• Stolen Focus

  • Why You Can't Pay Attention—and How to Think Deeply Again
  • By: Johann Hari
  • Narrated by: Johann Hari
  • Length: 10 hrs and 21 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (1,846 ratings)

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Stolen Focus

By: Johann Hari
Narrated by: Johann Hari
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Publisher's Summary

New York Times Best Seller • Our ability to pay attention is collapsing. From the New York Times best-selling author of Chasing the Scream and Lost Connections comes a groundbreaking examination of why this is happening—and how to get our attention back.

“The book the world needs in order to win the war on distraction.” (Adam Grant, author of Think Again)

“Read this book to save your mind.” (Susan Cain, author of Quiet)

In the United States, teenagers can focus on one task for only 65 seconds at a time, and office workers average only three minutes. Like so many of us, Johann Hari was finding that constantly switching from device to device and tab to tab was a diminishing and depressing way to live. He tried all sorts of self-help solutions—even abandoning his phone for three months—but nothing seemed to work. So Hari went on an epic journey across the world to interview the leading experts on human attention—and he discovered that everything we think we know about this crisis is wrong.

We think our inability to focus is a personal failure to exert enough willpower over our devices. The truth is even more disturbing: Our focus has been stolen by powerful external forces that have left us uniquely vulnerable to corporations determined to raid our attention for profit. Hari found that there are 12 deep causes of this crisis, from the decline of mind-wandering to rising pollution, all of which have robbed some of our attention. In Stolen Focus, he introduces listeners to Silicon Valley dissidents who learned to hack human attention, and veterinarians who diagnose dogs with ADHD. He explores a favela in Rio de Janeiro where everyone lost their attention in a particularly surreal way, and an office in New Zealand that discovered a remarkable technique to restore workers’ productivity.

Crucially, Hari learned how we can reclaim our focus—as individuals, and as a society—if we are determined to fight for it. Stolen Focus will transform the debate about attention and finally show us how to get it back.

©2022 Johann Hari (P)2022 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Where other books about our relationship to technology tend to focus on personal responsibility, stressing the importance of self-control, Stolen Focus takes a step back and examines the ecosystem that created the problem. . . . Hari’s writing is incredibly readable.”San Francisco Chronicle

“Big-name websites and apps strive to distract because that’s the key to profitability. When we’re looking at our screens, these companies make money; when we’re not, they don’t. . . . It’s a call to arms, to be sure, and I’m tempted to tell my Twitter followers about it—but I’ve deleted the app from my phone.”The Washington Post 

“If your New Year’s resolution was to be more focused this year, then this is the book for you. [Adam] Grant describes the author as ‘a thoughtful critic of our modern malaise.’”Inc.  

Featured Article: Best of the Year—The 12 Best Nonfiction Listens of 2022


In another year of portentous headlines and global concerns, nonfiction writers responded with bold ideas for change at every level, from the intimate and individual to the interspecies and universal. In their own impassioned voices or supported by top-notch performers, these diverse creators awed us with timely takes on everything from science and technology to life, death, and the human butt. Their titles took a backseat to no one in 2022.

What listeners say about Stolen Focus

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Needs a little sharpening

Do you have money to escape internet the Johann Hari way? Of course online life interferes with sleep - agreed! But we can't each afford to retreat from electronics to research and write like Johann Hari, on a beautiful remote beach contemplating sand bars.

Let's instead get down to brass tacks and do something about:
* third party cookies that violate privacy
* sponsored searches charging tolls and monopolizing access to sites, products and services
* deceptive disinformation allowed by fact that anybody with nothing at stake can claim to be a journalist
* social media rage machine.

We can't all afford to escape indefinitely to a remote beach the way Hari did. The effects of his long retreat may have worn off and nothing has changed. Despite insights and good intentions, the approach wasn't realistic to me.


27 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Johann weaves yet another compelling narrative

I had been eagerly anticipating this book being released & am not disappointed. Johann excels at weaving together expert perspectives with a compelling narrative in a way that really inspires the reader to care about the topic and see their loved ones' (and possibly their own) struggles reflected back to them in compassionate understanding. I genuinely believe the world would be a better place if more people endeavored to create works in the way Johann does, and engage with such works created by others on a regular basis.

Parents who might be considering listening to this audiobook with children in earshot, do be warned that there are some disturbing experiences of living in wartime contexts as well as a few other likely conversation starters that you may not be prepared to have happen with your children. My own teen and tween sons were around at various points as I listened to the book via speaker, as is my long habit, and pausing to process the horror of being in an air raid while stumbling upon a murder scene happened in that context here. Having already listened to Chasing the Scream by the same author, I was prepared for it and Stolen Focus has a LOT less content of that type, but do be aware that it IS in there so you can make an informed choice of whether to share it with kids. My teens love Lost Connections and are planning to listen to this independently now that they won't mess up my place in the audiobook. They want to know, and I believe deserve to know, what so many powerful forces are doing to them - and much of this material won't be the first time my children are exposed to these concepts anyway (I am a Sociologist, and generally go through at least 3 to 5 social science audiobooks per month), but the readiness of other families (and particularly parents) for these topics is going to vary. If you are a parent, be prepared to squirm in your discomfort over how you have done things in your family, give yourself grace, then as Maya Angelou advised when you know better, do better. You didn't have access to all the facts - and the facts have evolved & changed rapidly - so it is rational to change your conclusions about how you will do things going forward now that you have new/better data on what the situation is and how to rehabilitate/remediate it even if it isn't the immediately preferred way of doing things.

