Top positive review
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Very wise and interesting read, with a few niggles
on 17 July 2012
This book summarises the latest psychological research on human judgement, in particular how we think irrationally, jump to conclusions and fall prey to failures of intuition.
To give you a feel, here is an example from chapter 17. Have a look at this statement and see if you can guess why it might be true:
"Highly intelligent women tend to marry men who are less intelligent than they are"
Did you find a nice explanation? The book will show you why no explanation is necessary. It is a statistical necessity. It will also explain why it is very difficult to avoid believing spurious explanations and how pervasive and dangerous they can be.
That is just one tiny example. The book is absolutely packed with fascinating and thought provoking discussion of a wide range of similar topics. It is almost a must-read for anyone interested in human judgement or broader questions about how the mind works and one of very few books I keep on a special shelf for reading again.
There were a few things that niggled with me. I will mention these but please don't be put off. Even with the niggles it is an intelligent and valuable book.
The writing is clear and easy to understand. However it is a bit repetitive. After I got a feel for where the repetition was coming I often found myself skipping or skimming half a paragraph. Comparing this with Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, a book covering similar ground, Ariely's book gets its points across in a much punchier way and presents a similar amount of material in (I guess) half as many words.
The author gives other researchers credit where it is due but when talking about his own work I feel he overdoes his self-publicity. I have read plenty of books by acclaimed scientists and they don't boast about how good their work as much as Kahneman does. Some people may not mind this, or may not even notice it. Maybe I am being too sensitive but I did find it irritating so I think it is fair to mention it.
One final, very small, niggle. The book often uses names for psychological findings - the endowment effect, the halo effect, loss aversion, and many others. Usually these are widely accepted terms. However, Kahneman insists on coining a few of his own that are not accepted terms. The most notable, where he names different types of thinking "System 1" and "System 2", is central to the book and, although he gives a reasonable justification for it, it gave me a slight feeling of quackery which is a shame as this is an extremely intelligent book and not quackery at all. Someone has since pointed out to me that the terms System 1 and System 2 may become mainstream in which case I owe Kahnemann an apology and happily give it to him.
Because of the niggles, I started by giving the book 4 stars, but on reflection, it is so full of wise discussion and useful advice, I realized I was being churlish and gave it the extra star.
If you are interested in the subject I would strongly recommend reading both this and Predictably Irrational. Neither the style nor the material is the same. If you only want to read one book, or are new to the subject, you might prefer Predictably Irrational as it is more fun to read, and its ideas will grab you more quickly. I read Predictably Irrational in a couple of sittings but Fast and Slow Thinking took me 3 weeks as it is 400 pages of small print and I usually felt tired after reading 1-2 chapters. On the other hand, Thinking Fast and Slow will thoroughly reward the greater investment of effort. Another excellent book which predates this by 14 years is Hare Brain Tortoise Mind by Guy Claxton. This has a different take on the subject and, unfortunately, does not seem to be acknowledged anywhere.