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BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Knowing by Gwendoline Smith (AKA Doctor Know)

| 28 February 2019 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Knowing by Gwendoline Smith (AKA Doctor Know)

Allen & Unwin
February 2019
Paperback, $21.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Psychology / Self-Help / Teenage / Cognitive Behavioural Therapy


Learn to understand the way you think and you will be able to deal with many of life’s difficult moments.

Written in an accessible and humorous style, this book teaches you to know what’s going on in your mind and how to get your feelings under control. It’ll help you adapt and feel better about your place in the world.

Psychologist Gwendoline Smith uses her broad scientific knowledge and experience to explain in clear and simple language what’s happening when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious and confused.

‘This book has given our daughter life’s most essential skill: the ability to notice and manage her thoughts. This skill has fundamentally changed her present and her future. We will be forever grateful.’ Scarlett’s mum



What we are NOT talking about is the use of ‘positive affirmations’. You know, those little sayings where you look in the mirror and repeat: “I am a child of the universe. I am special and I can love myself just for who I am.” Mmm. I have an idiosyncratic explanation for this. I refer to it as ‘putting sugar on shit’. If you were able to think in such a manner, you wouldn’t be reading this book.

In this easy to digest, conversational, no-nonsense exploration of CBT (or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), Gwendoline helps readers (aged teen and up) better understand how experiences and our thought processes shape our feelings and behaviours, and how expectations (societal or otherwise) might send us into negative spirals.

In today’s society you are constantly exposed through all forms of media to what you could have but don’t. You can look through magazine and see a Cartier watch worth more than you could earn in five years. Then you flick the page and see a Maserati car worth more than you could earn in fifteen years, then a mansion costing more than a lifetime’s wages. Symbols of prestige and status. All screaming, If you don’t have me you’re a failure!

Through easy to read chapters, illustrations, and magazine style “pull quotes” or highlights, the book manages to divest quite a bit of information without feeling too dense or overwhelming.

The Book of Knowing achieves this by educating you in a practical way about how you think. It is a book full of life skills. It is about leaning the way of thinking that fosters resilience, which enables you to deal with many of the unnecessary anxieties that plague you.
This is not a book about illness. It does not encourage you to announce to the world, ‘Hey, look at me, I have social anxiety!’ It is a book that says:
‘I am learning about how I think and, as a result, how I feel.’

Some of the examples provided could have benefited from a little more follow-up, and at times the wording could have been less ambiguous, such as in the example where a “worst case scenario” situation was titled “Because in reality” rather than “perceived reality. And the likening of the brain to a computer, unable to understand that its thinking was flawed because it had a virus telling it everything was fine, maybe didn’t paint the picture that much more clearly than the following situation in which Smith explained that people don’t go to therapy just to “make sure [their] thoughts are true”.

Why would you ever question any information your brain is giving you? You wouldn’t. So, the thought viruses remain unquestioned, but they are distorting the way you think about yourself and the world and leaving you often unhappy and dissatisfied.

But all in all this is a valuable book that doesn’t focus on telling yourself you will be fine in order to get through it, but rather gives you some hands-on exercises and tools to help you put things into context and build up your resilience and flexibility to deal with change.

Highly recommended for teenagers in general, and for anyone else who is struggling with negative thoughts stopping them from living their best lives, though some of the examples are most relevant to teenagers and young adults, as this is the intended audience.


Category: Book Reviews

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