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VINE VOICEon 21 September 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Other reviews here more than cover the content of this book but I want to review it anyway, mainly to offer a cautionary tale about not judging a book on the basis of disliking... other books. Because I was initially highly wary about this book, mistaking it for one of these pop science/social psychology-types which have become so successful in the last decade. I'm talking about books like Nudge or the Freakonomics series or those by Malcolm Gladwell (e.g. Blink), Nassim Nicholas Taleb (e.g. The Black Swan), Tim Harford (as the Undercover Economist) etc... all very loosely akin insofar as, despite having substantive statistical contents, they apply their own (seemingly dry discipline) to everyday situations and offer quirky `behaviouralist' ways of understanding the world. They seem to have arrived at a shared formula for making maths palatable to the general reader. Indeed their readability has led to their adoption by corporate culture and a rather odd state of affairs whereby `economics' books have become airport reading. Not a problem itself but in order to make the technical accessible, many of these authors have traded off scientific rigour in favour of readability. In sacrificing the maths, a certain degree of imprecision has been accepted as OK (see for example the lamentable (non)coverage of regression analysis in Freakonomics). Whereas I don't think it's OK. So I pretty much wrote-off `Thinking, Fast and Slow' when I saw the endorsements by Levitt (Freakonomics), Thaler (Nudge) et al on the cover. But I was wrong to do so. First, Kahneman knows his apples. Unlike Gladwell, he's won the Nobel Prize (in economics, despite being a psychologist). Second, much like Leonard Mlodinow (see `The Drunkard's Walk' for a stats equiv.), Kahmenn is a translator of behavioural economics into English but he doesn't jettison scientific rigour in so doing. He trusts the reader's intellect sufficiently to actually show you the correlation coefficients AND spin a good yarn. The chapters here all are short, beautifully clearly written, and none requires any special learning... but some are borderline taxing. But rather than detracting from the experience, my thinking is that this makes for greater intellectual satisfaction for the reader.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 November 2011
Daniel Kahneman will be familiar to practically all readers interested in detrimental effects or tricks our brain plays when we make decisions, and to people interested in psychology or behavioural economics more generally. Together with Amos Tversky, it is fair to say that he was one of the founders of the field and the earlier books, such as Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases and Choices, Values, and Frames are rightfully regarded as being classics in decision research.

With his latest book he summarizes most of the research effort in the area over the past 40 years, drawing heavily on own work but by no means excluding significant contributions from other notable researchers. In a way one could call this the 'if you only read one book on decision making, make sure it is this one' summary.

For the businessperson or a layman generally interested in the topic, it will provide the whole spectrum of effects to be aware of, when making assessments on how one's (or somebody elses) conclusions could be biased, and the processes (evolutionary and otherwise) behind such a functioning / conditioning of our brains. Having been a leading figure in the field for four decades, Kahneman has had a lot of his concepts reach the buzzword stage by now and it is certainly worthwhile to let the author himself explain again the 'science' and logic behind them.

It is a great book to give to junior researchers or analysts as a starting point, sort of a guide to the mistakes they will inevitably make and how to minimize their effects. In that sense it perfectly complements Hubbard's How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business as induction material in both of the fields mentioned above (Paulos' Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences being another solid primer).

But even for an experienced researcher, or someone who has read a large portion of what went on before in the field, including the main body of the author's work, the book will be a gem. First of all, the book pulls everything together (including a reprint of the original 'Judgement under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases' article from Science Magazine) and provides you with a much quicker way of getting to know about all the recent developments on the topic than a thorough literature research would do (of course it is not a replacement for it, if you are writing an academic publication). Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the author is a wonderful story teller and the writing will truly draw you in - the book is a real pleasure to read.

On top, his vast breadth of research distinguishes the book from some other recent, more 'pop type' efforts on behavioral economics in the way that there is not a whole book to fit into a specific, strongly delineated 'theory' or framework (a sort of 'interpretation of the day' and probably the only quick and dirty way someone without the patience and stamina needed to produce a work of this calibre has in order to make it big quickly), which would make it appear forced at times.

I cannot recommend the book warmly enough and even if you have little time in your busy schedule and the book comes in at over 400 pages, it really is worth your while (as well as pleasurable) reading it from cover to cover.
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on 19 September 2015
I am sad to say because it is very rare that I put a book down one day and never come back.
Also this is my type of book, popular science concerning human behaviour. Influence by Cialdini is wonderful, my favourite non fiction.
The style just grated on me, didn't engage me at all. It was too slow and obvious, the studies and research didn't seem to add anything enlightening. And when something did prompt me to stop reading and consider (which it should've much more), I found my mind drifting off onto other subjects and not back to the book to find the next thought provoking detail.
It is now sitting on my shelf, mocking me forever for not having a slow or fast enough mind.
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on 20 August 2012
I picked this book up at an airport and wasn't expecting to learn so many principles of "how to" remember subjective well being...

It seems the experience is not what it's all about...

Memory and remembering will ensure you will look back on a life well lived - and loved...

I really enjoyed the way the book was written and it flowed really well because the examples used were interesting and very useful for me personally.

I help people lose weight, overcome addictions and teach some quite "unorthodox stuff" that helps people choose differently and loved the chapter on expert intuition because it rings true...

I also really enjoyed the "aha" moments when uncovering my own cognitive biases and laughing out loud at the "what you see is all there is principle" because it reminded me of a clients experience of a crack cocaine binge which he described as follows,

"Do you think, I would have given someone my last £500 so that I could stand in my boxer shorts - hiding behind my curtains - with a kitchen knife - listening to my floorboards - for two days - if I'd have listened to my rational self?"

