Just Shelley

Seth Godin’s Tribes

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I hesitated before downloading the Kindle sample for Seth Godin’s Tribes, because Godin’s market-speak, manifesto-laden punditry doesn’t have a lot of appeal to me. More than that, I wondered what Godin could say that wouldn’t end up being a re-hash of the now dusty all is good in the commons genre that marked weblogging’s earlier years—a philosophy challenged by the harsh reality of today’s economy, when most of the commons is facing foreclosure.

Still, the point to trying a sample before buying the book isn’t so that you can try a book by a favorite author. No, samples give us a chance to try out an unfamiliar author, or an author we may not have liked in the past—all in the hope of finding unexpected gold among the dross.

The samples experience for Tribes does not begin well. The cover material for the book and the publisher, including copyright information, and a two item TOC, takes almost half the sample. What this tells us is that the book is going to be very small for the sample to encompass so little. In addition, so much extraneous material puts that much more pressure on the author’s writing, which now has to to sell the book in just a few pages.

Having waded through the preliminary, I reach the first sentence in the book:


Joel Spolsky is a well known author in the technology world, but if you had asked me to list all of the people in technology who I thought were changing the world, Spolsky would not be one of them. However, to Godin, Spolsky has changed the world because he has become a leader to people who hire and manage programmers— a tribe of people, to tie into Godin’s book title.

What do tribes need, Godin asks? Leadership. He writes, You can’t have a tribe without a leader—and you can’t be a leader without a tribe. This seemingly circular thought then leads into the next chapter section, featuring none other than the Grateful Dead.

What, you might ask, do Joel Spolsky and the Grateful Dead have in common? According to Godin, they both attracted groups of like people, or the tribes that are the focus of the book. Tribes make our lives better. And leading a tribe is the best life of all. I imagine that Jerry would agree, but I’m not sure that the world of Dead heads can easily transition into other walks of life. Perhaps the key to the combined power of Spolsky and the Grateful Dead will be made apparent in the next section.

No such luck. The next extremely short section, following the proceeding two short sections, begins to detail yet another example of tribe leadership, but at that point, the sample ended. I was then left with one of life’s greatest mysteries: Do I want to know more about why Joel Spolsky is like the Grateful Dead? More importantly, will my life be richer with this knowledge? My buy, not buy decision, after the fold.

Since half the book sample for Tribes is taken up by extraneous material, Godin only had about two pages to convince me I wanted to buy this book. I was unconvinced.

Short sections, each referencing a group or person with vague allusions to “tribes” and how “tribes are good” is not going to convince me to put down $9.99 for the full copy. There was no lead in to set the stage for the copy that followed, no compelling argument that would keep me reading through what appeared to be a seemingly endless stream of short, shallow anecdotes.

I was also disappointed at the blandness of the platitudes that seemed to ring out each section. I was expecting something snappy, perhaps even edgy. What I got was a modern day variation of the Farmer’s Almanac, except instead of wooly caterpillars, we have leading tribes is the best life of all.

I must admit being surprised seeing that Tribes is currently #87 in the Kindle best selling list at Amazon, with high (*****) ratings. Either the sample did the book a serious disservice. Or all those stories years ago, about fluoride in the drinking water making our brains soft, were true.

Buy or not? Not

update Andrew Warner sent me a link to a video featuring Seth Godin talking about his book, Tribes. This might give you more insight into the book, help with your own buy or not decision.

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