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Taste in an Age of Endless Choice
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The science behind the choices we make.

After insightfully scrutinizing vehicular driving habits, Vanderbilt (Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, 2008, etc.), a contributing editor for Wired UK, Outside, and Artforum, now explores what compels our selection process in everything from movies and music to munchies and the “chromatic sweet spot” of a favorite color. “We are faced with an ever-increasing amount of things to figure out whether we like or dislike,” writes the author, “and yet at the same time there are fewer overarching rules and standards to go by in helping one decide.” Throughout the book’s entertaining chapters on the partiality of items like foods, Netflix movies, songs, and online social interactivity, Vanderbilt examines the methodology and psychological nature of the “taxonomy of taste.” He notes that while websites like Yelp and YouTube enable users to quick-grade products, services, and media-driven experiences and partake in their popularity and likability, these sites also incorporate algorithms that ingeniously weed out fake reviews, which can skew results and overall impressions. Supporting theories on taste development and personal bias, the author interviewed anthropologists on dog breeding and a host of psychologists and psychology professors, who fascinatingly discuss the sensory influences of dessert and a hypothesis attesting that repeated exposure reinforces likability. In his exploration of the predictability, instability, and malleability of our partialities, Vanderbilt also spent quality time with opinionated competition judges and at a beer festival, where, in matters of flavor and variety, the pairings and possibilities were endless. In a conclusive closing section, the author seeks to clarify the multilayered dynamics of predilection, and though he has produced an extremely convincing effort, he admits that examining this subject remains a “maddeningly elusive and idiosyncratic enterprise.”

Like it or not, there’s much to behold in this exhaustively researched, intellectual assessment of human preference.

Pub Date: May 10th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-307-95824-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2016


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