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The Decisive Moment: [Hardcover]

Jonah Lehrer
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
RRP: 16.99
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Book Description

19 Feb 2009
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 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 stocks and shares, intuition often leads us astray. The trick is to determine when to lean on which part of the brain, and to do this, we need to think harder (and smarter) about how we think. In The Decisive Moment, Jonah Lehrer arms us with the tools we need, drawing on cutting-edge research by Daniel Kahneman, Colin Camerer and others, as well as the world’s most interesting ‘deciders’ – from airline pilots, world famous sportsmen and hedge fund investors to serial killers, politicians and poker players. He shows how the fluctuations of a few dopamine neurons saved a battleship during the Persian Gulf War, and how the fevered activity of a single brain region led to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Lehrer’s 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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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books (19 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847673139
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847673138
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 324,299 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


'Engrossing...gripping...moving...full of fascinating facts. ... Lehrer's on similar territory to Malcolm Gladwell's BLINK and James Surowiecki's THE WISDOM OF CROWDS but more than earns his place on the shelf alongside them.' -- Daily Mail

'Fascinating...compelling...a great read. It might even improve your life. Not many books offer both.' -- New Scientist

'Jonah Lehrer is a brilliant young writer. His clear and vivid writing -- incisive and thoughtful, yet sensitive and modest -- is a special pleasure.' -- Oliver Sacks

'Should we go with instinct or analysis? The answer, Lehrer explains in this smart and delightfully readable book, is that it depends on the situation. Knowing which method works best in which case is not just useful but fascinating. Lehrer proves once again that he's a master storyteller and one of the best guides to the practical lessons from new neuroscience.' -- Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of WIRED and author of THE LONG TAIL

Cash or credit? Punt or go for first down? Deal or no deal? -- life is filled with puzzling choices. Reporting from the frontiers of neuroscience, and armed with riveting case studies of how pilots, quarterbacks, and others act under fire, Jonah Lehrer presents a dazzlingly authoritative and accessible account of how we make decisions, what's happening in our heads as we do so, and how we might all become better `deciders.' Luckily, this one's a no-brainer: Read this book.


'Engrossing...gripping...moving...full of fascinating facts. ... Lehrer's on similar territory to Malcolm Gladwell's BLINK and James Surowiecki's THE WISDOM OF CROWDS but more than earns his place on the shelf alongside them.'

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
In recent years, there has been a glut of books like The Decisive Moment hitting the non-fiction market, and many parts of this book felt familiar. Like both Outliers: The Story of Success and Sway The Decisive Moment retells stories of white-knuckle decision-making being made by airline pilots in seriously desperate situations; like Switch many 'classic' social-psychological studies of human behaviour are poured over to illuminate how human beings make irrational choices.

What makes Lehrer's book interesting is his use of neurobiology to really tease out how different parts of the brain contribute towards the decision making process, and while many Critical Psychologists and/or Philosophers of Mind might cringe at his anthropomorphizing of (say) dopamine-expressing neurons, the author certainly brings something different to the table. Other reviewers have caricatured his linkage of mental states with neurological activity, but I found his writing both sober, informative and quite engrossing (he has none of the swagger of say, Steven Pinker, who has covered similar pop-science ground but with a political agenda). Having a somewhat cursory, patchy knowledge of brain anatomy, I didn't find his brain discussions to be too indulgent, although some simple vector drawings of the brain might have helped orientate the reader at different points of the discussion.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So what DO you know? 24 April 2009
If you thought you knew how rational and considered were your decisions, this book will blow that myth to pieces. Well researched and with impressive references, and through an insightful use of examples and metaphors, the author identifies the importance of the brains "massively parallel" emotional processing. It also highlights the critical importance of thinking consciously about the methods you use (thought processes you go through) in decision making.

