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Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  5,064 ratings  ·  555 reviews
Nothing "goes viral." If you think a popular movie, song, or app came out of nowhere to become a word-of-mouth success in today's crowded media environment, you're missing the real story. Each blockbuster has a secret history--of power, influence, dark broadcasters, and passionate cults that turn some new products into cultural phenomena. Even the most brilliant ideas with ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published February 7th 2017 by Penguin Press
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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Jan 14, 2018 rated it liked it
I started this book to come down after reading "The Gene", which was far more demanding and beefier than this one. "Hit Makers" is a good read, but not really all that educational. The books primary question is "what makes a thing popular?", and I enjoyed the approach of the author.

Every chapter looks at something that became a hit, be it a song, a household product, a movie, etc. It's a good collection of anecdotes, well written as you'd expect from a professional journalist who writes of publi
Nelson Zagalo
Thompson writes very well, and is able to engage us in stories and facts. He's a journalist and uses this book to go much further than he could with just simple articles. You'll be surprised and gain a lot of insight into contemporary culture, which will make you think about what you like and dislike and why.

This is not the dry academic book, it uses very good storytelling and lots of techniques to maintain the reader interested. On the other side it encompasses too many perspectives, approaches
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson is a very highly recommended examination of popularity of things and how and why they gained their status. This is an engrossing look at popularity. Thompson has a comfortable writing style that is full of anecdotes and examples. He creatively ties widely divergent topics together in a fascinating, entertaining format.

Nothing really "goes viral." There is a reason why a song, movie, book, app, etc. became popular. T
Aug 28, 2017 rated it did not like it
I am utterly confused why this book is so highly rated. My current hypothesis is that it falls for the trap of popularity driving familiarity (and driving distribution) and thus more popularity...this theory of familiarity is one which he spends a good deal of time discussing and rehashing. After 2/3 of the book, I have not found a single aha moment and it has been a slog to even get this far. I have enjoyed other books in this genre (Outliers, Give & Take, etc.) so I was surprised I couldn't fi ...more
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, sociology
Summary: Explores what makes a hit, and explodes some of the myths around hits such as the idea of something going "viral."

How does something become a "hit?" Anyone creating a work of art, propounding an idea, promoting a candidate, launching a new product would like to know. Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, was curious about this phenomenon and out of his research come countless stories about everything from Brahms Lullaby to Fifty Shades of Grey.

Brahm's Lullaby is a case in poi
Huyen Chip
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Old ideas beautifully packaged and cleverly delivered
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Solid 4+ nonfiction. Key messages are quite simple - but very enjoyably delivered. Definitely recommended
Aug 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
I would have given this 2 stars if the title and introduction didn't lie. Firstly, there is no "science" in here. At best, it's some vague factoids. And secondly, there is so little "age of distraction" here -- it's history after history. I don't know who the book is for, but it's definitely not for anyone looking for scientific analysis of market. If the premise is to make science of popularity accessible to a layman -- this book does none of that.

(view spoiler)
Robin Tierney
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Many good case studies and thoughtful observations.
My notes (not a review) follow.

Hit Makers:
The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction

By Derek Thompson

Facebook has irreversibly changed news delivery and is the key news source today. Ad supported, so must find ways to catch and keep your attn enough to scroll through ads.
Reactivity: when ppl know their behavior is being watched, they change their behavior (and not only how they report it). FB watches readers without their explicit awa
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
I received an advance uncorrected proof of Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction from a Goodreads giveaway.

I haven't made a habit of reading much non-fiction in the past, because I've often found it either too dry, or, if interesting, poorly argued. Hit Makers didn't suffer from either of these issues, in my opinion. The book was both engaging and well-written (though it did have a handful of errors that I hope will be corrected before it hits shelves).

The stories that
Jordan Weissmann
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is just a really excellent pop science book. Thompson is a talented story teller and lovely writer who breezily explains the psychological and economic forces that shape what we like. It's wide-ranging; he uses the making of Star Wars, impressionist art, ESPN, Disney, 50 Shades of Gray, early Rock n' Roll, and much more to illustrate the academic theories the book explores. It's full of wonderful little insights that explain things like why CNN went so overkill on Trump coverage during the ...more
Solid 3.5
This book sets out to answer two questions:
1. What is the secret to making products that people will like-in music, movies, television, and more across the vast landscape of culture?

2. Why do some products fail in the these marketplaces while similar ideas catch on and become massive hits?

For the most part two questions were not definitively answered because, those are two very ambitious questions for anyone to answer. However, the data was well presented, engaging, thought-provoking
Mike Zickar
Apr 07, 2017 rated it liked it
The book is a melange of interesting ideas and threads that, I felt, lacked a grand unifying structure. It was as if the author got excited about uncovering a new idea and left the thread that he was pursuing to go down another path.

An interesting read despite this criticism. . .
Rick Wilson
Jun 30, 2020 rated it it was ok
interesting stories with hot-stinky-garbage conclusions. Found myself wading through a lot of bad science for the rewards of great stories about Raymond Lowey, Gustave Caillebotte, and others. Funnily enough, about halfway through the author warns of trusting narratives too much, when it’s the cherry picked methodically unsound research in this book you should be wary of.

