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Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things
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Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things

3.51 of 5 stars 3.51  ·  rating details  ·  313 ratings  ·  61 reviews
Laurence Gonzales shows how modern society has made us lazy and susceptible to previously unknown threats. "Curiosity, awareness, attention," he writes. "Those are the tools of our everyday survival...we all must be scientists at heart or be victims of forces that we don't understand."





Gonzales turns his talent for gripping narrative, knowledge of the way our minds and bodi...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published August 19th 2008)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 725)
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Kater Cheek
I expected this to be a book about psychology, peppered with anecdotes about how common decision-making errors caused smart people to die. I'd hoped also for maybe a little advice about how to avoid making stupid mistakes. Alas, what I got was something completely different.
Not that there weren't interesting ideas in this book. Gonzales talks about entropy, global warming, deep-sea bacteria, caving, global warming, Alzheimers, ancient Mexican cultures, and global warming.
For starters, I could h...more
Erica
Shortly before finishing this book I was babysitting my niece who, through non-verbal communication, suggested she would like something to eat. I put her in the toy car seat her parents had just brought up from the basement, gave her a couple of animal crackers, and went to the refrigerator for milk. When I turned back from refrigerator I glanced at her high chair and, for a few seconds, completely freaked out. She wasn't there! My 1 year old niece had vanished into thin air! And then I realized...more
Adam
Very much like and as enjoyable as Gonzales' Deep Survival, but with a more general outlook (actually, the most general of all outlooks). Gonzales, if you haven't read any of his stuff, is extremely easy to read; he's one of those authors whose books you put down without realizing you blew threw 50 pages. Without a doubt, you can improve your understanding of the world -- and maybe even the rate at which you improve that understanding -- by reading this book. That's Gonzales' main take-away: con...more
David
This is a really fun book, and parts are fascinating. So why just two stars? I still don't know what the book is about. The first six or so chapters are truly about "why smart people do stupid things". But then the book becomes practically a free-for-all. I just never knew what subject would come up next; ecology, caving, consumerism, black holes, water vortices, evolution, cosmology, global warming, entropy and war, anthropology. There simply is no connection between all of these topics. It's f...more
Don
Very interesting, thought-provoking book, although it's extraordinarily random. The sub-title is "Why Smart People Do Stupid Things," but that's really just a small part.

For the most part, this book is a collection of thoughts on the meaning of life from a very smart guy who has access to lots of other very smart guys. So it's a fascinating read, even though it really goes all over the place.

I have to say that his explanation of life as a necessary function of energy and entropy -- rather than a...more
Dave
I got this from my local library on a whim. To me it is fascinating.
Gonzales approaches human error from several perspectives: psychology, sociology, cognitive science, evolution, and philosophy. I expected the book to deal with the psychology of error and fallibility but the scope is much more broad. Gonzales approaches human error holistically and moves from individual and group error resulting from biases and blindness to foibles to the roots of error on a cosmological scale. I found the ear...more
Kevin
Sep 29, 2008 Kevin rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kevin by: Todd Kearns
Okay it's not the audio cd version of the book, but that was all I could find. He gets really into depth with evolution of both the body and the brain and for some it could get a little overwhelming... but it is a short book unlike say Jared Diamond who he refers to several times... so it is much easier to digest the information... so far... not finished yet but hard to put it down. Might be because I am finding so much of it relevant to my work at the moment.
Awesome, incredible and thoroughly i...more
Sam
This book really cant be reviewed. Its throwing some knowledge, some history and leaves it to you- to do want you want with it. Its touches all bases really, from why some of the most educated people make some of the most irrational decisions to how remembering to tie your shoe. Its about how we lost out natural instincts to danger. How now a days we see and understand "danger". From a natural disaster, to a training scar, to everyone else around you. Its about your brain, how its evolved, and w...more
Nan
Author Laurence Gonzales would find many of the Goodreads reviews amusing, as they illustrate his point that our mental models prevent us from seeing things as they really are. When people complain that they didn't like the book because it was different from what they thought it would be, they are exhibiting the rigidness of thought that so often endangers us. True, the title seems to indicate that the book will be about individual decisions, when in reality it relates to global, corporate, huma...more
Susie
There were some interesting parts to this book - but the author wandered and then half-heartedly makes the case that we really have to do something about the environment before it's too late. Still not exactly sure what the whole point was except to show how smart he was and stories about his father and his microscope.
Martin
Both the title and the sub-title are topics I'd read whole books about. That they're smooshed together was an extra special treat. Everything in this book is quality, the research is impeccable and I admire his inquisitive mind. However, the title/sub-title are really just half of the book. The other half is random musings - albeit all fascinating. However, that half should be a separate book unto itself, or a collection of essays. He should have spent more time actually sticking to the titles o...more
Kathy Loden
Its not everyday that the back cover description of a book has absolutely nothing to do with its content.
David
I listened to this book on a pocket "Playaway" device, which is for those of you who are not familiar with this, a self-contained digital player which you listen to using earbuds. Our library now has quite a collection of them, and they are nice and useful because you can take them with you wherever you go, like a CD player, but they are much smaller and unobtrusive. The device is smaller and thinner than a pack of cigarettes. I picked up this book knowing nothing about it but wanting something...more
Adam
Jan 19, 2010 Adam rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Not anyone really unless you're really into the idea of entropy which is discussed at length!
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Huh!? I'm confused as to what happened here.

