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on 4 April 2013
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 fact quite repetitive.

In short, the author discusses the other side of the coin with regards to choices.
Having multiple choices at any given time is most often viewed as something which is desirable. An example of this, is the fact that the older generations typically point out how fortunate the younger generations are for having so many opportunities in life and so many possible choices at their disposal. But is our current level of happiness actually proportionate to the number of choices we have available? This is one of the key areas of discussion in this book.

The author's intention is to point out that the many obvious benefits of having multiple choices come with a somewhat less obvious set of detrimates. These detrimates are then discussed in detail throughout the book which ends with a section of suggestions on how we are to cope with the overwhelm and negative effects of the many choices we are faced with on a day to day basis.

The good thing about the somewhat repetitive nature of this book is that it actually helps solidify the key points. It should also be mentioned that the book seems to be repetitive because the author is essentially discussing somewhat identical points within various areas. So in all fairness, I am not implying that the fact that this book feels somewhat repetitive is solely a bad thing.

The paradox of choice will certainly offer the reader some food for thought.
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on 11 October 2006
Barry Schwartz was one of my favourite speakers at a Positive Psychology conference I attended some years ago. His speech was one of the best and I bought the book as soon as it came out. I would recommend it highly to people who feel bombarded by the choices this world offers; the people who feel trapped by indecision, and the people who want to read a thought-provoking and excellent book about the choice aspect of every iota of 21st century living. Buy the book and read it.
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on 1 March 2010
This book falls in the "popular psychology" book category. Its author tries to convince us that maybe not the easiest but an essential way to improve our life and happiness is to "simplify" and to be less choosy.

The book is written in an easy to understand but still scientifically correct style, drawing on a discipline of psychology called "positive psychology" and a range of studies from this area and behavioural economics. - And although his example and argument-focus is always America his studies draw from a range of countries and cultures.

A bit annoying is that many arguments seem very repetitive and although there is always a small twist that makes it more important there still remains a feeling that the author tried to fill pages. This definitely adds to the easy-to-read style but not exactly to the joy that the book presents. But it is nice how the author is able to pull many strings together and bring the studies he cites to concise conclusions. Nonetheless reading the book is all the time pleasing and never a pain.

Schwartz argues and gives rather compelling evidence that, yes, to have choice is better than not to have choice, but that to have TOO MUCH choice can be even more harmful.

He cites a range of studies focusing on regret, opportunity costs and expectations - all factors that influence not how objectively good or bad a "choice" (product, vacation, life partner, ...) is, but how subjectively good or bad it is (how good we feel about it and how good we think it is).

The argument goes as follows: Objectively more choice can only provide better opportunities and therefore better decisions. But in reality the more choice we have,(1) the longer it takes us to decide (and time is valuable!), (2) the worse we feel before we decide and the less likely we are to decide (because we fear that something else might be better) and (3) after the decision, the more choices there were the less we can enjoy the one we made.

The conclusions the author draws are already quite obvious from his arguments and the above: to be more happy we ought to diminish our choosiness, follow self-made or adopted rules for choice (buy the same breakfast cereal without thinking about it every time), should not focus (or even pay a premium for) the possibility to return products and should consciously cherish the good in what we have.

Although his arguments are very compelling his conclusions and morals sometimes seem a bit too oversimplified. For example he obviously thinks that a high rate of divorce is bad but that is quite a strong and unfounded claim. One could equally argue that if there is no possibility to divorce people adjust to the situation but could be happier. Although his distinction between objective and subjective sometimes blurs the point of what should be valuable: Is an objectively better product that feels subjectively worse still worse? Both of them will make us equally happy, but does that mean they are equally good?

For this price definitely a recommended buy!
In general his book is very insightful, an easy read and does not distort facts. And even as some of his conclusions and arguments seem a bit oversimplified or generalised there are many take-away information from the book and it will definitely change the way you see and make decisions and might even help you simplify your life and ease your pain.
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on 22 June 2013
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 actually it turns out there are a whole type of human in our modern times, who have the same experiences as me.. so nice to know I wasn't alone..!

It helped reading this because I'm more aware of why I find it hard to chose. Sometimes trivial tasks, like getting a new camera, takes me ages and ages (because I research all the choices available.. and there are too many)

Barry explains the problems maximizers are faced with and gives plausible explanations on why modern living conditions makes it more difficult for maximizers and also why our modern environment causes more people to become maximizers..

Interestingly, at the beginning of the book, there are a few tests you can do to gauge how much of a maximizers you are and also how happy you are. I ran these tests on myself and a group of friends, and I did find the results as the book predicted, the more of a maximizers you are, the more unsatisfied with life you are..

