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3.6 out of 5 stars
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on 27 March 2007
I found this book to be somewhat disappointing. It differed from my expectations first of all by not being, in itself, a good model of clear thinking. The author meanders through his topic at a leisurely pace and uses a good proportion of the start of his book making a case for how important its conclusions are but without yet revealing what they might be - hardly a promising approach. By the time the 'illusions' mentioned in the title are discussed the reader is disappointed to find that rather than being examples of everyday thinking missing the mark they consist of a number of examples where intuitive thinking diverges from the predictions of bayesian probability calculations. Hardly the shocking revelations we are lead to expect by the introduction. As the book continues a few more interesting observations are made about illogical biases in cognition but the emphasis still remains heavily on divergence from mathematical probability.

The total number of observations about the tendencies of human thinking away from objective rational logic are in fact only a few in number and I was left with the feeling that this could have been adequately set out in a magazine article rather than over the length of an entire book. Combined with the amount of verbiage dedicated to arguing for the importance of these few observations it leaves the impression of a somewhat exploitative approach to the reader - hype.

The final chapter of the book contains a discussion of other authors objections to the ideas and despite the authors' intentions to the contrary I was left with the impression that these were generally valid and did indeed undermine the significance of the rest of the book.

Bizarrely the author closes with a broad invective against current understandings about evolution and the reader is left with the impression of a writer too caught up in a personal debate with other individuals to have retained the detached style which should be obviously appropriate to such a topic.

To summarize: There are valid and interesting observations about human thinking patterns to be found here but the book itself is not well-written in terms of either clarity of exposition or reading pleasure.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 October 2005
"Let the thinker beware" could be the motto for this excellent and very useful book. Author Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini has done a masterful job of arraying some of the most serious and most commonplace errors of judgment, estimation and deduction. The style is mostly straightforward, if academic, and makes the meat of the book's message accessible to the general reader. One quibble is that the author's explanation of certain probability calculations (especially Bayes' theorem) leaves them less clear than they could be. That aside, we give this book the highest recommendation, especially for those who like to consider how people understand their world. If you are devoted to clear thinking, you could practically use it to conduct a daily scrutiny of your mental processes - an examination of cognition similar to the monastic examination of conscience - to identify and correct any inclinations to serious cognitive sin.
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VINE VOICEon 23 August 2008
There's some quite interesting material in this book, but I'm surprised it gets full marks from some reviewers. If I could, I might stretch to giving it 2 and a half stars but no more.

Starting with some positives, it does illustrate a number of "mental tunnels" into which it's easy to be trapped and gives the reader some food for thought. These vary from optical illusions, illogical thinking, distortions from framing of choices and probability illusions and miscellany in a rather odd chapter entitled "The Seven Deadly sins" - I did find a few illogicalities I've been guilty of in this chapter.

There are, however, a number of negatives, Firstly it's not well written. It is a translated book, and it reads like one - very verbose, and clarity is not one of its strong points. Take, for example, this explanation of Baye's Theorem: "the probability that a hypothesis (in particular, a diagnosis) is correct, given the test, is equal to: the probability of the outcome of the test (or verification), given the hypothesis (this is a sort of inverse calculation with respect to the end we are seeking), multiplied by the probability of the hypothesis in an absolute sense (...) and divided by the probability of the outcome of the test in an absolute sense (....)" This has all the clarity of a strategy announcement by Donald Rumsfeld! Have a look at Wikipedia for a much better explanation.

A couple of the example problems and solutions he gives made no sense to me even when I'd re-read them twice! Overall, I have to agree with S. Bergemann's comment that this book isn't a very good model of clear thinking (!)

Secondly, I don't think the author delivers the great revelations the introduction leads us to expect. Some of the examples are well-known, e.g. I learned about the "birthday problem" (i.e. "what's the minimum number of people needed in a room for there to be a better than a 50% chance of 2 sharing a birthday") in a maths class when I was 15 (AND he doesn't explain how to arrive at the answer!!). His examples of "overconfidence illusions" and "illusory correlations", amongst others, are really pretty trivial. At the end of the book, I couldn't say my thinking had been greatly sharpened up or otherwise affected (unlike when I read Barry Schwartz's "Paradox of Choice" or Jamie Whyte's "Bad Thoughts")

Lastly, the appendix in which the author replies to some recent critiques did (for me, anyway) exactly the opposite of what the author presumably intended: I thought many of the criticisms had at least some validity. The author's rubbishing of other viewpoints does him no favours. In particular, the lengthy rant at the end of the book (against what the author terms "cognitive ecologists") does suggest that he has taken a fixed position in an academic slanging match.
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on 11 October 2010
A difficult read - I found it very hard to work through the writing style and try to extract information of use. Reads like a mix between a textbook and a pop-psych book - having explanations of the illusions at the back in the manner of a school book doesnt help either.

Like quite a few books on this topic, a lot of time is spent selling the author and their particular view. While it doesnt make the book unreadable it adds to the complexity.

Covers a lot of good stuff, but will frequently leave you wanting for more. Common "tricks" are skirted over when the narrative flow is screaming out for more details.

While not the worst book ever, there are better reads and this really is a low-average book. If you are really short of things to read get it, but if I could go back in time, I'd save my money.
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on 18 June 2009
I have to agree with G Brooks. The general premise of the book was interesting and it certainly made me think, but it was pretty poorly written at times. Many of the examples were either trivial, or ones that I've seen countless times elsewhere - I doubt that many people are still unaware of the Monty Hall problem for example. There were also a few places, particularly in his rather aggressive attacks on his critics, where his arguments seemed to have rather gaping holes in them, or were badly explained.

This would probably be a good book for a discussion group, as I regularly found myself wanting to question the author on one aspect or other, but was quite a frustrating read on my own.
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on 13 November 2010
I enjoyed this but it covers a lot of familiar ground. Some of the explanations and the theory given, was occasionally lacking. I quite liked most of the writing but sometimes it was a bit convoluted.
When you read these types of books it really does make most of the media seems ridiculously simplistic.
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on 19 March 1997
This is a fascinating book about the counter-intuitiveness of the relationship between how much we think we know and the quality of our perceptions and our ability to make rational perceptions. This is part and parcel of the writings of Tom Robbins ([...]) The higher our certainty about things, Massimo points out, the more careful we must be in our assessments. I highly recommend this book. -Dale Kirby
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on 10 April 2007
One could go as far as to say this book would save a few faltering businesses if the managers sat down and read it.

It really should be taught in schools as part of a cirriculum. People are generally unaware of the congitive paralysis, biases and blind spots governing their lives, causing them to fall into the same traps or be unaware of psychological chains that need breaking. So many could benefit from the understandings portrait in this book.

Not an easy read. The Italian author, has a lot to say in 200 pages, while getting the point across, the content is overly condensed and would be delivered to a bigger audience if he took the science and dumbed it down for the price of a few extra pages.

The examples given are simplistic and real life but a certain complexity exists by nature of the science that should have more detailed explanations.

An amazing book which I will be recommending to many people.
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on 22 June 2015
A great addition to any library on thinking but i found it a little cumbersome in style.
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