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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 2 August 2006
Society in general seeks to quantify risk. This book shows why most such exercises are completely futile because of the phenomenon of 'risk compensation'. In brief, make something safer and humans typically respond by taking more risks elsewhere to compensate.

I recommend this book unreservedly. Its one of the very few I have come across which has a supremely important point to make and makes it in a clear, well-argued and compact way, supported by lots of interesting data; a revelation. Buy it now, it is every bit as relevant now as it was when it was written.
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on 3 April 2010
This book has been out for quite a while, and I have little to add to the previous reviews.
I would encourage you to read it, especially if you have no previous statistical training. There is very little math, and while some of the concepts are at first hard to grasp, Adams' style is always clear, never patronising and he rarely lapses into the professional jargon that disfigures more technical tomes.

If you've ever played backgammon, you'll understand Adams' notion of risk compensation. If you are unsurprised that young men in slow cars pay higher insurance premiums than older women in fast cars then you have already understood the concept of the risk thermostat.
These two concepts, plus a somewhat reductive typology of personalities, form the basis of the discussion, and show why most risk modelling is tripe.

The book was published over a decade ago. Since its appearance, there has been an explosion of research into risk, much of it funded by banks. Has any of this research yielded greater security for the banks that funded it? I wonder.
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on 27 June 2004
It's incredible how many well-meaning attempts to make society "safer" fail, foundering on society's apparent unwillingness to be safe. Adams not only tells us what's going wrong, but actually describes the ways in which risk taking behaviour can be understood and managed.

Of particular interest is the chapter on seat belt laws. Once you've read that, I guarantee you will be hooked.
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on 16 May 2007
I've just finished reading "Risk" by John Adams and "Fooled by Randomness" by Nicholas Taleb. They make good companions. Both are illuminating and refreshingly entertaining. And both have the same main target: proponents of the view that risk is an objective phenomenon that can be measured and managed.

"Risk" Adams contends is a word that refers to a future that exists only in the imagination. It is inescapably subjective. Taleb, who is a New York trader, is especially [...] those who are fooled by randomness - deluded souls who believe that luck can be managed, that future prices can be divined by a study of past prices - and that such divinations will make them rich. The iconic case, with which Taleb has great sport, is the collapse of Long Term Capital Management. Two directors of LTCM, Merton and Scholes, received Nobel prizes for their development of the luck management methods that produced the collapse.

Adams, writing before the fall of LTCM, puts his finger on its cause. Merton and Scholes were not detached scientists observing something that could be objectively measured, they were players in the game, influencing, and being influenced by, all the other players.

Adams' most interesting, and sadly neglected, case study of the interactive nature of risk management is his demolition of the myth of the efficacy of seat belt legislation. Nowhere in the world, he shows, have seat belt laws saved lives. Everywhere they have resulted in a transfer of the burden of risk from those best-protected in cars to the most vulnerable outside cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

Five stars to both Adams and Taleb!

PS Your previous reviewer, Leitch, is wrong on his two "fundamental" points.
1. His belief that the risk associated with the rise and fall of shares is predictable. If he is not persuaded by Adams and Taleb, he might try When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Lowenstein, or Googling "Brian Hunter Amaranth" for examples of the disasters experienced by those who shared his belief in the predictability of share prices and natural gas prices.
2. His conclusion that Adams argues that motorists have a fixed "favourite level of risk". One of Adams' most useful insights is that propensity to take risk varies with the perceived rewards of risk taking.
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on 16 October 2000
Anyone who can grasp the concepts discussed in this book should read it; it has universal relevance. Adams strips bare the very shaky assumptions upon which much risk assessment is based in the world. It was a shock to me, and I expect it will be a shock to most people. To use a cliche: This book changed my life. More accurately, it changed my world-view. If you need more convincing, take a look at the commendations on the back cover. Any book that can debunk so much of conventional doctrine on road safety, environmentalism, medicine, and so on, yet draw such acclaim from such a diverse range of specialist publications is a book to be reckoned with! As a final note, the book is really very small. However, it is brief and to-the-point; his two hundred pages are worth a thousand from most writers.
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on 12 February 2009
I attended a lecture of John Adams recently which led to me reading the book. It is really brilliant. Our society is obsessed with risk as a negative aspect of live and forgets about the rewards which we take risks for. This book solves all that.

I'm a big fan.
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on 27 March 2004
I am an economist, and found the nature and subject of this book fascinating. It really is an important and powerful work.
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on 6 October 1999
Risk is poorly understood, and decisions arre often made on the basis of misunderstanding. Adams explores common misconceptions (seatbelts, helmets, power) and exposes many of the reasons why people are so poor at estimating and then analysing risk. A good read.
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on 4 November 2011
This book is not the easiest of reads with small print and numerous graphs and charts, however it does review risk in society and
looks at U.Beck and A.Wildavsky different ideas. Will use this book in helping with Risk management in Social Work. Good buy.
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on 20 September 2016
With a broad and in-depth coverage of the fascinating subjects of risk compensation and cultural theory, the book written by John Adams remains one of the most authoritative, readable and popular text in the field of security and risk management. Theory is prominent throughout and a range of concepts and insights which challenge common and taken for granted assumptions make this seminal work an engaging read and a very valuable intellectual resource. Clear and comprehensive, this is an essential textbook for undergraduates and postgraduates studying criminology, psychology, security and risk management, and it deserves to be widely read. Highly recommended.
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