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December 26, 2012 / Matthew Wolf-Meyer

Reading The Slumbering Masses (for non-academics)

You may have come across an advertisement for my book, The Slumbering Masses, in your favorite magazine or heard me on the radio — or maybe you just stumbled across it in your local bookstore or received it as a gift. It’s an odd beast: it was written as an academic book, but my editor and press wanted it to have the potential to ‘cross over’ — to have a more widespread appeal. And I did too, which is why I spend a fair amount of time doing radio interviews, blogging for Psychology Today, and working to publicize the book. As dense as it can be in parts, it also has a lot of material that most readers can read with little furrowing of brows or scratching of head. So, if you have picked up a copy of The Slumbering Masses and are finding it sleep-inducing, try this reading strategy:

Cover of The Slumbering Masses.

Cover of The Slumbering Masses.

Read the Preface, skip the Introduction and Chapters 1-3, and then really start with Chapter 4. The Preface will give you a general sense of the book’s scope, and Chapter 4 will get you right to the heart of the matter with a series of case studies of people and families struggling with disorderly sleep. The chapters that pick up from there in Part 2 are all pretty quick — usually just about 15 pages, and mostly case focused. You can read them in any order. From there you can either move forward into Part 3 or go back to Part 1.

In Part 1, Chapter 3 is probably the most reader friendly — it’s based in a sleep clinic and shows how doctors go about diagnosing sleep problems. Chapter 2 looks at the history of sleep and sleep medicine, but unless you really like historical detail, you can skip the last section of it. And the Introduction and Chapter 1 can generally be ignored. The Introduction is really just for academics and does a lot of theoretical work, which, for most readers, is obtuse; but you might read the last few pages of it for overviews of all the chapters. Chapter 1 does some stage dressing, but, again, it isn’t strictly necessary for the general reader.

Part 3 is more case oriented, and has some pretty compelling stuff — military experiments, extreme sports, and sleepwalking murders. The conclusions of the first two chapters might be skipped, but the heart of them should be relatively straightforward. The Conclusion to the book is a big overview of it and makes an argument about ‘multibiologism’ — or thinking about human variation without recourse to pathology. It works through a number of cases, and is pretty readable.

This is all pretty much to say: skip the Introduction and maybe Chapter 1. They’re really written for academics, and don’t add much for the general reader. You can always go back to them later, and for non-academics, reading the Introduction as the conclusion might make the most sense (however paradoxical that may sound)…

If you have questions about the book or other ideas on how people might approach reading it, feel free to post them in the comments below.

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