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Books in Brief: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Welcome to Books in Brief. Every week for a while I'll be working through the growing stack of excellent books on my desk and sharing a few brief thoughts on why you might like them. Each little post will follow the same basic format, which I hope will help you decide quickly and comfortably whether each book is right for you or someone in your life. 

Up this week: New York Times bestseller The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business by award-winning business journalist Charles Duhigg.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The takeaway

Old habits dragging you down? With a little hard work, they don’t have to. Learn just how much we already know about habits and how to change them — it’s kind of a shocking amount! — and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a modern-day superhero. (You can be an ironic one if that suits you better. No judgment.) Given how many of our habits, good and bad, are food-related, this book has a lot to offer those of us who try to make smart decisions about what we eat.

The dirty details

This is one of my favorite kinds of books: a well-researched self-help guide clevery disguised as a smart social science book for mainstream audiences (and thereby made socially acceptable). The storytelling is so skillful and engaging that it actually made me interested in the results of a football game for the course of a couple of paragraphs. (If you know me at all, even just as a casual reader, you know what a feat this is.)

It also made my eyes tear up a surprising amount and in surprising circumstances, like learning how Paul O’Neill turned around an aluminum manufacturer in distress. Not exactly your typical tear jerker, but that didn’t stop me one bit.

The lovely author

Charles Duhigg is an award-winning business reporter for the New York Times, whose work reminds me of everyone’s (by which I mean my) super duper geek crush Malcolm Gladwell’s. What else is there to say, really?

You had me at...

“Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more han we realize — they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”

How to get it

Like a toothbrush or an immersion blender, this book is one of those small investments that will pay dividends for years to come. Start a good habit right now and buy it from Amazon or Indie Bound — depending on what kind of superhero you want to be.


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  1. Hi. My name is Charles Duhigg, and I’m the author of The Power of Habit. I was writing to say thanks for mentioning the book on your site earlier this year, and to ask: the paperback of The Power of Habit is coming out on January 7; can I send you a review copy?

    The idea behind releasing the paperback in January is there might be a bunch of people who are interested in changing their habits in the New Year. For instance, studies indicate that if you want to develop a running habit in 2014, you should choose a cue like putting your running shoes next to your bed every morning. And then, give yourself a reward – like a piece of chocolate – when you get home from jogging. That way, the cue and the reward become neurologically intertwined. Eventually, when your brain sees your sneakers, it starts craving the reward, and that makes it easier to hit the pavement each day. And in a couple of weeks, you won’t need the treat anymore – your brain will come to see the workout as a reward itself.

    If I can send you a copy of The Power of Habit paperback, please just send me your name and mailing address. Or, if you would like to chat about how habits can transform your readers’ lives, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

    To a happy and healthy 2014!

    Charles Duhigg

  2. Loved, LOVED this book, which I listened to while on walks in the park. I fully intend to “read” it again, this time in print. So much to learn, and I’m already putting it to use in forming some better habits!

  3. Sounds like a great book. Charles Duhigg will be taking our book group members through his book in October and your review here has me more pumped up than ever!

  4. Sold!