Inside the Book: The Monographs

Inside the Book - Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

This blog refers to the best 5 books I read in 2021 and goes deep on the matter. You can find the list of my best readings here.

Complete title – The Monographs

Author – Ben Cardall

People who love the tales of Sherlock Holmes fell for them because of the astounding intellect of the titular protagonist. Holmes can read people and events based on the smallest, unseen particular.

Perhaps you aren’t into books, but you watched BBC’s Sherlock, which gives a fresh and updated version of the worldwide’s most famous (fictional) detective; and as for the fans of Conan Doyle’s works, you were mesmerized by his incredible observational skills. Except you probably think that it is impossible to achieve these results in real life.

What if I was telling you that you could not only think like Sherlock Holmes but act as if you were him?

Here’s what you’ll find inside the book:

A manual of analytical observation

The Monographs is a compendium of practical observations consolidated by years of practice by the author. Ben Cardall‘s passion for Sherlock Holmes’s stories brought him to study and practice the “art of deduction” for the last 15 years. His experience is consolidated in this book. Each chapter focuses on one factor in making deductions: body language, appearance, belongings, and so on.

The book is structured in a way that you can practice what you learn while you are reading about it, and suggestions on how to build your system. The main feature of deductions is being able to carefully observe the people around you, and consolidate this empirical knowledge in facts. In a way, the author does not focus much on the framework he uses to produce insights, but rather on the components that should be accounted for to build it.

I think this is good for two reasons. The first is that each person has different preferences to learn and diverse prerogatives to observe and deduce (according to the purpose). The second can be explained as follow:

Prerequisites to achieve the Sherlockian thinking

Before we even get into deductionism it is important to understand this: critical observations are the product of several skills that mold together. For good deductions, we require a sharp mind. We must acknowledge our biases and not jump to conclusions. We must learn the general facts, then encrypt and store them in our memory. Particulars follow the general observations, as in a decision tree.

Critical thinking and memory are mandatory to achieve efficient results without falling into cognitive traps. The journey of the deductionist is, indeed, a journey of meta-learning that leaves almost no space for theoretical application and the analytical mindset is subordinated to practical evidence. This is what distinguishes Sherlock’s head from Watson’s mind, which is prey to emotional interpretation and judgemental analysis.

Real-life applications

The skills treated in the book are very useful in many areas of expertise. I approached this book to become a better coach, thinking that knowing non-verbal communication alone would prove insufficient at times. Relying on one tool alone is a good way to create axioms in our minds – the ones that don’t allow us to improve further.

Ben Cardall uses his skills to deliver his mentalist show. Others might find them intriguing to follow the steps of Sherlock Holmes and pursue a career as investigator. Sellers might improve their results based on what they are able to catch from their potential customers. Psychologists could help further their patients. Conan Doyle himself based his greatest creation on a surgeon, Dr. Joseph Bell.

I believe that the ultimate goal of deductions should be an augmented awareness, a sort of antidote against the mindlessness that usually accompanies us. Being able to grasp useful information around us and act consequently makes us better human beings: it would help us to understand when something is not right with our closest ones, even if they don’t say that – and thus acquire a new level of discrete empathy.

My favourite quote from this book

“Even when the mouth lies, the way it looks still tells the truth”.

Friedrich Nietzsche (from Beyond Good and Evil)

This quote marks the beginning of the chapter Facing The Facts, which is about facial expressions. This message resonates on any page of The Monographs: what we observe of a person can tell us much more than what the person wants to communicate to us.

If we mirror the idea against ourselves, we come to realize that we also give the same out, betraying ourselves with a frowned brow, the neglect of our belongings, the way we dress and care for our facial hair. For the deductionist, we can be an open book. If we are the deductionist, all books are open to us and we can read between their lines.

What I learned from reading this book

It is harder to do than to tell. Although there is no framework suggested within the book, a systematic approach is required to succeed, and consistency is even more important than having a framework. I came to understand that the amount of time and energy required to achieve the smallest improvement is colossal. With many changes at work and other matters to focus on, it is hard for me to keep up, but if you have more time to afford this is definitely worth your time.

We are more Watson than Sherlock. That’s something I learned when reading Mastermind (written by Maria Konnikova), and then I came also to terms with the fact that having a talent for analysis does not mean anything: more often than not our deductions are wrong. We can’t read data if we do not collect them carefully!

Even the little progress counts. Almost 2 years of quarantine went against my goal of learning; and YouTube videos are no match for practical experience. On the other hand, my speed in catching details and patterns otherwise unseen increased to new standards. That’s an amazing skill that I used to my advantage multiple times at work. There is still hope for me to get closer to the likes of Ben Cardall and Sherlock.

Published by Andrea Paviglianiti

I practice coaching, I love reading, and I work as a data scientist. I also recharge my batteries with meditation, martial arts, and video games. I perform career and skills coaching – thus I define myself as a “cognitive” coach: I help people improve their learning experience to succeed where they want. My method is based on behavioral analysis, psychology of learning, philosophy of dialogue, and classic literature. I write about how to get better at learning, the best books I read, and my personal philosophy of coaching. And I will not lie to you – I can get verbose at times! I’d be happy if you stick around and read more of what I have to share!

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