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on 12 January 2009
In this classic work Stuart Sutherland explores the faults in our thinking. He quotes from many different psychology experiments and shows how and why we think irrationally. It is a serious work but very readable. He shows how doctors, generals, engineers and everyday people make basic systematic errors in their thinking. At times he adds his own quirky comments and advice. This book is valuable because it makes you think about how you think.
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on 25 June 2009
A very good book examining the irrational decisions people make. It also provides methods on how best to make a rational decision and not fall into the common traps. Learning statistics and probability theory are a start.

I did find it a little boring to read at times. The writing style is a little bland and technical in nature. Also, one thing the book only touched on was why people are irrational. Is it because of the way the brain works, or is it because of our schooling, society norms or culture?

For me, people are not purely rational machines that make Mr. Spock-like decisions. The brain is a very different machine to that of a computer. The brain is an excellent pattern recognition device. It's so good that it's able to find patterns where none exist. People are also ruled by past experiences and learning, emotions, values, instinct and desires. Any decision a person makes is clouded by all these things. It's incredible we can function at all let alone make a rational decision.
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on 15 August 2009
This book covers a wide spectrum of human irrationality. This is the way the human mind makes decisions and forms beliefs that when critically analysed seem categorically unreasoned. The author, Stuart Sutherland details quite a broad range of illogical mishaps. Here's just a sample:

- People conform to peer groups without really thinking about a decision
- People are more likely to exaggerate an opinions about a specific issue if they are surrounded by people who have similar opinion about that issue.
- People are less likely to change an opinion if they have made that opinion publically known
- Behaviour and decision making can be influenced by what one is wearing

What differentiates this book from something that your granny might just tell you is the author doesn't just make these claims but actually substantiates them all usually by referencing clinical pyschological experiments which are on the hole very interesting. For example, the claim that people are much more likely to prefer something if they chose it themselves than if the same thing was just forced on them may sound obvious but how do we proof it in an objective manner? Well to evaluate this hypothesis, Sutherland describes a simple but clever experiment where two groups of people were given lotto tickets. Group A picked their own numbers, Group B had their numbers picked randomly and given to them. Both groups were then asked how much they would sell their tickets back for. Group A quoted much larger prices than Group B even though they had no better probability of success!

That's the style throughout the book. Each chapter focuses on a different facet of human irrationality and then it's tested and examined by a clinical experiment many of which involved "stooges" (people who play a pre-determined roles in the experiment that everyone else in the experiment doesn't know about). Some erudite discussion then follows and then each chapter closes with succint bullet points summarising the conclusions of the chapter. This includes a witty assertion from the author about the irrationality just discussed.

Like all pop pyschology books, there's plenty of funky buzzwords:
"Availability error" - Making a judgement by the first thing that comes into our mind.
"Boomerand effect" - when people's beliefs are challenged they may become more convinced they are right.
"Bystander effect" - people are less likely to help someone the more people there are available to help.

There's also some well reasoned arguments why humans are just so bad at rational thinking. To be good at critical thinking doesn't just require the emotional fortitude to concede we may be wrong but an acumne of things like probability and logic.

Overall, this is a very interesting book. If you are fascinated by why humans do what they do - read it. It may also help you realise that some irrational behaviour (that you may find extremly funny or downright annoying) is very much hard wired in all of our heads!
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on 12 May 2010
I bought this book on the strengths of the many positive reviews here, but was disappointed. For me the book fails to adequately address the question of what it means to be 'rational' or 'irrational'. Human behaviour is complex, and the goals behind our decision making are not always obvious. The book address this in the introduction, but then proceeds to ignore it through the body of the work and interprets experimental results as though people's decision making behaviour reduces to a simple mathematical equation.

The book does not have a coherent thread, and strings together a very long list of experimental results. Most of these are so covered so lightly that they appear almost anecdotal, leaving the reader with no option but to trust the authors assertion that they either support or refute 'irrationality'.