Look, I won't bore you with lodes of writing but.. in summary:
* Booh is worth a read.. its only 236 pages, but a little long winded.. so I had to push myself to finish it.. but you know what, Im really glad I read it.
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on 21 February 2004
Faced with too many choices, Schwartz has stumbled in this erudite and well-reasoned attempts to illustrate the dilemmas of too many choices too often for too many people in a too affluent society.
"As the number of choices we face increases, freedom of choice eventually becomes a tyranny of choice," Schwartz intones one page from the end of his book. Maybe that's why America, the land of choice, has always limited itself to two major political parties rather than a profusion of ideologies and opinions.
If choice is good in the marketplace, surely it is good for politics. Schwartz says he "found 85 different varieties and brands of crackers." Didn't it occurred to him that if America has cracker democracy, it should also have 85 different varieties and brands of political parties? If it's good for the marketplace, why not for politics?
The key, which he passes over briefly, is found in his third chapter when he says cigarette manufacturers in the 1930s "discovered that smokers who taste-tested various cigarette brands without knowing which was which couldn't tell them apart." The result, he says, was "the practice of selling a product by associating it with a glamorous lifestyle."
It's the foundation of modern marketplace. People who are satisfied with their lives don't spend their time worrying about whether they have the most elegant, tasty, healthy or socially responsible cracker; instead, they buy and use the cracker that meets their needs. Is this possible? Well, years ago I worked with a former executive from Kraft foods who once explained that Kraft factories produced 90 percent of the macaroni and cheese sold in America. Some was sold under the Kraft name; much was sold as private brands. Yet advertising tells people there are differences. Gasoline? It's all the same, according to people who run refineries; however, look at the advertising for gasoline.
If you look at the hands producing vehicles, electronics, clothing and dozens of other consumer products, you realize much of the content comes from people who are paid pennies per hour to produce products according to ISO 9000 standards. The glamorous lifestyle choices that are so confusing comes from advertising.
Want an IBM notebook? Cisco router? Sun workstation? Hewlett-Packard printer? All are manufactured by Solectron, the largest contract manufacturer in the world. You can still buy a new GE and RCA television, though GE hasn't made a TV since 1987 and RCA doesn't exist as a company; both are brand names for Thomson, the French electronics company. In other words, you're buying the product of one manufacturer.
The key element is not the advertising glitter, nor the brand name of the product, it is whether a product meets your needs. I've driven a Jaguar, a truly magnificent car; but, my needs are best satisfied by a 1984 Volvo station wagon. In other words, my Volvo meets my needs -- my personal needs are not what advertisers say will make me happy or a car advertisers claim will raise the envy level of my neighbors.
Schwartz offers a valuable introduction to the paradoxes of choice as muddled by advertising, his observations are relevant and telling but his conclusions are hollow. He's as much a prisoner of the "glamorous lifestyle" image as anyone. It's a great book to read if you keep this in mind; think of him in terms of providing an ISO 9001:2000 product and decide whether it meets your needs.
Perhaps, though, I'm wrong in my assessment; maybe Schwartz is right. If you value intellectual integrity, read it and decide whether his ideas satisfy your experience. Bottom line? Read, then think for yourself and be satisfied with having added to your own knowledge and intelligence. Don't worry about what anyone else tells you to think.
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on 31 December 2012
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, damn it, I wanted it perfect. But, more often than not, there was no way it could be - the brief was either non-descript or non-existent, the research materials would arrive three hours before deadline, then the client would change their mind about the tone of voice...and so on. When I stopped trying to be perfect (a maximiser in the framework of this book) and delivered what was good enough for the client, the brand, the brief, my rates went up, my clients were happier and so was I. I became a satisficer according to this book.
And this answers the question that first popped into my head when I read this: is good enough just settling for second best? I know the quality of my work went up, I know that if I could have taken a percentage of sales instead of a day rate I probably could have retired by now. So, if perect is unattainable, go for good enough because, well, it is good enough. It is perfect.

Good book for anyone coming from hard times to good times. Puts the abundance in perspective and gives you workable strategies.
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on 20 November 2012
Fascinating look at purchasing habits. Well written in an understandable, accesable style, and extremely useful from a small retail perspective
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on 25 November 2011
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 think. Not that it didn't try, but unfortunately it never really hit the spot for me.

In actual fact, Schwartz focuses more on the psychological than the sociological, and widens his arguments to cover the choices we make in everything from education and careers to houses and cars to jeans and jam. The prevailing theme of the book is how the growth of choice in modern society, and the emphasis on the individual as the maker of choices, has taken us beyond freedom and into the realms of tyranny. Choice no longer liberates us; it spins us into its web and holds us there, stuck in our own uncertainty and fear. We no longer choose between three pairs of jeans in a store - we choose between ten different fits, three different leg lengths and four different colours. The same decision, however trivial it might be, now has higher stakes and many more alternatives to consider. This, Schwartz argues, plunges us into a constant whirlwind of regret, comparison, uncertainty, disappointment and even depression.

I think Schwartz provides a compelling and relatable case against excessive choice, which certainly made me stop to ponder just how much of our time we devote to comparing, researching and choosing between different options in even the most inconsequential areas of our lives. His eleven methods for reducing the negative effects of choice make sense, though for me as one of his 'satisficers' (people happy with 'good enough', as opposed to 'maximisers' who make their task more difficult by always looking for the best) I didn't feel I really had too much to learn from them.

My main problem with the book was that it was just too long. There was a lot of repetition - of ideas, anecdotes and examples - and the middle of the book really started to drag. Cutting the whole thing down by about 50 pages and sharpening the pace would have improved the reading experience without damaging the argument. I also noticed from the notes at the back that some of Schwartz's examples had been directly lifted from other people's work, without it being evident in the main body of text (the notes aren't numbered), which I thought was a bit sneaky. To sum up, maximisers and perfectionists might learn something important from this book, but satisficers - I wouldn't bother. It'd be like preaching to the choir anyway, so use your superior powers of choice to take you on to the next book!
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on 2 September 2006
Would have made a great short article, but as a book there just isn't enough content and it's all a bit belaboured.
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on 23 October 2011
Interesting to marketeers and psychologist alike.

This book contains lots of little stories that bring psychological experiments to life.

Worth reading to understand what makes you tick - and how you shop and buy.
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