Hit Makers by Derek Thompson

Derek Thompson doesn’t state anything particularly original in his very readable roundup of the anatamy of hits from the later years of the industrial revolution, through the mass-media age to where we are now, somewhere in the early foothills of the looming internet Himalayas.

But that’s kind of the point.

He calls Star Wars a stroke of genius because of its drawing on a myriad of cultural allusions. By the same token, Hit Makers has the mark of genius too.

Thompson shows how we have an innate need for familiarity, with just a modicum of originality, to keep us interested. Get that mix right, get the right exposure with the right network behind you and you’ve got every (by definition tiny) chance of getting a hit, as the very concept of a hit is that it’s an outlier, an unpredictable piece of cultural magic where any kind of formula is only discernable after the fact.

Though he finds elements of that formula in the impressionists, Brahms, the oratory of Barak Obama, Abraham Lincoln and Sarah Palin, Rock Around the Clock, Fifty Shades of Grey, the products of Disney, Raymond Loewy and Facebook, to name just a few of his case studies.

Anyone with an interest in the arts and communication would be well served by giving the Hit Makers a shot. 

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No. 11 of 100 books I intend to read and review in 2021.

Patrick Sherriff is an Englishman who survived 13 years working for newspapers in the US, UK and Japan. Between teaching English lessons at his conversation school in Abiko, Japan, with his wife, he writes and illustrates textbooks for non-native speakers of English, releases Hana Walker mystery novels, short stories, essays and a monthly newsletter  highlighting good fiction published in English about Japan. Saku’s Random Book Club is his latest project to spend more time with books.