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4.3 out of 5 stars59
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 19 May 2008
If you are new to books that challenge the current popular panicky pseudo scientific world view, then this one may be for you. Although it is well written however it got a bit repetetive and tedious in my view after a bit and could have been condensed down to half its size. The subject matter is of course hugely imporant.
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on 27 November 2010
Explains clearly why the human race appears to be so stupid for so much of the time. Understand what this book is saying and endeavour to become less stupid yourself!

Should be compulsory reading in all schools.
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on 3 June 2012
Book received very quickly. Lived up to expectations. Would purchase from this site again in future as it is so reliable.
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on 2 July 2010
I bought this book thinking it might be about risk, and how to measure it. Well, more fool me.
In fact it's a political tract which argues that we panic about things which are really insignificant dangers. Perhaps with the turning of the millennium we have all grown up enough to realise that there aren't paedophiles lurking at the bottom of the garden any more than there are fairies. Or perhaps not. According to Gardner the media and government are infested with infantile fears propagated to keep the populace in a permanent state of compliance to wars, CCTV, school gate X ray machines and so on.
This is Aunt Sally stuff and while it's well done, and I thoroughly agree with it, it does get wearisome. Pick up the book again and you don't need to find your place: the barrage of statistics just keeps coming. Oddly, Gardner does not consider the two biggest "risks" (or not?) that preoccupy us today: global warming and financial meltdown.
Why not? I suspect it's because, behind all the bluster and anecdotes, there's no actual maths here. (Some readers may be grateful.) Gardner is good at the one in a million stuff, but is hopelessly lost as soon as it comes to distinguishing between independent and conditional risks (the Roy Meadow error, let's call it) let alone the more difficult stuff.
Try this: You have 365 people in a room. Is it certain that one of them was born on the 4th of July? If not, why not, and what are the actual odds?
Yes it's difficult, but it's doable. And I don't think the author (trained as a lawyer, so I'd better be careful) quite can.
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on 13 June 2010
This book was brought to my attention by Charlie Brooker in one of his many articles for the Guardian and after some thought decided to buy it.

After the first few chapters I was a little disappointed. I thought this book would be a bit more academic and informative that it actually is - however it unfortunately turns into a bit of an oxymoron.

This is manly due to the Dan Gardner's approach to implying that meaningless statistics are the cause (along with many others) of the post-9/11 fear culture. This argument clearly has legs and while the book does do justice to the subject matter it's delivery of key arguments is where the book falls short.

The writer relies too heavily on emotive language and his sources for his arguments are alarmingly slim on any tangible detail or citation - sending the book into an odd paradox. On one hand Dan Gardner is panning empty statistics and fear-driven texts but to put the point across to the readers in an "entertaining" way, he too uses such dirty tactics.

Another thing that doesn't sit well with me about this book is its mock-atheist-evangelism - meaning that to truly enjoy this book you need to be a sworn atheist or be particularly sceptical about religion.

In all honesty I am enjoying this book (mainly due to it's premise and some of it's psychological readings) and would give it three stars out of five. But to demonstrate how Dan Gardner attracts readers through shock tactics to pan shock tactics I too have given the book a shock score to attract readers.
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on 10 April 2010
I bought this book as a holiday read, naively expecting an insightful examination of what Gardiner terms 'the politics of fear', that is, who benefits from fearmongering and why.

There is some discussion of this in the book, for example, pharmaceutical companies' funding of public health 'campaigns', skewed in favour of drug treatment. However, this was contained only amidst endless discussion of human response to 'gut' and 'head'; simplified concepts from psychology theory which Gardiner persistently states as fact. It is this over-reliance on evolutionary ideas which makes it difficult to accept the books conclusions, where human actions are accepted as 'hard wired' (complete with the use of the phrase 'evolutionary psychology *tells* us').

The book might be useful for those looking for a reference for endless experiments which find common-sense conclusions such as reporting of painful or shocking causes of death are over-reported compared to other sources such as diabetes (evolutionary psychology tells us this is because we are hard wired to take note of shocking things that happen to others in the tribe, of course). However, research cited is not cross-referenced, and multiple use is made of the same work, by the same individuals. Therefore, the book will fail to engage the informed reader equally as it fails to engage those with a holiday reader's interest in the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of the risks of life.
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on 3 March 2009
Gardner turns out to be a journalist who has assembled a lot of press cuttings from organisations keen to talk down risks. He doesn't unfortunately seem able to understand how to do a risk calculation himself and is particularly weak at correcting any of his numbers for exposure or prior context. If you think of a probability as a fraction then he seems to accept every argument for making the denominator as large as possible. I'm using it on my statistics course as a 'find the deliberate mistake' assignment. This is all a pity because this is an important subject wide open to lobbyists in both directions.
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on 29 November 2011
I must be missing something with all these positive reviews. As it says in the heading, this book is full of contradicitons, for example, he says that the chances of being murdered without being involved in any way in drugs, is so extremely unlikely, but then, just a few pages later, he's saying that there were 5 times more murders in 2001 in the USA than there were deaths in the USA, now, i understand that these 2 facts arent neccesarily mutually exculise, but which of these 2 points is he trying to make?

The book is also started by bemoaning an aray of citations without any backing evidence, but many of his retorts to these come from other citations without any back up evidense also, so i assume we're just supposed to beleive him that these views are better becuase we're reading his book then? And this isnt even mentioning the political agenda that he's on, maybe we should just build a time machine and go back to the 1500's, that way, we might be dying, but at least we wouldnt be afraid, and i wouldnt have read this book.
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on 25 August 2009
Very boring book. Takes page after page to explain a point that was made in the first few sentences.

I started skimming during the first chapter and gave up after 2.

Also, its 'revelations' weren't in any way surprising or thought provoking. And none of its thinking tests caught me out.

Maybe I'm just not the target audience.

I would recommend Taleb's Fooled By Randomness or Black Swan as covering a similar subject with a little more intelligence.
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