It may be filed under "Popular Psychology" but I believe it has a lot to say to the academic audience. Being effortlessly readable doesn't make it trivial!
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Popular science book 21 Feb 2009
By Bucky
Much,much better than all these Gladwell and his ilk ,pretensious 'got something to say'books. Really does have something to say and is based firmly in reasearch rather than conjecture. Makes some good points and is easy to read. Lots of books around about cognitive bias and decision making but this is the most accessable I've read for a while.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that makes you think about thinking 22 Feb 2010
By M. K. Burton VINE VOICE
What happens when we make a choice? How do we decide which brand of jam we want in the supermarket, or what to do when we're piloting a crashing plane and have no instructions on how to save the day? Jonah Lehrer takes a look at how we make decisions. He examines which parts of our brains do what and how we fall into traps based on how our brains are constructed. Using clear examples and fascinating, well-documented facts, Lehrer examines how we can use all of our instincts as well as our rational minds to make the best choices for ourselves.

This book was totally and completely fascinating. I didn't really know what to expect from it except that I'd like to know more about how my brain works. Lehrer seriously delivers on his promise. His book is not too heavy on the science and I'm sure real brain function is a lot more complicated, but he distilled it down into a series of examples and explanations that I could understand and relate to what he was saying. I kept exclaiming over how true various parts were and had to read them aloud to my husband so he could get them too. I also made him read it right after I did because I just found it all so fascinating.

Let me take an example that relates directly to me. In one of the chapters, Lehrer discusses how children are taught and how the education system has it somewhat backwards. Kids are praised for their intelligence, not for their efforts. He cites studies that show that children who are praised for working hard do consistently work hard and take on tougher challenges, while kids who are praised for being smart are so afraid of failing and proving that praise wrong that they choose to do easier tasks in order to maintain their projection of intelligence.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understand your decisions and error 23 July 2009
This is an excellent book for anyone who really wants to understand more about how their brain works and why they make the decisions they do.

It's full of examples of things that went wrong, explanations including the brain research and, at the end, some encouraging ideas about how to improve (also with examples of how others have improved considerably including surgeons and pilots).

Want to be a better decision-maker? Get this book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something to argue about for everyone 10 Mar 2009
One of the more 'fun' non-fiction books I've read so far this year. I am now obsessed with working out whether I'm making decisions with the 'right' part of my brain. This book does actually make you think about thinking, although I don't necessarily agree with everything he says (particularly about loss aversion). But I accept that he is talking about people who are making decisions NOT based on years of experience and advice from experts.

I've recommended this book to everyone I know. I really enjoyed it - I would recommend people also read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Blink, which are a bit more touchy-feely but just as interesting!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading
I was puzzled to how you can make neuroscience interesting. This book did it without actually making it as a scientific paper. Made the whole book accessible to the lay person. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Richard
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting
I had this book on my list for while and I'm glad I finally succumbed - really fascinating insights you'll find yourself discussing frequently.
Published 6 months ago by Greeno
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Look into Human Decision Making
I originally purchased this book under recommendation from a friend, and believe me, I will listen to them more from now on! Read more
Published 9 months ago by jamie bustin
3.0 out of 5 stars You learn something every day
I was recommended this book by someone who is studying the brain in uni. I enjoyed it while I was reading it but have forgotten everything I read since.
Published 18 months ago by bernadette
4.0 out of 5 stars Really interesting book on how the brain works
I bought this for my daughter to try and help her moderate her pre-exam nerves.

She's a text book example of the 'over-analysing' described in the book and she's said... Read more
Published 19 months ago by M. Saxby
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
A great book to introduce the reader to how the brain works and how decisions are made. Incredibly well written with great stories to illustrate various points & I was disappointed... Read more
Published 21 months ago by MB
5.0 out of 5 stars This book has challenged the way I think, thank you!
I've given the book 5 stars because of the impact it has had on me, and the way I think about things. Read more
Published on 18 Aug 2012 by Dr. Alison J. Mcmillan
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant book
This book explores how we make decisions. Fascinating, full of examples, and a great read. I'd recommend it to marketers all over the world as well as those who are interested in... Read more
Published on 18 Jun 2012 by Peter MJ Davies
5.0 out of 5 stars Not another self-help book, just a short trip inside your brain
Do not be discouraged by advertising tricks on the cover of the book. Judging by the enthusiastic claims the book seems to promise it will improve your decision making skills which... Read more
Published on 30 May 2012 by Mikolaj Pietrzyk
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating stuff
After a while, if you read enough popular psychology, behavioural economics, and other similar books you start coming across the same studies being quoted, but that isn't... Read more
Published on 9 May 2012 by A. Skudder
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