Steven Handel of the website The Emotion Machine has recently released his first e-book titled, The Science of Self Improvement. Knowing my proclivity for science and self improvement, he graciously forwarded me a copy for my own perusal. I think it's one of the better e-books I've had the good fortune to read and I'd like to share my thoughts.
First, The Emotion Machine was actually one of the first blogs I started to read. Steven started it 5 months before I started The Simpler Life and I remember being super impressed with the content and overall quality of the site. Steven seemed like a superstar to me and I can honestly say I used him as one of my role models when I began this whole writing on the Internet adventure. Steven has continued to keep up the great work and has turned to an even more scientific focus doing a great job breaking down and exploring ideas and articles that are normally locked up in academic circles. I think we have similar goals in making what can sometimes be difficult scientific writing and ideas more accessible to a greater number of people.
This e-book spans the gamut of what you might expect in a book about self improvement featuring chapters on beliefs, emotional intelligence, changing habits, work and leisure, relationships, and the ever important connection between physical and mental health. Nothing too out of the ordinary with that list of topics, except I rarely see people attacking the topic of beliefs and how they create our map of reality. It's an important concept that is a cornerstone of neurolinguistic programming (which many psychologists, although probably less than 10 years ago) might balk at seeing in a book with "science" in the title. Regardless, I really enjoyed that chapter and think Steven did a good job unpacking how important our beliefs are. Starting the book with this topic was a good idea because our beliefs form the bedrock of any self improvement effort.
More generally, the book is very well-written with minimal typos and grammatical errors (a feat that many e-books I read never accomplish). The design is understated and simple which keeps the focus on the writing and ideas instead of photographic distractions or silly design elements.
My primary point of criticism is that for a book with "science" in the title I'd like to see more focus on actual empirical studies and more diligent citation of where his information is coming from. The sections where he was able to point to specific psychologists or studies stand out as the strongest in the book. However, not all of the facts he presents in the book are accompanied by some kind of information where you could follow up their scientific validity. At the same time, I never read something and found myself thinking, "Well that's just not right," (again, a somewhat rare occurrence in most of the e-books I read). Of course, I'm not an expert on all of the topics Steven wrote about, either.
I'm comfortable admitting that my primary beef with the book probably comes from the fact that I'm currently in graduate school and I mostly read academic write-ups of studies or experiments. I understand that a book aimed at a general audience isn't going to have the same level of citation as an academic piece of writing. I just know that a lot of the ideas that get thrown around in general self improvement books sometimes seems to just seem like common sense and for whatever reason get bandied about without any sort of scientific basis. I can assume that most of what Steven writes in this book is correct (or close enough to correct as to not cause problems) but without better citations I can't be 100% certain. At any rate, I don't think there's anything in there that will assuredly mess you up, so you can mostly dismiss this part of the critique as the annoying rants of someone who gets chewed out by his professors for writing anything that can't be scientifically supported.
The e-book is on sale now and you can head over to The Emotion Machine to check it out. The full package is selling for $29.99 and includes the e-book (PDF, 112 pgs.), Meditation Guide: 8 Exercises for Improving Awareness in Your Everyday Life (PDF), a 1-month subscription to the Growing Minds Community and free lifetime updates to the e-book. Steven was kind enough to set up an affiliate program for his e-book, which means if you buy it using this link I receive a few bucks for sending you his way.