Libro 29/52 :: Contagious by Jonah Berger

Contagious_BERGER_RTThere’s a big difference between identifying common themes among viral content and having the ability to make something “go viral.”


No one has the magic “Make it go viral” recipe.

Including Jonah Berger.


Jonah Berger is a Wharton MBA prof and a disciple of Chip and Dan Heath, the brotherly researching & writing duo that has produced the classics, Made to Stick, Switch and Decisive (which will be reviewed in the Libro 52 Challenge in September).


Berger was a student at Stanford and his mentor was Chip Heath.

And it shows.


Contagious reads like a paint-by-numbers version of Made to Stick.


  • Open with an interesting & curious story.
  • Pose a question to the reader.
  • Introduce some research.
  • Throw in some witty banter (in parentheses).
  • Draw conclusion.


Wash, rinse, repeat.


The Heath Brothers pull this off perfectly.

Dan Pink does also.

So does Peter Bregman.

Malcolm Gladwell too.


These guys pull it off because they have distinct voices.

They each have a tangible authenticity that draws you in.



Not so much.


Screen shot 2013-08-18 at 9.38.42 AM


At best Contagious seems forced.

At worst it seems contrived.


Berger built Contagious on the foundation of knowledge gained from researching hundreds of the most shared stories from the NY Times. With that treasure trove of background material, it was annoying to read story after story that were ridiculously well-known.


For example…


Berger elaborates on why some names become more popular than others, in this case, Olivia and Rosalie. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it was ripped off from Freakonomics, the 2005 book by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt. Freakonomics was so wildly popular, there was a movie made on it. And then they wrote a second book (SuperFreakonomics).


Berger yammers on about Blendtec’s Will It Blend? online video series. These came out in 2006 and showcased their blenders destroying iPods, shoes and pool cues.


Screen shot 2013-08-17 at 5.26.14 PM



It went viral 7 years ago.

Plenty has been written on it already.

Berger offers nothing new.



Berger then talks about the viral spread of Hotmail, the free email account from the late 90’s.

He should have asked for permission to plagiarize the entire Hotmail chapter from the book, Viral Loop by Adam Penenberg, which published in 2009. (More on Viral Loop in a moment…)





Contagious recites the ubiquitous story about the guy whose guitar was busted by United Airlines. The guy then launched a music video that was viewed more than 13,000,000 times.


Screen shot 2013-08-17 at 6.00.47 PM



Berger also re-tells the Jared Subway Diet story (first went viral in 2000) and Lance Armstrong’s yellow bracelets (2004). He also tosses in the Susan Boyle story (Why not?) – the unbelievable voice to come from an unlikely source on Britain’s Got Talent.


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Further unoriginal thought was displayed in his STEPPS Model (Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, Stories) to developing viral content. It seemed eerily similar to the Heath Bros’ SUCCESs Model from Made to Stick.


Screen shot 2013-08-17 at 4.38.53 PM



I stumbled upon this quote from Berger’s Fast Company article pitching the author and his book: “I tried to reverse-engineer The Tipping Point, Made to Stick, Predictably Irrational and Freakonomics…. I looked at how their books worked, how the chapter structure worked, and what made each successful.





It was obvious.



Bottom Line: Don’t read this book. It’s not contagious. If you’re interesting in reading about how things go viral, read Viral Loop. It’s original and thought-provoking. If you haven’t read Made to Stick by the aforemetioned Heath Bros, you should. Follow their plan and your material will be remembered, if not viral.




Bradley Hartmann is El Presidente at Red Angle ( He’s trying to read 52 books this year. He’s behind… 

Screen shot 2013-08-18 at 9.39.35 AM




LIBRO 52 Challenge YTD

1. Kennedy/Nixon by Chris Matthews

2. Poke the Box by Seth Godin

3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn 

NA. Buy-In by John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead

4. Education of an Accidental CEO by David Novak

5. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

6. Blood, Brains and Beer by David Ogilvy

7. Lyndon Johnson :: Master of the Senate by Robert Caro

8. 1776 by David McCullough

9. To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink

NA. Profiles In Courage by JFK*

10. Write It When I’m Gone by Tom DeFrank

11. FDR by Jean Edward Smith

12. The Cluetrain Manifesto by Locke, Searls, Weinberger + Levine

13. One Click by Richard Brandt

14. Persuasive Presentations by Nancy Duarte

NA. James K. Polk by Walter Borneman

15. The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

16. The Illustrious Dead by Stephan Talty

17. The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk

18. Adventures of Johnny Bunko by Dan Pink

19. Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

20. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

21. Ctrl Alt Delete by Mitch Joel

22. Down & Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind

23. Makers by Chris Anderson

24. Tales from Q School by John Feinstein

25. The Business of Belief by Tom Asacker

26. 18 Minutes by Peter Bregman

27. Drive by Dan Pink

28. Enough by John Bogle

29. Contagious by Jonah Berger

Categories: Libro 52 Challenge

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10 replies


  1. Libro 30/52 :: Lexicon by Max Barry « the red angle
  2. Libro 31 + 32/52 :: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman + A Very Short Tour of the Mind by Michael Corballis « the red angle
  3. Libro 33/52 :: The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton « the red angle
  4. Libro 34 + 35/52 :: Choose Yourself by James Altucher + The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzwieg. « the red angle
  5. Libro 36/52 :: Inside The Box by Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg. « the red angle
  6. Libro 37 + 38/52 :: The Power of Less by Leo Babauta + Wild by Cheryl Strayed « the red angle
  7. Libro 39/52 :: Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier. « the red angle
  8. Libro 42/52 :: Black Irish by Stephan Talty « the red angle
  9. Libro 43/52 :: The Firm by Duff McDonald « the red angle
  10. Libros 44-50 :: The final chapter of the Libro 52* Challenge. « the red angle

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