For example, the discussion of ‭Gustave Caillebotte and the role he played in popularizing a specific set of impressionists w
Abraxas Longley
Jan 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Insightful analysis and wonderful prose

I came into this book with the same doubt that most creatives fee about formulaic predictions of success. This book, however, is not about formulas. It is about unlikely stories, unexpected insight and an exploration of a cultural mystery.

Besides the wide range of considered ideas and great variety of interviewees, the author's quality of prose deserves an honourable mention. I loved the pacing. Moreover, many of the metaphors and passages were simply a p
Patrick Sherriff
You should probably read this. My proper review is here: ...more
Yuan Guo
Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
Hit Maker’s comes off as an underdeveloped Master’s Thesis that required several tangential stories just to meet a page limit. That is not to say the book does not have merit. Within its pages are several lessons to be learned and catchphrases to be caught and, like an appropriate earworm, they cannot be forgotten; they are refreshed each time you think about your favorite song, favorite movie, or favorite rule of three (you’ll find a plethora in the book). But, in its bid for your interest, the ...more
Gerardo Leal
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book. Would definitely recommend it. Not because it provides the holy grail of hit-making (the book itself explains such a thing is de facto impossible) but for its anecdotes about controlled or completely random cultural hits across the modern history of the Western Hemisphere.
Graeme Newell
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audible
This was a delightful book. So many non-fiction reads are simply aggregations, rehashing old ideas. Thompson came at this book with some truly fresh thinking and new explanations for the baffling world of pop culture and buzz.

Believe or not, there’s a lot of established scientific reasoning behind a top song, a popular politician or a bestselling book. I was deeply impressed with so many of his suppositions. Again and again, he came up with new ways to look at baffling patterns. His ideas made
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
What makes something in our culture popular? Thompson takes the question and rolls it around in his palms, kneading and stretching it with a range of different examples and stories and ideas.

Although he sometimes pulls the mixture too thin by adding extra characters (particularly in the second half) or fluffing out the page count (the Star Wars section feels overlong) this is an enjoyable pop science romp with an intellectual nod.

Thompson does a great job of taking a question for which everybo
Feb 01, 2018 rated it liked it
The book started off interesting enough, but increasingly, my recurring thought was: "OK, I get it. I get it. Move on to the next point." ...more
Daniel Frank
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Absolutely nothing "scientific" about this book. This book is nothing more than cute anecdotes and Derek's musings on art in general; disjointed with no coherent message and lacking rigour. ...more
Leo Walsh
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Hit Makers" by Derek Thompson is an excellent, Malcolm Gawell-like book that examines what makes a hit. Using examples from many fields, from technology to "Star Wars" and pop music, Thompson settles on early 20th century Raymond Loey's formulation as best: We like things that are Most Advanced Yet Approachable: MAYA.

He shows how George Lucas used MAYA, creating "Star Wars," a mashup of western, "Buck Rogers," WW II fighter film, pulp sci-fi and comic books. What's more, Lucas consciously took
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Derek Thompson narrated the audiobook himself. I enjoyed the content of the book and the delivery of it equally and inestimably. So that I immediately started the book again as soon as I finished it (practice I discovered just recently as a necessity to prepare for a presentation on a business book and found to be enjoyable when reaching places that I knew I supposed to remember but I did not at all or I when unearthing richer nuances, etc. … in a word, interesting (experience), recommend to try ...more
What a fascinating book about what it is that makes some things succeed and reach "hit" status. At times a bit repetitive -- how many times can I hear about the sports channels really being the biggest money makers of television? -- but the takeaways are really worthwhile. Loved the idea of fluency and disfluency and how what people love is having something which changes one piece of a familiar story, rather than trying to change multiple pieces (or if you change all of them, you make a spoof). ...more
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-have
This book was wildly informative! Backed with research and anecdotes alike, it helps break down what it means to have taste. Why we like some things and dislike others. How there are both external and internal factors. It's easy to see its relevance in today's society of Facebook and Twitter and Spotify and Tik Tok. It is intriguing to peer into why things become popular. Loved it even though it took me a while 😬 ...more
Bruin Mccon
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
There is no magic formula. The best doesn’t naturally float to the top. It’s all a crap-shoot. It’s not a surprising conclusion, but the author makes it interesting by the stories he uses to illustrate the overall idea.
Stanley Hanks
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As far as I'm concerned, this is Nonfiction Book of the Year. ...more
Ahmad Moshrif
Feb 15, 2021 rated it it was ok
I was trying so hard to love this book, but I couldn't.

This book was recommended by Next Big Idea Club, so many great stories in the wrong context and (or) wrong conclusions. Apparently, the writer did a great job on the research, which made him feel a bit pressured to leave his effort to be useless without mentioning most of it in detail. I wanted to hear more analysis than researchers and unorganized stories.

TBH, I only reached the third third of the book and couldn't make it to the end.
Gary Moreau
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book because it was already popular, a behavior predicted early in the book itself. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s well written, witty, very energetic, and thoroughly researched. I’d share it on my Twitter feed if I had more than eight followers. (The good news from Thompson is that I’m not alone.)

The question of what drives hitdom can be esoteric to the point of incomprehension when the psycho-sociologists wrestle with it, or dry as burnt toast when the statistici
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