Mastermind Book Summary - Mastermind Book explained in key points

Mastermind summary

Maria Konnikova

How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes

4.3 (61 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

Mastermind by Maria Konnikova is a captivating exploration of the world of psychics and con artists. Through the lens of her own journey into the psychic world, Konnikova shows us how to look critically at our own thinking and decision-making processes.

Table of Contents

    Summary of 11 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 11

    System Watson in the driver's seat: Most of the time we are reflexive and mindless.

    At some point, we've all wished we were capable of making better decisions. But have you ever wondered how your decision-making skills might be improved? 

    To improve these skills, you first need to consider that the brain comprises two systems that govern our thinking and decision making.

    The first of these systems is a kind of autopilot – a compulsive system that requires little conscious thought.

    You can see this in the way the majority of people approach the following problem: 

    A bat and ball together cost $1.10. Taken separately, the bat costs $1 more than the ball.

    What does the ball cost? 

    If you immediately answered $0.10, you were in autopilot mode – and quite wrong. The correct answer is, in fact, $0.05.

    So, why do we make this obvious mistake? 

    The brain's autopilot system is its default mode, which means that we tend to pick the first answer that comes to mind – the answer that appeals to our intuition. This is because conscious thought requires energy, so our brains turn most of our thoughts into routines and habits that are less mentally taxing. 

    While this system is useful, it also has negative consequences for our decision making, often leading to quick, erroneous judgments based on our emotions and intuition. 

    Let's name this autopilot system “Watson,” after the fictional character Dr. John Watson – Sherlock Holmes' partner in the detective stories penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

    Why? Because Dr. Watson acts much like the brain's reflexive system. For instance, in one case where Holmes and Watson travel to the countryside to investigate a murder, Watson notes the “ideal spring day” and the “fresh and beautiful” scenery. Rather than being alert and cautious, Watson allows his compulsive system, and thus his emotions, to take over. The result is that he sees everything in a positive light – an inappropriate mindset for a murder investigation. 

    However, the good news is that the brain has a second system – “System Holmes” – which we'll learn all about in the next blink.

    Want to see all full key ideas from Mastermind?

    Key ideas in Mastermind

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is Mastermind about?

    Mastermind explores Sherlock Holmes’s unique approach of observation, imagination and deduction, and illustrates how anyone can harness his method to improve their thinking and decision-making skills. To this end, the book presents a variety of simple strategies, drawing on scientific research in psychology and neuroscience, and numerous examples from the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

    Mastermind Review

    Mastermind (2013) by Maria Konnikova is a fascinating exploration of the mind and its potential for deception and manipulation. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Backed by extensive research, it unveils the psychology behind cons and scams, shedding light on the tactics used by master manipulators.
    • Through riveting real-life stories and in-depth analysis, Konnikova challenges our assumptions and exposes the vulnerabilities of human cognition.
    • With its thought-provoking insights on deception and self-awareness, Mastermind is a captivating exploration of the human mind that will leave readers questioning their own judgment.

    Best quote from Mastermind

    If you get only one thing out of this book, it should be this: the most powerful mind is the quiet mind. 

    —Maria Konnikova
    example alt text

    Who should read Mastermind?

    • Anyone curious about the method behind Sherlock Holmes’s way of thinking
    • Anyone wanting to learn the basics about how people think, what influences thought processes, and the pitfalls involved in decision making
    • Anyone interested in learning how to cultivate rational, reflective and mindful thinking habits

    About the Author

    Maria Konnikova is a Russian-American writer and journalist with a background in psychology, creative writing and government. Her contributions have appeared in numerous publications, such as the New Yorker, Scientific American, the New York Times and others.

    Categories with Mastermind

    Book summaries like Mastermind

    People ❤️ Blinkist 
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked these summaries

    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    31 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    10+ years
    Experience igniting personal growth
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial

    Mastermind FAQs 

    What is the main message of Mastermind?

    Mastermind explores the power of observation and critical thinking to improve decision-making and problem-solving.

    How long does it take to read Mastermind?

    The reading time for Mastermind varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Mastermind a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Mastermind is a thought-provoking book that provides valuable insights into the human mind and its capabilities.

    Who is the author of Mastermind?

    The author of Mastermind is Maria Konnikova.

    What to read after Mastermind?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Mastermind, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Self-Made Billionaire Effect by John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen
    • Mastering Leadership by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams
    • The First Rule of Mastery by Michael Gervais
    • Hardcore Self Help by Robert Duff
    • Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
    • Maps of Meaning by Jordan B. Peterson
    • Buddhism – Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen
    • When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein
    • Make Your Mark by Jocelyn K. Glei
    • The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill