Review of Situations Matter by Sam Sommers

Does context matter?

Situations Matter

As a TLC book tour host, I’ve just been reading Situations Matter by Sam Sommers in an attempt to find out. If you’d like to find out too, you can find out more and purchase the book.

On the face of it, it’s quite common sense that things can change depending on the surrounding circumstances. For example, I used to read 20 to 30 of these psychology books every year as I’m fascinated by how research and science can help us be better and more effective.

Since my situation changed and I had my son in November I’ve read approximately 5 pages of one book. So situations do matter!

My acid test for this kind of book is

1) Is the book fun to read?

2) Does it offer a new angle on something obvious and commonplace? (think Malcolm Gladwell or Freakonomics)

3) Will it help me with some practical advice to live a better (less ordinary) life?

Fun to read

Sommers is a psychology professor at Tufts. He has created a witty and articulate read. He covers a wide range of topics including love, gender differences, the power of crowds, and the challenges of conformity.

This is no po-faced route march through the psychology of context and influence. There are plenty of good personal examples to show how context can alter a situation for the better (for example getting a shirty airline clerk to give him a hotel room after a missed connection by revealing his wife was pregnant).

The book engages you throughout with things to try and learn from and it will put a smile on your face. So far, so good.

Well researched

Situations Matters covers the idea of context from a wide range of innovative angles. Each one is backed up by some scientific evidence as witnessed by the extensive notes at the end. This feels more than simple conjecture.

The section on self-help and improvement provided some fresh insight for me. Sommers notes that our self-perception can shift depending on the context – we have multiple, complex, and shifting personalities (for example our corporate warrior work self, parent self, and all alone self).

Remembering that we are a constantly evolving and changing entity helps a lot. The book reminds us we have the power to develop, grow and change and that is a hopeful and worthwhile conclusion.

The section on finding love is particularly insightful. A good reminder that love is much more complex than getting hit by cupid’s arrow and finding the one.

So, definitely some credible and useful new angles on context. Strike two!

tlc tour host

Will it make my life better?

At the end of each chapter is a summary of the key points and an attempt to look at the applications in real life.

The conclusions of the chapter on the power of crowds and conformity encourage the reader not to use the context of a crowd as a reason not to act. Sommers uses the example of the Liverpool 38 who all saw Jamie Bulger with his killers before his murder and took no action. Having the bravery to step out from cover could have saved his life.

He also notes that if you need help in a crowd or more generally you need to be very obvious about your need and make a clear request. A lesson that most of use need to hear in one way or another.

There are plenty more gems throughout the book for you to enjoy. Sommers has hit the mark on all three counts.

A Great Read

As I’ve learned, context is key with this summary. This book is well worth a read If you enjoy popular psychology and want to use the power of context to be more influential and happier. It may not be for you if you like your self-development to be a bit more hard-edged and instructive.