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The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (P.S.) [Paperback]

Barry Schwartz
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Feb 2005 P.S.

In the spirit of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, a social critique of our obsession with choice, and how it contributes to anxiety, dissatisfaction and regret. This paperback includes a new P.S. section with author interviews, insights, features, suggested readings, and more.

Whether we’re buying a pair of jeans, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting a long-distance carrier, applying to college, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions--both big and small--have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented.

We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress. And, in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz explains at what point choice--the hallmark of individual freedom and self-determination that we so cherish--becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being. In accessible, engaging, and anecdotal prose, Schwartz shows how the dramatic explosion in choice--from the mundane to the profound challenges of balancing career, family, and individual needs--has paradoxically become a problem instead of a solution. Schwartz also shows how our obsession with choice encourages us to seek that which makes us feel worse.

By synthesizing current research in the social sciences, Schwartz makes the counterintuitive case that eliminating choices can greatly reduce the stress, anxiety, and busyness of our lives. He offers eleven practical steps on how to limit choices to a manageable number, have the discipline to focus on the important ones and ignore the rest, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; New edition edition (1 Feb 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060005696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060005696
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 7.9 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 12,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

“Brilliant.... The case Schwartz makes... is compelling, the implications disturbing.... An insightful book.” (Christian Science Monitor)

“An insightful study that winningly argues its subtitle.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

“Schwartz lays out a convincing argument.... [He] is a crisp, engaging writer with an excellent sense of pace.” (Austin American-Statesman)

“Schwartz offers helpful suggestions of how we can manage our world of overwhelming choices.” (St. Petersburg Times)

“Wonderfully readable.” (Washington Post)

“Schwartz has plenty of insightful things to say about the perils of everyday life.” (Booklist)

“With its clever analysis, buttressed by sage New Yorker cartoons, The Paradox of Choice is persuasive.” (BusinessWeek)

About the Author

Barry Schwartz is the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College. He is the author of several books, including The Battle for Human Nature: Science, Morality and Modern Life and The Costs of Living: How Market Freedom Erodes the Best Things in Life. His articles have appeared in many of the leading journals in his field, including the American Psychologist. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
88 of 90 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great book that will fall on deaf ears 11 July 2004
By tomsk77
Format:Hardcover
this is a fantastic book that manages to articulate a set of ideas and experiences that I have had for a long time. namely that whilst choice has been fetishised in western societies, and become an unquestionable good, in fact a lot of the time choice a) it makes us uncomfortable (and unable to choose!) and b) doesn't deliver what we expect. this book predominantly deals with a).
one of the main points in the book is that different types of people deal with choice differently. satisficers will choose something that meets their needs, whilst maximizers will try and find the "best" option from all the choices available (it's not a simple split, some people approach different choices in different ways but anyway....). I definitely fit into the latter category. however what this book explains is that as a result maximizers will often be unhappy. this is so on the money. the amount of time I spend agonizing over some choices, and then questioning them afterwards to ensure that I didn't miss something.
there are some really interesting examples in here that I've been boring people to death with. for example the one about people buying jam. they are far more likely to buy one jam when there is only a choice of half a dozen than when there is a choice of twenty or more. it seems we get paralysed by too much choice. similraly there is a great story about people's responses to a hypothetical choice between using different vaccines - one guaranteed to cure one third (but only one third) of those it's used on, and an experimental one that will cure everyone if it works but there's only a one in three chance it will work. how you phrase the proposition has a big impact on how people respond.
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too Many Choices 10 Mar 2004
By takingadayoff VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
I remember reading about ten or twelve years ago of Russian immigrants to the West who were overwhelmed by the choices in the average supermarket. Accustomed to a choice of cereal or no cereal, they became paralyzed when confronted with flakes, puffs, pops, sugared or not, oat, wheat, corn, rice, hot or cold, and on and on. Now, according to Barry Schwartz, we are all overwhelmed by too many choices.
No one is immune, he says. Even if someone doesn't care about clothes or restaurants, he might care very much about TV channels or books. And these are just the relatively unimportant kinds of choices. Which cookie or pair of jeans we choose doesn't really matter very much. Which health care plan or which university we choose matters quite a lot. How do different people deal with making decisions?
Schwartz analyzes from every angle how people make choices. He divides people into two groups, Maximizers and Satisficers, to describe how some people try to make the best possible choice out of an increasing number of options, and others just settle for the first choice that meets their standards. (I think he should have held out for a better choice of word than "satisficer.")
I was a bit disappointed that Schwartz dismissed the voluntary simplicity movement so quickly. They have covered this ground and found practical ways of dealing with an overabundance of choice. Instead of exploring their findings, Schwartz picked up a copy of Real Simple magazine, and found it was all about advertising. If he had picked up a copy of The Overspent American by Juliet Schor or Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin instead, he might have found some genuine discussion of simple living rather than Madison Avenue's exploitation of it.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a useful book, in spite of its flaws 11 Mar 2007
By Nelkin
Format:Paperback
I like an author who can keep a good, coherent argument going through an entire book, and to give Barry Schwartz credit I certainly think he does that here. It didn't hurt that I was ready to agree with him before I even started reading -- my own dislike of consumerism disposed me favourably towards his pro-simplicity argument straight away -- but, anyhow, I think it's fair to say that he makes his case thoroughly and backs it up with wide-ranging and relevant evidence.

