Spoondigger or helicopter pilot?


I frequently start at the back of a book and read a few pages near the end.  I confess, that’s not a good strategy if the book concerned is a murder mystery, but it’s not a bad place to start with non-fiction, as you can get a pretty good idea of where the author has been heading through the inch or so of pages you currently hold in your hand.

A couple of publishers have started to include an ‘About the Book’ section, which I suppose is the literary equivalent of the bonus extras that you get on a DVD.  It was in such a section that I came across Daniel Gilbert’s lovely notion of being a ‘spoondigger’. 

In “Stumbling on Happiness”, Professor Gilbert describes the agonisingly slow process of putting words on paper.  He recalls ‘long, rambling conversations’ with a friend in his student days.  The friend had a talent for taking a helicopter view of their discussion and summing up the big picture in a highly articulate fashion.  Gilbert argues that the work of a scientist doesn’t usually allow the luxury of zooming out to take in the bigger view.  “Doing science is a bit like flying in an airplane over a vast landscape for an hour, and then landing the plane, getting out and digging in the dirt with a teaspoon for twenty years.”  Writing the book was Gilbert’s way of flying overhead to get some sense of perspective.

Having spent the day spoondigging into statistics, I definitely feel the need to put down the teaspoon and take to the skies …


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