In this lively, wide-ranging study, Vanderbilt argues that 'our tastes are so elusive, even to us' ... You May Also Like is full of bizarre tidbits. It’s a dense distillation of current research — and as such, not exactly a breezy read ... Vanderbilt makes a convincing argument about the tyranny of popularity in determining our choices. We like things better when we become more familiar with them ... You May Also Like is intended for a lay audience, and Vanderbilt mostly succeeds in making his summaries of the science clear and engaging.
Vanderbilt is an intelligent writer, and there is a lot of interesting material in You May Also Like, but he has dived into a fathomless sea. He opens with an epigraph from Nietzsche, 'All of life is a dispute over taste,' which pretty much sums up the problem. What does not, on some level, involve taste? ... Vanderbilt is intrepid; he is also fair. He desperately wants to find a non-circular account of preferences, something better than 'People like this kind of thing because this is the kind of thing that they—or people around them, or people who are supposed to know—like,' but he has to admit defeat. There is no place outside the swirling galaxy of taste formation on which to rest a philosophical lever.
[Vanderbilt] is a generally amiable and thorough guide to a subject that can get either fussy or murky fairly quickly, and he has an obsessive determination to get to the bottom of something we exercise so often and unthinkingly we tend to take it for granted ... [The] lukewarm vagueness, whether deliberate or not, makes for a book that has a lot of interesting bits and pieces but seems to be missing a larger animating principle.
You May Also Like is a measured consideration of appetites in food, music, and art, as well as evaluations of talent and beauty that can be easily skewed, such as bias among gymnastics judges ... One of the book’s richest sections is the one about music, where taste helps us to find a place among our own kind ... Reading Vanderbilt’s book, I was reminded of nothing so much as the years my friends and I have spent going to indie rock shows, surrounded by fawning fans who could express their appreciation for a band via only the slightest nodding. In learning how to like, it seems, we have forgotten how to love.
'Taste is social comparison,' Tom Vanderbilt says in his new book, You May Also Like. He goes on to add — via the great French sociologist of the subject, Pierre Bourdieu — that 'taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier' ...the book at times takes a positivist turn, finding too much truth in simple statistics ...filled with clever asides about the bands he once adored and choice quotations from his favorite philosophers ... A stylish writer, he’s particularly good at navigating the shoals of digital opinion and the various techniques of information management employed by savvy consumers ...resists Gladwellian grand theories and Lehrerian oversimplification. At the same time, many of the scientific experts Vanderbilt consults bring insights that provoke little more than some appreciative chin-scratching ...Vanderbilt displays a consistent interpretive outlook of humble curiosity.