December 1, 2011

Book Review: Shiny Objects by James A. Roberts

There are those that will shelve Jim Roberts' new book Shiny Objects next to Levitt and Dubner's Freakonomics or Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point, and they wouldn't be wrong -- Roberts is also contributing to a growing number of books being published these days that are looking around at the state of things in America and asking what the heck is going on here.

I think it's good to see these books getting published.  I like the idea that people are buying books to read and consider reevaluating where our society is today, how we got here, and where we're going.

So why bother with this one?  What Shiny Objects brings to the table is something that seems almost like a whistleblower at work: Roberts, as a marketing expert (and professor of consumer behavior at Baylor University), brings a marketing perspective to the table.

The promise of the book's subtitle: to explain "why we spend money we don't have in search of happiness we can't buy."  Roberts does this in a series of chapters that range from consideration of the Christian Megachurches (e.g., Joel Osteen's Lakewood) to the impact of our increasingly cashless society (i.e., using credit or debit cards) and psychological discussions of self-worth and self-control.

It's a fascinating read, and you'll learn a lot here.  I don't know that we'll all learn the same thing, though.

Dr. Roberts covers a lot of territory and asks a lot of hard questions: why are we so materialistic? What amount of  responsibility do home owners have to bear for the housing crisis (as opposed to big banks, mortgage servicers, or slippery appraisers)?  Things like that.

His book has lots of quizzes, fun ones too, and I always consider it as a sign of excellence when a problem is not only identified but a solution (or two) are offered.  Roberts does this.  Roberts guides the reader into contemplating personal goals and implementing change.

For this reason alone, this book is worth your time and I recommend that you read it.  

However, I don't know that consumer behavior alone is sufficient to explain what has happened to America today.  We need to read and understand what Professor Roberts provides us in Shiny Objects, but it's not the whole answer here.

Recognizing the irony of participating in his Word of Mouth marketing campaign in providing this review on a simplicity blog (I did get the book for free, see my earlier post), I don't know that marketing alone gives us the entire answer.

Reminds me of the old poem, one of my favorites, by John Godfrey Saxe about The Blind Men and the Elephant.  Roberts gives us important information here, if we as a country are to change and recover; however, while Shiny Objects reads as if it alone can provide all the change that each of us needs, I don't think this is possible.

As a Christian, I would suggest that only the Holy Bible can do that job.  That's one book too few people are pondering today.
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