Taking nothing away from the jarring freshness of the material, Levitt and Dubner produced the book as they wrote it. Think record producers, and record producers have learned to live in a random access world. Some are even thriving. Like the title of track 3? Go there first.
With chapter titles like How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of Real Estate Agents? and What makes a Perfect Parent? they are almost daring you to abandon the linear structure of sequential chapters and dive into what grabs you, in the order that it grabs you, and when nothing is grabbing you, let the book go and walk away smarter.
Leavitt and Dubner cop to their scatter shot attack on conventional wisdom. The targets are all over the cultural and demographic map. Yet, once you lock onto their approach that deftly delinks correlation and causality, it’s tempting to grab another chapter. Maybe it’s the next chapter, or maybe not, but you keep reading. And maybe you realize that you just read the book without “reading the book.”
So this is what I tell my author / clients: Let’s think about ways to organize the content so it rewards our readers even if they only read a few chapters, even if they don’t start at the beginning. Let’s produce this book as we write it.
Our job is to build a narrative thesis that arcs from the first page to the last, and if we build it right they may come. We’d like that, and we’ll work to earn it, but we shouldn’t insist on it.
Readers are busy and smart. Let’s give them credit for both, then hand them the remote.