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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 July 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 February 2012
You are at the cinema watching the latest film. Fifteen minutes before the end, the projector explodes and the screening is terminated prematurely. You feel that the experience was ruined. However, Daniel Kahneman knows better - he asserts that you are mistaken! Your own mind has deceived you. A combination of `duration neglect' and the `peak end rule' is responsible. You have difficulties distinguishing your memories from your experiences. He claims you found the experience blissful (despite having missed the end), no matter what you believe.

This is an example of one of the rather silly assertions which can be found towards the end of this 418 page book. There are quite a few equally foolish theories throughout the last 200 pages.

This is a book of two halves. The first half is absolutely inspirational. The writing style here is excellent. In order to illustrate his points, the author provides many exercises for the reader to perform. In doing these you conduct little experiments on your own brain, which will astonish you time and again by the obvious errors and self deceptions it keeps making. By page 200 I was feeling this was one of the very best books I have ever read. The material shows beyond doubt that the mind of the human is full of flaws, biases and delusions.

And then comes the second half. The writing becomes more turgid, the little exercises stop coming, and the lessons become more and more flaky, culminating in the example I give at the beginning. What went wrong?

Mr Kahneman points out that the human brain is biased towards finding coherence where there is none, and that we are susceptible to a frightening level of overconfidence. No where is this better illustrated than in the second half of his own book. Having found many instances of irrational thinking, particularly where statistics are concerned, Mr Kahneman seems to become obsessed with irrationality, and seeks to find the same pattern in all aspects of human behaviour. He becomes more and more overconfident with the tidy and coherent story he has constructed, and produces some spectacularly silly theories as a result.

I would give the second half of the book barely one star. But read it for the first 200 pages, which fully deserve five stars!
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on 25 August 2014
Daniel Kahneman is a behavioural economist. He’s spent decades studying the effects of social, cognitive and emotional factors on the decisions we make – economic and otherwise. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, he shares some of the insights of his work in decision science: to stimulate, as he says, “watercooler conversations”, so that we can better understand the systemic errors of judgement that humans are prone to.

Kahneman explains his findings by invoking the fiction of two ‘systems’. System 1 is intuitive, associative and fast; System 2 is rational, logical, slow and lazy. System 1 prefers plausibility to probability; it craves coherent meaning and will do everything it takes to construct it from any scrap of information. It cannot deal with statistics; it prefers causal explanations every time. It hates doubt. System 2 does its best to understand the truth in all its fullness; but it can only work with what System 1 gives it, and it’s lazy: without conscious attention and effort, System 2 will simply ratify the decisions of System 1.

As so often with discussions based on experimental social science, I found myself mildly irritated that experiments seemed merely to confirm what most of us know by experience already. But that, of course, is precisely Kahneman’s point: experience is not an infallible guide to truth. The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future.

“Everything,” he says, “makes sense in hindsight.”

The penny, for me, dropped with a resounding crash in Chapter 20. At one point, Kahneman and his colleague, Amos Tversky, worked with a group of investment advisers, looking for evidence of skill in their ability to predict movements in stock prices.

They found none. The results of every single adviser, over time, were no better than blind betting.

The conclusion, for me, is inescapable: the livelihoods and self-esteem of thousands of financial professionals depend entirely on their rhetorical skills.

Kahneman delivers over 400 pages of material showing how incapable we are of understanding statistics, how brilliant we are at ignoring our ignorance, how we regularly substitute easy questions for hard ones in decision-making, and other cognitive biases. This book is fast becoming a central reference in the growing conversation about rationalism and intuition. (Check out Ted Cadsby's "Closing the Mind Gap", Guy Claxton's "The Waywrd Mind", and my own "How to Solve Almost Any Problem".)

Getting through the book can be hard work, not least because Kahneman's pessimism can get wearing. My biggest concern is that he seems to ignore one aspect of System 1 that has been highly successful in driving human progress.

Look in the index, and you will find no entry for 'imagination'.

