STARRED REVIEW
May 2016

The science behind what you like

By Tom Vanderbilt
In You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice, Tom Vanderbilt talks to the geniuses behind algorithm-based curation systems like Pandora, the food-science folks responsible for military rations and art historians who can predict your preferences in paintings.
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In the wise words of Winnie-the-Pooh, “[A]lthough eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.” Tom Vanderbilt does know what this precious moment is called—today it’s known as “liking”
—and the bestselling author of Traffic breaks it down for us in an intensive investigation of what we like, why we like it and why sometimes it’s so hard to decide.

Drawing on voluminous research into the ways we like, and dislike, everything from art to music, Vanderbilt tries to pin down our preferences, something we think we know about ourselves but really don’t. We may be quick to hit the “Like” button on Facebook, but what that means turns out to be both subjective and situational. In You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice, Vanderbilt talks to the geniuses behind algorithm-based curation systems like Pandora, the food-science folks responsible for military rations and art historians who can predict your preferences in paintings. You’ll find yourself thinking that surely you wouldn’t be manipulated by cues like the color of your cola (clear doesn’t taste as good as caramel color to most folks), but as Vanderbilt’s evidence stacks up, you realize there are many unconscious social, environmental and cognitive reasons for your choices. 

You’ll also find that Pooh was right. One of the mysteries Vanderbilt unpacks is the phenomenon of satiety, and how it changes the taste of food. There are reasons the anticipation of a good meal is so exciting and the first few bites taste so good. Vanderbilt delivers the explanations with ample documentation and enough humorous asides to make his book deliciously palatable the whole way through.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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By Tom Vanderbilt
Knopf
ISBN 9780307958242

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