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Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear [Paperback]

Dan Gardner
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Jan 2009

We are the safest humans who ever lived - the statistics prove it. And yet the media tells a different story with its warnings and scare stories. How is it possible that anxiety has become the stuff of daily life?

In this ground-breaking, compulsively readable book, Dan Gardner shows how our flawed strategies for perceiving risk influence our lives, often with unforeseen and sometimes-tragic consequences. He throws light on our paranoia about everything from paedophiles to terrorism and reveals how the most significant threats are actually the mundane risks to which we pay little attention.

Speaking to psychologists and scientists, as well as looking at the influence of the media and politicians, Gardner uncovers one of the central puzzles of our time: why are the safest people in history living in a culture of fear?

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Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear + Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail and Why We Believe them Anyway
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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: 13.2 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 23,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"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)


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

An excellent book

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well written and really makes you think 14 Mar 2008
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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perceptive and enjoyable examination of risk 18 April 2009
By Steve
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
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read 2 Feb 2009
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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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't Be Scared 2 May 2008
By I Clark
A really interesting and thought provoking read by the prize winning journalist. On page after page one realises quite how ridiculous some of our fears are. There is no factual basis to the idea that these are uniquely dangerous times. In fact, the evidence points to the opposite.

I remember a while back reading a comment in The Guardian newspaper after a child abduction story broke. The comment contained a fact I often like to repeat to people: In 20 years, the rate of child murder by strangers has remained pretty much the same level. And yet, in the same period, the fear has been ratcheted up to a remarkable degree. Adults are scared to let children play out on their own, even though they possibly went out and played in a time when they were even more at risk. I mean really, when you think about it, how many major child abduction cases do you hear in a year? 1? 2? Not many I suspect. And yet the media creates a vision of a country in which children are abducted on a regular basis.

Gardner comes up with many examples of the exaggeration of risk and the threats that are posed. Take, for example, the 'threat' of Islamic terrorism. There have been many examples of alleged terrorist activity by white, non-Muslims, and yet they have not been reported. Why? Because they do not fit the current narrative. If they were Islamic, every single one would be headline news. They aren't, so it's not.

Another example is the case of children being kidnapped in America. According to the statistics, of the 797,500 children under the age of 18 that go missing every year, only 115 are due to child kidnapping. 115! That means, as Gardener points out, that a child under 18 in America has a 0.00016% chance of being kidnapped.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Purchase
The book arrived quickly and in perfect condition. Good price and a very interesting book - I bought it after seeing the author's interview on Charlie Brooker's Newswipe.
Published 10 months ago by Josh Palmer
5.0 out of 5 stars Think and look at the statistics
Great book highlighting how the media warp what the real dangers in the world are, backed up with interesting case studies
Published 14 months ago by S. Godwin
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and thought provoking but technically flawed
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. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mr Plebian
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than Gladwell
Two themes run through this excellent book: the tendency of 'Gut' to influence decisions we think we take with our 'Head', and how vested interests use fear for commercial and... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Parthurbook
5.0 out of 5 stars Positive service
Book received very quickly. Lived up to expectations. Would purchase from this site again in future as it is so reliable.
Published 22 months ago by mags
3.0 out of 5 stars Do You Want to Take a Risk?
As a species we are hardwired to be curious about each other. Our social mores are based on our survival and being able to unite against the threat of other inhabitants sharing our... Read more
Published on 17 Mar 2012 by Donald Scott
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Informative Discussion on the Misunderstanding of...
This is an excellent, entertaining book on how we understand - or rather misunderstand - the nature of risk. Read more
Published on 10 Dec 2011 by F Henwood
5.0 out of 5 stars prophetic book that explains the media's thirst for power
I first read this book a couple of years ago and found it made me really angry - not with the book because it is a positive work, but because of the way it exposed corruption of... Read more
Published on 9 Dec 2011 by B. A. Hallewell
1.0 out of 5 stars contradictions
I must be missing something with all these positive reviews. As it says in the heading, this book is full of contradicitons, for example, he says that the chances of being murdered... Read more
Published on 29 Nov 2011 by Mr. Andrew J. Pearsall
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
This is wonderful read.

The information is provided in an easily understood form and even when it is trying to address fairly complicated topics, the writing style keeps... Read more
Published on 12 Nov 2011 by Mr T Wake
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