Book Review: Wait: The Art And Science Of Delay

Wait:  The Art And Science Of Delay, by Frank Partnoy

In general, I would say that my feelings towards this book are mixed to positive, in general.  This book certainly belongs as part of those pseudoscientific books that seek to use scientific research to support particular worldviews about matters that are more social or cultural in nature [1], and your fondness for this book in particular is likely related to your fondness for that sort of pseudoscience in general.  As my views to the approach are highly ambivalent, my own perspective towards this book is colored accordingly.  It was interesting to see the author take on a subject that was related but distinct to that of the first book of his I had read, but at the same time this book was not as impressive to me as the extent to which the author appeared to be impressed with himself in his attempts to legitimize a patient and pokey approach in many areas of life–including investing–given our lack of expertise and mastery of the subject at hand.  And even if I am inclined to be a somewhat pokey person myself whose intuition is generally in the service of someone inclined to be rather less than aggressive in acting on my understanding, that does not mean I necessarily always appreciate how that mindset is defended here.

In this book of about 250 pages or so, the author divides his material into fourteen chapters that generally have click-baity titles that are designed to draw the attention of the reader in a Gladwellian fashion.  After an introduction, the author introduces his subject with a discussion of hearts and minds and the connection of gut responses to situations and the action of nerve cells in various brain systems (1).  After that, the author discusses superfast sports (2), and fast and slow approaches to high-frequency trading (3).  The author examines concerns about subliminal messages in fast food advertising as well as frontal nudity in various movies (4) and discusses a notoriously bad call in football that led directly to a loss (5).  He discusses thin-slicing and its hazards (6), advises readers not to panic (7), compares the tension of first dates with stress of being a fighter pilot (8), and gives a politically biased interpretation of when it is best to eat crow (9) that shows itself in favor of Clinton’s approach.  The author then turns, at last, to the issue of procrastination (10), provides a master class on investing (11), and tells people get off the clock and refuse to let themselves be controlled by it (12) before finishing with a praise of 3M’s previous attitude towards innovation (13) and an urging of people to take the long view rather than the short one in life and politics (14).

Ultimately, this book would be a lot more successful if the author had a different approach.  It is not so much the attitude towards delay that makes this book problematic but the way in which the author shows himself to have political and philosophical views that are antithetical to my own.  In a book like this, where the author is basing his opinion on the behaviors of Nobel prize-winning economists towards sending packages of clothing and the patience of dogs, small children, and pigeons, approach matters a great deal.  An author that supports contemporary left-wing causes and Democratic politicians and uses dubious scientific studies and misguided views of evolution to justify his position may be arguing for the right thing but is doing so the wrong way.  And when it comes to matters that touch on politics and worldview, for this reader at least, how one legitimizes one’s position is just as important as the position one takes, and this author fails.  For readers who are less critical about the author’s approach, this may be a book they deeply enjoy.

[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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