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How We Decide [Paperback]

Jonah Lehrer
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 Reprint edition (14 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547247990
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547247991
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13.5 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 87,316 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonah Lehrer is a Contributing Editor at Wired and the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist. He graduated from Columbia University and studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He's written for The New Yorker, Nature, Seed, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe. He's also a Contributing Editor at Scientific American Mind and National Public Radio's Radio Lab.

Product Description

The first book to use the unexpected discoveries of neuroscience to help us make the best decisions Since Plato, philosophers have described the decision-making process as either rational or emotional: we carefully deliberate, or we blink and go with our gut. But as scientists break open the mind s black box with the latest tools of neuroscience, they re discovering that this is not how the mind works. Our best decisions are a finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason--and the precise mix depends on the situation. When buying a house, for example, it s best to let our unconscious mull over the many variables. But when we re picking a stock, intuition often leads us astray. The trick is to determine when to use the different parts of the brain, and to do this, we need to think harder (and smarter) about how we think. Jonah Lehrer arms us with the tools we need, drawing on cutting-edge research as well as the real-world experiences of a wide range of deciders--from airplane pilots and hedge fund investors to serial killers and poker players. Lehrer shows how people are taking advantage of the new science to make better television shows, win more football games, and improve military intelligence. His goal is to answer two questions that are of interest to just about anyone, from CEOs to firefighters: How does the human mind make decisions? And how can we make those decisions better?

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Don't just Blink! Instead, read a series of well-chosen, beautifully told stories of successful and unsuccessful decision practices, along with some rules of thumb for when to rely on emotions, or rigorous logic, or hold a long-term running debate in your head, or how to best mix emotions and logic when appropriate.

Since I was young, any discussion about how to make better decisions quickly turned into a debate between those who liked to follow the rules of logic and those who liked to wait until they get a good feeling about a choice. The reason that debate continued is that both sides are right, and wrong, part of the time. The good decision maker will know when to access which method . . . or to combine them . . . for the best results.

I found How We Decide to be the best introductory book I've read for helping anyone to improve decision practices, depending on the circumstances. For example:

1. When we have little time to decide, need to act, and are quite experienced, relying on our feelings will guide us to a typically high quality answer that our subconscious mind has already figured out. Try to logic that situation out, and we lose the benefit of the feeling and don't around to applying the logic properly.

2. When there are lots of variables and we have lots of time, but the decision isn't important, we can waste tremendous amounts of time comparing things until we eventually make a worse decision than if we went with our feeling-led intuition earlier on. We are particularly at risk in situations where our minds can be misled (we immediately like expensive items better than less expensive ones . . . even when they are objectively inferior, have a hard time resisting a bargain, and don't feel enough pain when we can pay with plastic).

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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris TOP 100 REVIEWER
With regard to neuroscience, I am a non-scholar who has a keen interest in what the brain and mind are and how they function, and am especially interested in how decisions are made. In recent years, I have read a variety of books that have helped me to increase my knowledge in these specific areas. They include William Calvin's How Brains Think: Evolving Intelligence, Then And Now, Gerald Edelman's Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On The Matter of The Mind, Guy Claxton's Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, Howard Gardner's Five Minds for the Future, Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, and most recently, Torkel Klingberg's The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory. I am grateful to these and other volumes for increasing my understanding of the decision-making process while realizing that is still so much more that I need to know. Hence my interest in Jonah Lehrer's book, How We Decide.

In the Introduction after sharing an experience aboard a simulated flight landing at Tokyo Narita International Airport, Lehrer observes: "In the end, the difference between landing my plane in one piece and my dying in a fiery crash came down to a single decision made in the panicked moments after the engine fire...This book is about how we make decisions. It's about airline pilots, NFL quarterbacks, television directors, poker players, professional investors, and serial killers...[Ever since the ancient Greeks, assumptions about decision making have revolved around a single theme: humans are ration.] There's only one problem with this assumption of human rationality: It's not how the brain works...We can look inside the brain and see how humans think: the black box has been broken open.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but flawed 23 April 2010
As others have noted, this book is quite good at explaining not only "how we decide," but more important, how we decide wisely or foolishly. I was particularly intrigued to discover that, over time, I'd fallen into precisely the sort of shopping behavior that studies have shown are most likely to lead to long-term satisfaction. I ponder all the factors, and then, without making a decision, browse elsewhere in the store for a few minutes. After that pause to let my subconscious mull over the decision, I almost alway reach a decision I like.