A longer version of this review appears at:

http://justwriteonline.typepad.com/distributed_intelligence/2012/08/it-all-makes-sense-with-hindsight.html
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 November 2011
Daniel Kahneman has produced an excellent book. He continues to build and expand on the famous paper he and Amos Tversky published in 1974 ("Judging Under Uncertainty", a copy of which is usefully appended to this book) and has since spawned innumerable books on the theme (eg Wray Herbert's "On Second Thought"), and even related themes like Nassim Taleb's "Black Swan". "Thinking Fast and Slow" is not a textbook; it is intended for the layman who wants to have a clear and deep understanding of man's cognitive functions. Most of Kahneman's studies will amaze readers not familiar with this subject. For example, when tested, it is still remarkable that the clinical judgments of trained professionals are less accurate than statistical predictions based on a few scores or ratings. Hence counsellors who interviewed students were less accurate in their predictions on the students' performance than statistical predictions using only a few denominators such as High School grades and aptitude test results. The reason Kahneman, a psychologist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics was that his (and Tversky's) thesis was applied by economists to understand why economic and financial predictions so often go wildly wrong when they were (or so it was believed) so carefully and rationally made.

This review also hopes to point readers to a book I read as a student in 1967. It's called "Straight and Crooked Thinking" by R H Thouless. That book has so many similar points and Thouless was a teaching psychologist from Cambridge University in the UK. Although Thouless' book concerns flaws in the use of language and logic in thinking, it also discusses the effect of hidden bias and prejudice. Straight and Crooked Thinking has just been published in the 5th edition by R H Thouless' grandson, C R Thouless. The first was published in 1930. Kahneman's book will likely be as long lived.
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on 25 April 2016
You need to read this book - but what is particularly good about it is that you come away from it knowing we really are remarkably easy to fool. It's because we think we know stuff that this comes as a constant surprise to us. Years ago I was talking to a guy who liked to bet. Everyone needs a hobby and that was his. Anyway, he told me he was playing two-up - an Australian betting game - and he realised something like tails hadn't come up frequently enough and so he started betting on tails and sure enough he made money. I told him that coins don't remember the last throw and so the odds of getting a tail was still 50%, as it had previously been. But I had no credibility - I'd already told him I never bet - so, how would I possibly know anything if I wasn't even brave enough to put my own money on the outcome? And didn't I understand the point of this story was he had already WON?

Still, when faced with a series of coin flips that run - H, H, H, H, H, T, H, H, H - it does feel like tails are 'due'. This is the sort of mistake we are all too prone to make. The thing to remember is that while there is a law of large numbers - toss a coin often enough and in the very long run there will be as many heads turn up as tails - that isn't the case in the short run - where just about anything is possible.

We (that is, we humans) are remarkably bad at mental statistics. And what makes it worse is that we are predictably bad at statistics. And this brings me to Bourdieu and him saying that Sociology is kind of martial art. He means that Sociology allows you to defend yourself from those who would manipulate you. Well, this book is the Bruce Lee book of advanced self-defence. Learning just how we fool ourselves might not make you feel terribly great about what it means to be human - but at least you will know why you hav stuffed up next time you do stuff up. I'm not sure it will stop you stuffing up - but that would be asking for an awful lot from one book.

If you want the short version of this book, he has provided the two papers that probably got him the Nobel Prize - and they are remarkably clear, easy to understand and comprehensive. But look, read this book - it will do you good.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There is so much information in this book that it is difficult to know where to start with a review and I think it really needs reading more than once to absorb all the information contained in it. The book examines the way we think and divides that thinking initially into two systems - System 1 and System 2. System 1 is what we use when we give an answer to a question `off the top of our heads' or sum up a situation without really thinking about it. System 2 is what we use when something needs more concentrated thinking and effort.

But that is not the end of it. System 1 is not always right and can be over-ridden by the greater effort made by System 2 bit we don't always like to contradict our own first impressions. The book covers all sorts of scenarios where our brains and judgement do not always serve us well and do not make the best decisions for our wellbeing. Human beings are notoriously fallible when it comes to making choices especially when it comes to a choice between a gain and a loss. Even experts don't always make the right decision and may be unable or unwilling to admit they have got something wrong.

The human brain can be fooled by more than just optical illusions and we are not ever keen on questioning our own judgements. The book looks at how we assess risk and reveals we are unduly influences by irrelevancies and by our own biases. We are very bad at assessing the probability of an unlikely event happening. I finished reading this book feeling that I should question every single decision I make! But it is not all doom and gloom and if you are aware of the ways in which your brain may fool or confuse you then it may be possible to eliminate at least some of the errors human beings are prone to make.

