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Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear Paperback – 1 Jan 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Virgin Books (1 Jan. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753515539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753515532
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.7 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 64,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Excellent ... Gardner analyses everything from the media's predilection for irrational scare stories to the cynical use of fear by politicians pushing a particular agenda ... A cheery corrective to modern paranoia" (Economist)

"Terrific ... exceptionally good - has the clarity of Malcolm Gladwell" (Evening Standard)

"Enlivening ... a fascinating insight into the peculiar and devastating nature of human fear" (Sunday Telegraph)

"Stimulating ... where writers such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Francis Wheen have been content largely to enumerate the errors of less rational men and women, Dan Gardner has collated part of what we need to diagnose the problem" (Independent on Sunday)

"Beautifully observed" (Observer)

Review

Terrific ... exceptionally good - has the clarity of Malcolm Gladwell

An excellent book

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Clarence on 14 Mar. 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a really fascinating book and makes you question the role of the media in our understanding of the world. We are constantly bombarded by negative messages from every corner and Gardner persuasively illustrates how our rational brains are unable to calculate the real level of risk to us. Our instinctive survival responses seem to override our rational knowledge and so we are left fearful and stressed by the messages we receive from the media and politicians. Gardner looks at how fear is used to manipulate us and it is really thought-provoking reading.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mr Plebian on 28 Dec. 2012
Format: Paperback
This book is okay as far as it goes but please keep in mind that risk and uncertainty are specialist subjects that have vexed some of the finest thinkers amongst us. You should not, therefore, be surprised to find that Dan Gardner's track record as a successful journalist, as opposed to a successful risk analyst, has resulted in a book that is both entertaining and persuasive, albeit technically naive. The problem isn't his grasp of the political and social dimensions of risk - I bought the book in the hope that this aspect of the subject would be expertly covered and, in this respect, the book did not disappoint. The real problem is that the author only has a layman's understanding of risk's conceptual framework. Consequently, he frequently conflates risk with uncertainty, consistently confuses ambiguity aversion with risk aversion, and vacillates between discussing risk and discussing the probability for risk, in a way that I found decidedly confusing. Furthermore, the author's superficial understanding of the cognitive science behind risk perception comes perilously close to undermining the author's whole thesis.

Central to the argument, the author repeatedly cites cognitive biases which he claims lead people to overestimate risk. However, this is a serious misrepresentation of the true significance of such biases, and the reason why he misrepresents them is because he isn't sufficiently careful at distinguishing between risk and probability. The fact is that the cognitive biases he refers to can lead people to overestimate likelihood. Whether or not this leads to overestimation of risk depends upon whether the individual is focused upon the likelihood of a positive outcome, or a negative outcome.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Steve on 18 April 2009
Format: Paperback
After 9/11, millions of Americans chose their gut over their head, and abandoned planes for cars. That mistake sadly cost the lives of more than 1,500 people. Risk is a book that reveals the often unfortunate triumph of gut over head, of unconscious feeling over conscious reason - and how that succeeds in distorting our fundamental understanding of the risks we face in our daily lives, from cancer to paedophiles, terrorism to asteroids.

Gardner writes with great clarity and perceptiveness, covering quite a broad canvas that touches on politics, the media and the corporate world, as well as devoting a fair bit of attention to the cognitive errors that regularly impinge our judgment. In particular, if you enjoyed Flat Earth News, Bad Science or Irrationality, you will probably enjoy this, as it brings together strands from all three, along with a few others like Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. A genuinely good - and reassuring - read.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Jane Wilkin on 2 Feb. 2009
Format: Paperback
The overriding message of this book is that our `gut' feelings about risk are often wrong and we should learn to engage our mind to make more informed judgements.

The problem is, according to Gardner, that we as humans were built, in an evolutionary sense, before the stone age and in the information age we now live in, this is not particularly useful. He explores what he (and others) have called our dual systems of reasoning. System One - Gut (Feeling or unconscious thought) and System Two - Head (Reason or conscious thought). Gut, he says has been very useful to us since we lived in caves, and it takes considerable effort for us to make Head over-ride it.

Gardner does a great job of telling us why our perception of risk is often so wrong and arguing that humans are not naturally good at statistics. He goes into great detail about a number of issues (terrorism, chemicals, shark attacks, and cancer to name a few) and explains why the headlines and resulting perception of risks are wrong. However, whilst he presents a mind boggling array of basic statistical errors we make on a regular basis, he rarely tells the reader what the correct answer is.

Gardner does an excellent job of laying out how `figures' quoted in headlines misrepresent data to either catch readers attention or further their own cause. This isn't to say the journalists are deliberately deceiving us (Gardener is after all a journalist by trade) it is, he says, that we are hard wired to listen out for and take notice of risks that a communicated in a certain way. It's what has kept the human species alive.

However, whilst the book tells me about the things that I shouldn't be worrying about, I can't help feeling slightly frustrated that I don't know more about what I should be worrying about.
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