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Flavor of the Month

Why Smart People Fall for Fads

Joel Best (Author)


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While fads such as hula hoops or streaking are usually dismissed as silly enthusiasms, trends in institutions such as education, business, medicine, science, and criminal justice are often taken seriously, even though their popularity and usefulness is sometimes short-lived. Institutional fads such as open classrooms, quality circles, and multiple personality disorder are constantly making the rounds, promising astonishing new developments—novel ways of teaching reading or arithmetic, better methods of managing businesses, or improved treatments for disease. Some of these trends prove to be lasting innovations, but others—after absorbing extraordinary amounts of time and money—are abandoned and forgotten, soon to be replaced by other new schemes. In this pithy, intriguing, and often humorous book, Joel Best—author of the acclaimed Damned Lies and Statistics—explores the range of institutional fads, analyzes the features of our culture that foster them, and identifies the major stages of the fad cycle—emerging, surging, and purging. Deconstructing the ways that this system plays into our notions of reinvention, progress, and perfectibility, Flavors of the Month examines the causes and consequences of fads and suggests ways of fad-proofing our institutions.

1. The Illusion of Diffusion
2. Why We Embrace Novelties: Conditions That Foster Institutional Fads
3. The Fad Cycle: Emerging
4. The Fad Cycle: Surging
5. The Fad Cycle: Purging
6. Fad Dynamics
7. Becoming Fad-Proof

Joel Best is Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. Among his many books are More Damned Lies and Statistics: How Numbers Confuse Public Issues (2004), Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists (2001), and Random Violence: How We Talk about New Crimes and New Victims (1999), all from UC Press.
“‘Flavor of the Month’ is a clearly written and overdue overview and analysis of the subject. Besides, there may be just enough to make this book on fads into one: It offers a simple step-by-step explanation with catchy names that will entertain business and academic conventions for the usual year.”—William S. Kowinski San Francisco Chronicle
"A literate, fast-moving, and engaging account of short-lived innovations in contemporary societies. Best is one of the few sociologists who actually has a sense of humor."—John Lofland, Professor Emeritus, sociology, University of California Davis

"A well-written, effective, and surely needed examination of institutional fads that should find a wide audience."—Gary Alan Fine, co-author of Whispers on the Color Line: Rumor and Race in America

"Flavors of the Month is a marvelous antidote to the infectious bite of the fad bug, and should be required reading for all optimists who believe we can move towards perfection by adopting the latest 'breakthrough paradigm.' If enthusiasm for transforming your organization persists after reading this engaging book, then read it again. Repeat as often as necessary, or until irrational exuberance has dissipated."—Robert Birnbaum, author of Management Fads in Higher Education: Where They Come From, What They Do, Why They Fail

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