18 people found this helpful

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Interesting book until it got political

Was a truly interesting book for the first half. During the second half it got rather political and a lot less fact focused. Would recommend to a left of center friend who is politically active, but not to anyone who wants to just read a non political non fiction book about focus.

16 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Important but overly political

Important book on how our attention is ruined. But the constant lowkey political hammering is super distracting and obnoxious. Every negative example is always a rightwing one, every positive example is always a left wing one. Even though for example the left is against school choice and alternative schooling when the book complains about how broken our school system is. The constant climate change narrative is also annoying and ridiculous compared to how little climate change actually affects the world, its like "inconvenient truth" all over again as if new york will be underwater by 2020. Seriously the entire first half of the book is about big tech which is VEHEMENTLY anti right wing and has banned and censored even people like Joe Rogan, who the author has been on and is the only reason I even know of him. Instead of bringing thay up he ONLY brings up negative examples.

But other than that it brings up important topics such as:
ADHD and how its largely due to our HORRIBLE schooling system, diet, and children lacking time for play and intrinsic goals.
The corrupt pharmaceutical and psychiatrist industry.
How our diet is also filled with toxins that are banned by other countries.
And of course the algorithms that big tech are using to mess with our minds.

He also wants clearly too far approaches like BANNING ALL PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION SYSTEMS. This is just absurd, I only found most of what I love now thanks to recommendation systems, including the authors podcast appearances. But in general some of the other things he advocated for are reasonable like less work hours (most ppl r on their phones and shit half the day anyway).

15 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

Okay if it wasn’t for the politics

It’s a good book if you just started to think about distractions, how you can bring purpose and happiness to your life. If you are already aware, you have taken action, this book does not add much. I can actually be the opposite. If you are in control, this book will tell you that you are not, you are powerless and big tech controls your life. You just don’t know it. I’m an individualist, I believe change comes from within and the individual’s willpower is what drives change. This book makes the assumption that we are all puppets without a will. Only you have the power to change your life. Changing your own habits is much easier that being angry with the world you can’t change. Listen to the book, but remember, you are not a victim, you are in charge.

8 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Lack of focus

Ironically, Hari deviates from the subject matter to infuse a political and social agenda. Disappointing.

8 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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I wanted to like this book…

… but it felt short of my expectations
1. Way too long, often unnecessarily repetitive
2. Too shallow, most of what Hari talks about has been discussed in the media for the past 4 years, I didn’t learn anything
3. Too political, Unironically the book lacks of focus and talks about everything under the sun but for big tech censorship which should have been discussed.
4. Not practical, I understand the author talks about a systemic issue, but when you write such a long book, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to mention practical ways to cope with the issue, rather than mentioning them passing by with no organization.

Hari did his homework and the book is well documented and well written but it flaws trump the rest unfortunately.

5 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

started well, but got lost in its own presciptions

i really liked the first few chaptera of the book - the science behind deep thought . I particularly loved the observation of full-brain focus of artists and the joy of living in a state of flow.

the apt comparison to the siren songs and being tied to the mast to resist temptation, however, seemed to be a trap Hari fell into himself. he really wanders into the weeds with his tedious detailed opinions of how to "fix" social media - Facebook in particular.

I wonder if the irony to writers like Hari who dwell on their dislike of the ad model that allows internet applications to be developed and operated occurs to them. I paid for this title to learn and enjoy the experience, not to hear another journalist pound away on their dislike of social media. after an hour of my time wasted listening to his prescriptions I took his advice: turned off the book and put it away forever.

5 people found this helpful

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good writer

We are distracted, needing attention to solve other social issues like clime change.

Here are some books suggesting how to get there.

Blueprint, Nicolas Christakos

Seeing like a state, Two cheers for Anarchism,both by James C Scott.
The Tyranny of Experts, Will Easterly .
Wildhood, Dr. Barbara Natterson, Johann will love this book.

Bring those books on your next trip.














5 people found this helpful

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Interesting topic, disgraceful development

The topic is highly interesting and I got the book with great expectations to hear some ideas on what is happening with the diminishing focus on everybody. Oh desolation when the author that sounds like a sorry to be alive person wonders around his friends and brags about his interviews all over the world. Then he becomes a political hack with a lot of Hersey on topics and areas with highlight his frustrations and the fact that he is just another political hack.
My recommendation “do not spend your money on this book”

3 people found this helpful