I have a couple of caveats, some quite important. First, when I say the argument is made thoroughly, that doesn't mean that I think the book necessarily needs to be over 200 pages long. In fact, it really does begin to drag after about halfway through. The examples become overwhelmingly repetitive -- more and more of the same -- and the prose becomes laboured, as though the author knows in his heart he has said all he needs to say. His recommendations at the end of the book, for coping with excessive choice, have a desultory air about them, and I don't think Schwartz really has any suggestions that haven't been made more clearly and insightfully by others.

I can't help feeling that he could have made his points in about half the number of pages, maybe less. That would have been a good example to set, for someone so keen to extol the virtues of economy and simplification. But I guess that would have made his publisher's job of shifting the book somewhat less simple -- less than two hundred pages and people feel they're not getting their money's worth, right?

In spite of all that I nearly gave this book four stars, but I've knocked off another point for Schwartz's spectacularly ignorant dismissal of Voluntary Simplicity at the end of his introduction.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Unoriginal Homilies
So far the book has consisted mainly of regurgitated ideas with little by way of evidence to support their usefulness. I doubt if I shall read very much more of it...
Published 18 days ago by jbroad
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book to make you think...
Great book to make you think more, of choices you've made and why—and sometimes, why you didn't. Opposing the opinions of 1star ratings, I didn't stay with impression that author... Read more
Published 9 months ago by happy customer
4.0 out of 5 stars For me, it was very useful and helpful - and refreshing..!
I'm definitely a maximizer; reading this book was very refreshing for me! I could relate to the experiences Barry explained, I thought my 'problems' were just specific to me, but... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mr. R. O'regan
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but somewhat repetitive
The paradox of choice is certainly a book which is worth reading. However, before I was even halfway through it, I honestly started to get somewhat bored with it since it is in... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Jimmi Aa
4.0 out of 5 stars Gamechanger - if you want it to be
The "good enough" school of thought is one I used as a branding copywriter many years ago. Because I was changing good money I always wanted to write as best as I could,... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Frank Coles
5.0 out of 5 stars I choose this one!
Fascinating look at purchasing habits. Well written in an understandable, accesable style, and extremely useful from a small retail perspective
Published 17 months ago by Owen Phillips 2
1.0 out of 5 stars you too have a choice - don't buy this dross
Over 200 pages to make a single point - too much choice confuses us - well whoopee. So you have a choice to save your time and money by not bothering to read this - you will learn... Read more
Published 23 months ago by S. Rye
3.0 out of 5 stars I kinda wish I'd CHOSEN something else...
I had such high hopes for this book. I was expecting it to focus largely on consumer culture, and to have some profound 'light bulb' moments that would really make me stop and... Read more
Published on 25 Nov 2011 by Miss E. Potten
4.0 out of 5 stars How you shop and buy
Interesting to marketeers and psychologist alike.

This book contains lots of little stories that bring psychological experiments to life. Read more
Published on 23 Oct 2011 by Peter W. Burden
1.0 out of 5 stars Worse than a complete waste of time - it is extremely aggravating.
I read this book and the author claims you are better off if other people (more expert than you) make your decisions for you. Read more
Published on 31 July 2011 by Paul
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