Tyler Cowen
Tyler Cowen - 
Listen To The Story


KAI RYSSDAL: Book readership is down, but we're doing our best to change that. Our series of Marketplace Beach Reads wraps up today with this last recommendation from one of our commentators.

You probably know people in your office who plaster their cubicles with stuff like kitten calendars and motivational sayings. Commentator and economist Tyler Cowen introduces us to a book that wonders what all that stuff tells us about those people.

TYLER COWEN: There's an art and a science to figuring out how people tick. One way we do it is by studying their possessions, their bedrooms, and their workspaces. We all love to play detective. But Sam Gosling, a psychologist from the University of Texas, elevates detective work to an art in his new book, "Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You."

Here's a brief snooping field guide: Too many awards in an office can indicate that a person feels underappreciated. If a woman shakes your hand firmly, she is probably more open to new experiences, or so the studies indicate. If you use "I", "me" and "my" a lot in your speech and writing, you tend to be low status, depressed, and possibly even suicidal. Music is the best topic for turning a stranger into a friend. And lots of inspirational posters are a sign of potential neuroticism.

Context matters and you need to scan as much information as possible. Many of the lessons of the book are about avoiding common mistakes. Contrary to what people often infer, a neat room doesn't signal an agreeable person. And a colorful, bright room doesn't indicate a conscientious person. If you're judging conscientiousness, look for formal dress but not fluent speech or calm speaking, two other false signals. If you're looking for neuroticism, dark clothing is a good clue, although we tend to look, mistakenly, for a weak or halting manner of speech.

This book will hold your attention but I wonder if there always isn't always another clue to ponder.

The snoop in me asks what it means that Sam Gosling wrote this book. And I'm sure he had veto power over the green cover and the keyhole image on the front. In the author's photo he has longish hair, a slight frown, and he is wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt. His Web page has lots of testimonials to the book's quality. That's a bit like Larry, the guy in the book with all the plaques, trophies and awards in his office. As the author writes: "Most of us like to know we are appreciated." So is Gosling brilliant, or simply fooling around? If you're not sure, that's the problem, but it's also part of the fun.

KAI RYSSDAL: Tyler Cowen is professor of economics at George Mason University.