperately wanting to escape, that shows fondness and flirtation as well as closed and even hostile body language that immediately proceeds a deeply unpleasant scene.  The pictures give the reader a good visualization and the text is often entertaining as well as insightful.  The author skillfully examines how our communication gives tells even when we are trying to disguise it, and that politicians, lovers, public speakers, and businessmen all need to do a better job at communicating in ways that others will appreciate and that will express the openness that we should feel about others.  The author also comments on body language that expresses anxiety and nervousness and how that tends to lower the trust that others have even if they do not understand the reasons why.

This book is one of the most practical books I have read in some time, a book whose value is obvious and which fills a fairly drastic need in my own life.  Given that the book is not a demanding one and that it can be very useful, aside from enjoyable to read, this is a book I can highly recommend for people who want to do better at gauging the responsiveness of their audience and understanding how their own feelings escape through their body language.  I likely read an old edition of this book, published decades ago, but the subject matter of the book is sufficiently important that this is the sort of book that has likely remained in print in edition after edition.  If not, it should be, given that so many of us would be greatly helped by a more precise understanding of body language and its meaning.  Why wouldn’t we want to read others like books, seeing how much we enjoy spending time around people as well as reading books for insight?  I hope the question is as rhetorical for others as it is for me.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: How To Read A Person Like A Book

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