Book Review: I is an Other by James Geary

I Is Another by James GearyI is an Other is subtitled: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World. This is a non-fiction book about metaphors.

I is an Other: What it is about

A metaphor is used when you use unrelated words to describe something. For instance, “My job is a jail” or “She had a bright idea”. A job isn’t literally a jail and an idea can’t emit light.

This book describes metaphors from various angles. It starts a little boring (in my mind) with a chapter on the old Greek philosophers, but when the next chapter is on etymology I’m sold. Etymology is about the origin of a word. It turns out that many words we use are metaphors, without us having any idea. For instance, see in “I see what you mean” is etymologically related to “know” or “understand”. Other metaphors are closer to their origin. With “We’re in over our head”,  you can imagine where the expression comes from.

I also love the chapter about money, where stock markets plummet, bounce back and climb higher. Geary explains the psychology behind using financial metaphors. For instance, when the NASDAQ is said to climb higher, it is like a living thing pursuing a goal, people expect the upwards action to continue – and will buy shares. When the NASDAQ is said to drop, this resembles something falling from a certain height, and after the dropping, it will stay where it is. So, people start selling their shares as they imagine that the action is irreversible.

The psychology behind using metaphors is also explained for other areas of our life, such as advertisements, science, innovation and politics. There is also a chapter on Aspergers and metaphors.

There were lots of examples from research as well as techniques that use metaphors, for instance in deciding a marketing campaign, or in a form of psychotherapy.

I is an Other: What I thought

I enjoyed this book a lot. I am interested in words in general: where do they comes from (yes, that etymology bit), how do people use them, etc.

In this book, I learned a lot of new things and it was interesting to read about the research that backed up the claims. The book was not at all heavy going, and while I am not always a keen non-fiction reader, I found myself lost in this book sometimes, finishing yet another chapter before I knew it.

I would consider this book a psychology book rather than a linguistics book, as it describes especially how people react to metaphors and how metaphors influence people’s lives.

One minor complaint: the book didn’t really go anywhere. Although further chapters referred to earlier chapters sometimes, there was no particular line of argument to the book. It was a collection of chapters dealing with different aspects of metaphors, but the bottom line? There wasn’t one.

Rating: 5/5

I got this book: free from Harper publishers for review (ARC)

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 289, of which 60 pages were references and notes (ARC)

First published: 2011

Genre: non-fiction, psychology, linguistics


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

23 Responses to Book Review: I is an Other by James Geary

  1. WORDNERD HERE! I love metaphors, so ill be running out to get this. I also like hoe you said it dealt with the psychology of words, which is exactly what has been on my mind lately. Writers should use this book when working on their stories.

    • Leeswammes says:

      I’m not actually sure this book would help writer all that much, Zee. It’s more about the psychology of metaphors in general than about individual metaphors.

      But any writer will love it if they love words, of course.

  2. This is a unique idea for a book – the psychology of metaphors. I would not have thought to pick this one up but it does sound intriguing. I have a few writer-ly people in mind that may enjoy this one.
    Great review!

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  4. Mystica says:

    This is an interesting, (slightly different) post to the usual. Thanks.

  5. MGA says:

    I would consider this book a psychology book rather than a linguistics book, as it describes especially how people react to metaphors and how metaphors influence people’s lives.

    It’s cognitive science, a field where linguistics and psychology intersect. Both feed off each other–that’s a metaphor.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comment, MGA.

      Indeed a metaphor (I love using metaphors when talking about metaphors). Is it cognitive science? I’m not sure. I studied something very close to that myself.

  6. Cindy says:

    WOW, I don’t think I’ve seen you rate a 5/5 since I started reading your blog. Must get this book!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Cindy, the books I read are of course pre-selected, i.e. I only read them if I expect them to be good. So most will fall in the 4 star category, sometimes 3. But now and then books are better than expected (5 stars) or worse (2 stars, or even 1). I think you might like this book, Cindy.

  7. Susanna says:

    Hi Judith, it is amazing that one person has started this OWOH thing! It is a pitty she stops, I hope it will go on, because it is a great way to meet people!
    I love to read books too, all do I did live in Uk and USA, I prefer to read in Dutch. At this moment I’m collecting the books from Lilian Jackson Braun…the cat who….!
    I also read other kinds of books!
    Greetings, Susanna

    • Leeswammes says:

      Hi Susanna, thanks for your nice comment. I’ve only just discovered the OWOH blog hop but it’s a great idea, for arty people to meet each other and for the rest of us to look at all these great things that people make.

      I’ve read one of the “The Cat who…” books and that was fun!

      If you read Dutch, you may like to check out my Dutch book blog:

  8. Uniflame says:

    Have you ever read, taal is zeg maar echt mijn ding? I think you will enjoy that book 🙂 I will put this on my wishlist 🙂 Sounds interesting!

  9. Nadine Nys says:

    Hi Judith, I think this is a book that will be of interest to anyone who loves language. A little while ago I started reading De stof van het denken by Steven Pinker, but it was really tough reading and I stopped reading it. Did you read anything by that author?

    • Leeswammes says:

      I’m not sure, Nadine. I would say I definitely read some of Steven Pinker’s academic work for my own study/work as we’re in the same field, but I’m not sure I read his more popular science books. I think I read How the Mind Works, but I definitely didn’t read the more recent The Stuff of Thought that you’ve been reading.

      I know, very vague. I read so much, I forget what I read. 🙂

  10. Joanna says:

    Thanks Judith, I can see how this book would appeal to you and it sounds great. I love that kind of thing too but without reading your recommendation I’m sure I wouldn’t bother picking it up. I look forward to reading it at some point.

  11. Joanna says:

    Just checked the other comments and wanted to add that I read Pinker’s Blank Slate and I found it very enjoyable and fascinating – might have to revisit soon.

    • Leeswammes says:

      I have this idea that Pinker’s books aren’t so accessible for the general public but I don’t know if you are “general”. 🙂

      I’m pretty sure I read one of his books, probably How the Mind Works. I vaguely remember something. Would have been a good 10 years ago, though.

  12. Trisha says:

    Ooooohhhh, I love it. This sounds like a book I would adore. I’m fascinated by etymology and linguistics. Thanks for the suggestion!

  13. Jon says:

    That sounds quite interesting. Hopping by today.

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