The book's chief failing is that the author doesn't pull everything together into a "How we should decide" summary. For me, all the interesting bits and pieces never seemed to come together. Sometimes he cites studies showing that following reason is the best option. Other times the research suggested that it was best to go with gut instinct. I realize that life is complex and research often contradictory, but a bit more summation would have been helpful.

--Michael W. Perry, Untangling Tolkien: A Chronology and Commentary for The Lord of the Rings
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to decide to buy this book 28 Oct 2010
I have read so many books about how the mind works and nothing has hit the mark quite like this. Lehrer takes the dense field of neuroscience and brings it to life. Yet he does not over simplify it. Each chapter is interesting in itself but as you progress you start realising that the author is cleverly revealing more and more of the brain's complexities. Just when you think that there is no way to know how to decide, he sums it all up so clearly, showing you how to come to the best decisions in different circumstances.

Plus the book is FUN. It's packed with stories that I've been retelling to friends and clients ever since. It makes a good read as well as being incredibly illuminating.

Sure, there has been a spate of pop psychology books but this is not 'just another one'. Lehrer respects his audience by giving you the background to all his conclusions - in a really accessible way. It is only by taking you through this journey (packed with amazing analogies for a range of fields from airline pilots to firefighters) that you actually UNDERSTAND the background to why you should use different decision-making approaches in different circumstances. That is a far more powerful and long lasting approach than yet another guru just telling you their perspective - what this author writes is based on what is actually going on in your brain, and finally you understand how it all fits together.

If you're torn between logic and emotion, buy this book. Period. It's not just about decision making. You'll never look at yourself the same way again.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Stuff you didn't know
Insightful. I now understand my wife.
Published 2 months ago by *
4.0 out of 5 stars book in good condition disappointed by the label stuck on the back
the book arrived in good condition and on time. I was disappointed it had a big second hand label stuck on the back cover which i was not able to remove and which spoiled the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Lorna Normand
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent example of using stories to make sense of complex ideas
This isn't the kind of book I'd usually pick up, as I tend towards fiction. But it was recommended to me and, when I eventually got around to reading it, I really got a lot out of... Read more
Published 9 months ago by StephanieIsReading
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I read in ages...
This is going to sound like the writings of a troll and I apologise for it.
Probably the best book I read for the last 10 years (to be conservative). Read more
Published 9 months ago by Frederic Andre
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and accessible
This is a fascinating book that takes you through the process of how we decide. The author does a great job of breaking down the subject matter and explaining it in a manner that... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars although a good book and an interesting read, i received my copy with...
although a good book and an interesting read, i received my copy with a page ripped out in the notes section, i never read the notes section so i dont really care too much, but its... Read more
Published 13 months ago by daniel
4.0 out of 5 stars Good intro, for the general reader...
The basic premise of this entertaining and wide-ranging book is that if we understand the strengths and weaknesses of the brain we will spot opportunities, reduce risk and be able... Read more
Published 18 months ago by os
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
Better than expected overall, however I first 10 pages about single American football match very discouraging. I am glad I did not leave the book at that point :D
Published 23 months ago by Maria
I've read and continue to read many books on neuroscience and selecting to read "How We Decide" has proven invaluable. Read more
Published on 6 May 2012 by Vicki Drakopoulos
5.0 out of 5 stars very entertaining
If you are interested in how we make decisions and develop opinions this is a great read. Full of interesting stories, backed up by research, on how our brain works and what that... Read more
Published on 15 Oct 2011 by kleuter
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