And that for me - helps sum up - we're not rational... Not even nearly - we can be taught rational - but we need principles - preferably written down - another "human being" to advise on these principles and then we've got half a chance of making a "good decision".

Failing that, we can always remember a better decision than the one we actually made and then we'll feel OK...

This book will help you understand your own decision making process and also that of others. Hopefully, it will also help you create some principles that will enable you to create better choices in your life - and by default - live a better life...

Well worth buying and learning from - thanks Daniel - brilliant piece of writing...
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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:

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on 25 July 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Lay books on topics such as rationality, the unconscious and how our minds work are a mixed bunch in my view. Far too many authors have one good insight, and pad this out to create a lightweight, anecdotal, poorly researched book (Sadly I would often include Dan Ariely's books in this category).

Thankfully, Kahneman's latest work is as far as it is possible to get from this description. Thinking, Fast and Slow is the product of a whole career investigating the crossover between economics and psychology, and it's wonderful.

The richness of Kahneman's research defies easy summary in a review, but by contrast it is easy to say that this book was a joy to read, and deeply informative. This is by no means the first book on the subject of how our minds work, and the important role rational and irrational decision-making plays in our day-to-day lives. However, I'm confident it is the definitive work - after reading Thinking, Fast and Slow I feel as it it is and was a waste of time reading anything else on the topic. Brilliant.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman is the product of a lifetime's work examining the intricacies of the operations of the human brain. Two different types of thinking are identified early on - system one or fast thinking, which accounts for intuitions, gut reactions etc and system two, or slow thinking, the more considered, rational side of our thought processes. Having explained what these two systems are, Kahneman explains the relationship between them and how they can interact with one another, and also how over-reliance on either one or the other can actually lead to us making mistakes in our judgements.
The writing style is fairly easy to read if a bit wordy in places. I like the way that chapters often begin with little thought experiments or conundrums to illustrate a point, and I also like the collection of "soundbites" at the end of each chapter which remind you of the points made in the chapter. At times, I felt that Kahneman spent a bit too long describing psychological experiments. I know that this was done to explain/illustrate the points being made, but at times it felt like the reader was being given a more detailed explanation than was necessary.
Overall, if you enjoy books by renowned experts in their field but written for a wider audience, then you are very likely to enjoy this. It definitely has the feel of a classic about it, and having read it, you will probably feel a little bit less certain about your convictions and have rather more self-knowledge than you did before you started, which is probably no bad thing, Definitely a recommended read - for slow considered reading rather than a page-turner - this isn't lightweight stuff but enjoyable and thought-provoking.
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VINE VOICEon 14 December 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a book about how the mind works. It posits two mental states, System 1 and System 2. System 1is the state whereby we evaluate and decide instinctively, without recourse to lengthy analysis. In fact, without any analysis at all. The author uses the word `automatically' here. System 2 requires a great deal of effort, taking the logic of a given situation forward step by step. The author asserts that we use System 1 much more than system 2, partly because it gets results much more quickly, which is often necessary in life, but also because it involves less effort. We have a tendency to laziness (the author uses this word), though it might also be said that since System 1 requires less time and energy it is therefore more efficient. And this would be case were it not for the fact that System 1, though it frequently gets things right, can also get things badly wrong. We may instinctively feel or `know' that something is the case when it is not. Examples are provided to illustrate this.

At first glance, the author's theory may strike the reader as a statement of the obvious. For example, the reader may feel that System 1 is simply the unconscious at work while System 2 is the conscious. (We cannot carry out step-by-step reasoning while asleep.) But the importance of this book lies in the definition the author provides for his two systems. To take one example for System 1- `orient to the source of a sudden sound'. And for System 2 - `fill out a tax form'. So far so clear.

[Occasionally, examples given may be less convincing. Listed under System 1 is - `find a strong move in chess (if you are a chess master)'. I am not a chess master, but I used System 1 to play chess. I was a lazy player. In my opinion, a chess master is less likely to do so, since he or she will have memorised the main gambits and counter-gambits up to variation 16b at least. When playing a chess master you are not just playing the opponent but memorised chunks of Modern Chess Openings as well. Hardly instinctive.]

One of the most interesting sections of the book is where the author analyses how we react to risk, and how our reactions are guided by the situation in which we find ourselves. Again, this may seem blindingly obvious. But it is plainly an important subject since the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008 in the United States was made possible first, by a failure to understand and factor in risk, and secondly, by the fact that those taking risks were detached from the consequences of their own mistakes. It's easy to take a risk if you will not suffer the consequences. (I'm not sure if this second point is in the book, but if it isn't it should be).

If you intend to read this book there are three things to bear in mind: it is relatively long; you will need to deploy System 2 while reading it; and you will often need to ignore the thought, `but this is obvious', and carry on reading.
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VINE VOICEon 22 April 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I found the book to be too verbose, trying too hard to convince me of the points being made. I also found many of the examples designed to give authenticity failed because they relied too much on knowing things about the USA.

The basic premise is that we suffer from irrationality, don't realise it and should work harder on that. Clearly I'd be in a minority if I disagreed and I don't.

For me, all done much better and before by Stuart Sutherland in Irrationality
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on 3 July 2012
This is an extraordinary book. When you are recommended a book written by a nobel prize winner your heart either soars with expectation or sinks with anticipated disappointment. The book doesn't disappoint in the
depth of the content - but the lucidity of the exposition is a joy to read. Kanneman uses the metaphor of two systems in one brain to explain the difference between humans and the kind of people economists use as models of people and also the difference between the person in the moment - experiencing self - and the person who looks back on an experience - the remembering self. The book is utterly captivating but moreover is utterly convincing. This is probably the best behavioural economics/psychology book I have read and there are some very good ones about. If you only end up reading one economics book in your life then this is surely it.
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