There are copious notes on all the chapters, which contain details of further reading for those interested in following up any of the aspects of thinking which are covered in the book. There is also an index. If you want a comprehensive book about thinking then try this one but be prepared to put in some hard work to get the best out of it.
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VINE VOICEon 16 December 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The mind is continually hit with a huge amount of data that needs to be processed and interpreted. This book looks at our thought outcomes, some of the errors that creep in, and a whole lot more.

In making sense of this world the mind will take some shortcuts to help us make quick decisions or we may want to take a bit more time and fully think on the subject to come out with a thoughtful action. When we act quickly on the data input to our mind we are using System 1 = automatic, rather than System 2 = effortful.

A very interesting chapter was Intuitions vs Formulas where Daniel Kahneman looks at uncertain and unpredictable environments and concludes that you are better employing simple algorithms than asking the so called experts ie in the sphere of vintage wines the Meehl pattern runs supreme. In such a complex world the experts wrongly tend to rely on their additional information accrued through years of experience. A great example of this was in baseball highlighted in the great book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

The very fact that you have found the time to read this review means that this topic interests you. You should read this book for sure, 100%.
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Given the number and quality of the reviews of this book that have already appeared, there really is not much (if anything) I can contribute...except to explain what I have learned from Daniel Kahneman and why I think this is one of the most important books published during the past decade.

These are the questions that Daniel Kahneman has answered for me:

o How to balance intuitive judgment with rational and emotional judgment?

o What elevates self-esteem? How? What lowers it? How?

o How to balance my memory-focused self with my experience-focused self?

o When is a "nudge" (such as Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein describe in their eponymous book) in my best interests? When is it not? What to consider when making that determination?

o To what is my intuitive judgment most vulnerable? Why? How to protect it from exploitation? And what about rational and emotional judgment?

o In terms of my personal development (e.g. stimulating and nourishing my mind, increasing the capabilities of my brain), to what extent can "fast" and "slow" thinking contribute to that process?

o Which biases are beneficial? Why? Which are not? Why? How best to determine which are which?

o To what extent do organizations (or at least teams) resemble individuals in terms of "fast" and "slow" thinking insofar as making correct decisions is concerned?

o Finally, why - more often than not - is making haste slowly well-advised?

Thank you, Daniel Kahneman!

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Gerald Edelman's Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On The Matter Of The Mind and Guy Claxton's Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 April 2013
This is a very interesting book which covers economics, psychology, neurology, sociology and much else to show how and why we take the decisions that we do, and how we evaluate the gains and losses of our lives. Whilst i found that there was little here that was completely new to me, i did have many light bulb moments, when I suddenly understood things that i had only known intuitively, or had guessed at, before.

And this is really the central theme of the book - how our intuitive thinking can shape our decisions and reactions differently from the way we think when we set out to solve a puzzle or take a decision more slowly and systematically.

Although I found little that was entirely new in this work I also found myself thinking and talking about what I had read and wanting to discuss the points with other people. This book is often quite academic in style, and does require the investment of some time and thought to think it through, but it is stimulating, thought provoking, always interesting, and very informative

Recommended for all those interested in people, and in why we act the way we do
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on 1 February 2013
A great insight into thought processes and how they can work or fail. Mr Kahneman has an infectious enthusiasm for his subject that shines through; I can imagine him as a great teacher (though my wife finds my improved insight into our decision making quite annoying at times, so his must be driven up the wall).

My job is helping people to develop ways to manage their businesses and solve problems, and the concepts here show why following a data-analysis-decide-act process is useful, as the subconscious will jump straight to decide even if it doesn't really know what's going on; sometimes it needs a reminder that more effort is needed in new situations.
Prospect theory (one of the key ideas of the book) is also really useful for understanding why some of the techniques we use to manage change are effective, which in turn helps you to choose the most effective approach.

There are one or two inconsistencies (e.g. reversion to the mean and improved performance under stress are both used to explain the same phenomenon) but in such a broad book that's not surprising.

Well worth the read. Buy it.
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