It's not a bad book, I trust the author's integrity and the content level is beyond the 'change your life in ten days' books on the self-help shelf, but I hope there are better books out there and I'll just have to keep looking to find one.
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on 21 August 2010
I am surprised at so many positive reviews of this book. Maybe like at least one other reviewer here the "halo effect" is working on me too. I spotted a couple of negative points and so judged the rest of the book harshly.
It is written in an overly flowery style such that I had to keep re-reading paragraphs to find the point, plus it is unscientific in the extreme. He makes claims with no evidence, no supporting referencing (and don't get me started on a referencing system which requires me to look at the back of the book to find out whether there IS a reference) and fails to expand on many points.
Two points, in the first 60 pages, struck me so strongly as without foundation that I became sceptical of everything else. One being the assertion that people hold soldiers responsible for atrocities(his word) such as the losses in WWI rather than holding the administration to account (i.e General Haig) seems wide of the mark.
If you want to read about this topic read "The Drunkards Walk", or "Mistakes were made(but not by me)" better written, more evidence based conclusions more interesting.
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on 11 September 2015
I found it disappointing, not because it's a bad book, which it isn't, but because it wasn't what I expected / hoped for. That Stuart Sutherland was an academic is shown by the endless university studies he quotes. I should like to have seen a lot more about the ultimate irrationality, religion, which he barely touches on, and certainly more about real life rather than academic studies. Everyone he talks about is in the professions, or at least well educated, but our lives are influenced by other people's irrationality; for example everyone has a vote but very few know how to use it rationally, and everyone can have a driving licence but very few apply logic to their driving. These topics, and more, would have been interesting.
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on 19 January 2012
Perhaps the only book I have ever stopped reading mid-way through due to frustration.

The premise of this book is promising but unfortunately it fails to deliver. The author labours many points in a very academic way. This in itself wouldn't be too bad if the book was still relevant. Having been first published in 1992 this book has aged badly. A number of the points it makes are woefully out of date and the author ocassionally comes across as being rather grumpy. The entire chapter devoted to public sector inefficiency might have been relevant in 1992 but times have drastically changed and it now reads like a Richard Littlejohn-style moan lacking in relevance or fact. Finally, the reference to homosexuality as a "severe emotional problem" is just downright offensive and factually wrong.

A more modern take on the subject matter at hand would be welcomed.
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on 13 September 2010
The first few chapters outline common examples of irrational thinking and attempt to explain why people reach such conclusions, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. The explanations are clear and are backed up by the results and statistics from numerous pychological and social studies.

However, by about 2 thirds of the way through the book I began to tire of it essentially repeating what had gone before, as well as taking too long to explain very simple ideas. Whole chapters of statistics and lengthy explanations to describe phenomena which should have been sumarised in a paragraph of text with a couple of examples.

Altogether an interesting read, but lacking something in the delivery.
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on 28 June 2008
This is my first and I hope many more reviews to come, as I find them very useful in choosing whether to buy a book or not.

Anyway, I have had this book for 3 months now and found it completely enthralling. The book is about why we all at times make irrational choices such as when we are in groups, committees and depending on our emotional state. It all seems to "click" and when you see real life examples at work you feel as if you know why! For me it does make me aware of how I am making my decision.

I recommend this for anyone interested in how the human mind comes to decisions, why politicians make awful policies and cannot go back and why military generals should not believe in their own abilities.
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on 23 June 2009
Despite the fantastic reviews and endorsements for this book, it seemed to me that each chapter seemed to follow the format of describing psychological experiments and their outcomes. Whilst interesting at first, the ideas and concepts became a little repetitive as the book went on - it could have been far shorter. Indeed, the author himself seemed to realise a lot of the experiments were not all that interesting and did not describe them in any detail!

On the plus side, one could learn about the way people think and interact in this book, but I cannot help but feel this could have been done in a more engaging way.
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