Power in Ambivalence

Power in Ambivalence

book review on


“Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing” by Jamie Holmes

Is there power in not knowing? What do we gain when we are in the dark, confused, and unsure about where a string of events or our lives in general are going?

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes assures the reader that strength can come from ambiguity and ambivalence if we only know how to harness the doubt.

In this slim volume of 230 pages of heavily researched text (and an additional 100 plus pages of notes) there is a blend of science, history and modern events that couple to illustrate Holmes’ point that perhaps not knowing everything is a good thing. Being willing to be a patient person who doesn’t crave the closure most humans are hard-wired to go through hell and back to receive, can pay off in the workplace as well as for a more fulfilling life.

Holmes struggles with the point he may be trying to make through his series of complex speech and examples. Maybe it’s no coincidence that a book on ambiguity and confusion is an indefinite and unclear thing. Go figure.

Examples to make the point that sometimes there is no hard and fast point on things are pulled from various places including the Waco, Texas incident with the Branch Davidians; the unpopularity of Midi’s in the late 60’s and 70’s; Ducati racing and improvement strategies; natural disasters and our perspectives after the fact; card decks that aren’t all they appear to be at face value; and the very real and very terrifying over testing that happens in the medical field every day. The most effective of these examples comes across in the chapter, “Fifty Days in Texas” that highlights the negotiations behind Waco, what went right, and why things went terribly wrong when closure was seized too firmly and grey areas were miscoded to disastrous consequences.

The book is broken into three parts that include: “Making Sense,” “Handing Ambiguity,” and “Embracing Uncertainty.” Holmes uses these three parts to try and make sense of the confusion, and overall satisfies this reader.

Even with the complexity of getting through the book, the work is interesting and entertaining. I come away from the book with no solid conclusion on anything, and an inability to say anything for certain. In this respect, Holmes has succeeded in creating Nonsense.