Review of Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder

writer crush

Let me just come clean and put it out there: I have developed a serious writer crush on Christian Rudder after reading Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking).

Christian Rudder is the cofounder of OkCupid (and on-again off-again author of the popular OkTrends blog) so it’s not too surprising that his writing has the power to evoke some pretty serious swooning.

Here are the reasons why I loved Dataclysm:

  • Powerful storytelling and hooks. Every chapter opens with some sort of story or anecdote that draws you in, whether it’s about the power of nostalgia or the internet’s ability to build up heroes and tear them down instantly. Pretty impressive for a book that’s centered around data, numbers, and charts.
  • Strategic usage of witty one-liners. One of my favorite parts of the book is the rubric that Rudder creates to categorize the most commonly used phrases in people’s OkCupid profiles. These are broken down by race and gender, so you can see what the most common phrases are among white males, Asian males, Latino males, etc. Rudder’s overall assessment of the white male demographic? A lumberjack music festival. (Of course this makes much more sense when you can see all the phrases, but some of the highlights in the white male section include “Phish,” “redneck,” and “Flogging Molly.”)
  • The subject matter/cocktail conversation fodder. I find dating and relationships fascinating, and it’s super interesting to learn about common misconceptions, like the idea that you and your partner have to have matching political views. Rudder argues that it’s actually the strength of your convictions (in other words, whether you care about politics or not) that’s more predictive of a relationship’s success than whether both people are Democrats or Republicans. Also, the two questions that tend to predict compatibility the most accurately are: “Have you ever traveled alone?” and “Do you like horror movies?” (If both people answer yes to each of those questions, they have a higher rate of compatibility than other couples.)
  • Rudder’s sensitivity to limitations and privacy concerns. In a brief interview on Amazon.com, when asked about whether he’s worried about any of his research and its implications, Rudder says, “I have mixed feelings about the implications. I myself almost never tweet, post, or share anything about my personal life. At the same time, I’ve just spent three years writing about how interesting all this data is, and I cofounded OkCupid. My hope is that this ambivalence makes me a trustworthy guide through the thicket of technology and data. I admire the knowledge that social data can bring us; I also fear the consequences.” I also appreciated how in several instances, he explains why he’s only looking at a certain segment of the population and what impact that can have on his overall assessments.

Dataclysm is definitely one of the most well-written and thought-provoking books I’ve read in a while, and I hope that taking the time to make these observations will help me to become a more sensitive and skillful writer myself.

Have you developed any writer crushes lately? What attracted you to a certain writer’s voice, content, or style? Let me know in the comments!