After reading Gonzales other book, Deep Survival, I was excited at the prospect of an equally informative and interesting read. Unfortunately, Everyday Survival turned out to be neither of those.

I was enticed by the books subtitle 'Why Smart People Do Stupid Things,' believing that the content would to some degree address human fallibility, a topic that tickles the interest of the psychologist in me. While the book started out down this path, addressin...more
Scott
Should be called, "Everyday Random Order: How a Smart Person Can Write a Stupid Book." I loved "Deep Survival" with it's rich practicality. This book has very little to do with surviving everyday and has more to do with "Green Philosophy and Politics". Bonobo...blah,blah,blah...Lucy Cave Lady...blah,blah,blah...Global Warming...blah,blah,blah...Origins of the Universe...etc,etc,etc. Not that I disagree with these principles at all. I agree that we should all be good stewards of the Earth and adh...more
Paula
I haven't started this yet but checked out the audio book to listen to this week as I drive eight hundred some miles (for work).

Update:
I listened to all eight cds of this book, though I would've been content to stop after the first two. My biggest complaint is that the title is misleading; my guess is that it was dictated by the publisher as a title that will sell more books (it's catchy & interesting, right? moreso than 'Basic Principles of Natural Law Physics, A Concise Summary and Study o...more
Cooper
I only gave this book three stars (a "like" rating) because of the direction it took. Since I had already decided to read the book I avoided reading reviews in order to prevent from having any pre-formed ideas. I'm glad I didn't because I probably would have skipped this one.

I started the book with the notion that we would learn why everyone makes stupid mistakes, regardless of their amount of training or knowledge. I found many of the anecdotes interesting and his take on entropy very deep. Wha...more
Arash
After really enjoying his first book "deep survival," I was really disappointed by this follow-up. The first few chapters were interested and engaging and seemed to conjure the same spirit as the first book in discussing real life cases of people making illogical and poor decisions that threatened their well-being and delving into the reasons why that happened.

About halfway through the book, it all went downhill. Gonzalez went on some serious tangents: climate change, physics, chemistry, cosmolo...more
Jennifer
I've enjoyed Gonzales' prior works, and based on the title expected something similar to his other books on survival in extreme and everyday circumstances. But the second half of this book veers away from the survival of the individual and expands the scope to the survival of humans and the survival of species on the planet. He examines far beyond just survival, bringing in ideas such as fractals.
A great read.
Christina Gleason
A fascinating look into evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, quantum physics, cosmology, anthropology, and a few other seemingly unrelated subjects that all help describe how humans as a species have evolved into the people we are who sometimes do the stupid things we do.
Michael Brown
“One of our great hopes is, if we can change our thinking enough right now to become selfless and to be willing to [make:] some sacrifices in our lives, then we can bring our children along with us, then we can help them to move forward into a future that looks pretty good. If we don’t change the way in which we think and aren’t willing to sacrifice in the present moment, then they may face a pretty bleak future and that’s a very sad thing.”

The first 5 or 6 chapters seem in line with the title o...more
Barb
The title is somewhat misleading, but, other than that I really liked this book. I love to think of myself as an energy transport channel designed to balance the entropy gap. Or that my body contains at least one atom from everything that lived and died more than 1,000 years ago. And that every bit of new learning changes all our knowledge, literally changes our brain and who we are. Gonzales points out that humans are subject to natural laws with rules that can't be broken and costs that must b...more
Courtney
From the title and jacket blurb, I expected a different book than what it turned out to be. The whole second half turned into this most boring diatribe about the author's philosophical views on various issues. WAY more like a personal memoir than generally informational read--probably will be of great value to his posterity...but not to me. He snuck in atheistic slants wherever he could, and also waxed on ad nauseum about global warming. I finished the book, but wish I had stopped about halfway...more
Shane Burgel
Only about the first 3 or 4 chapters are actually about why smart people do stupid things, and after that it delves into topics such as global warming, the origins of life, and the science behind supernovas. Granted I read a lot of science books and find science interesting but that wasn't what this book was supposed to be about. I enjoyed the book and it was well written but it surprised me how far afield of the original topic Gonzales roams.

I also should mention that I found some of Gonzales...more
Tom Eldridge
This, plus his earlier book, are the owners' manuals for your life that you should have been given. Do not make the mistake of thinking this is survivalist literature. It is a scientific and philosophical study on how and sometimes why we do and don't survive. Having just returned from vacation I was reminded of his section where he describes the vulnerability of people when they are in the "vacation" state of mind. We were at the Biltmore in Asheville NC and an EMT was treating someone who had...more
Charlotte
I enjoyed the first several chapters very much. The anecdotes were fascinating and entertaining. He makes a strong case for his thesis that inattention and habit can easily lead people astray. He even got me to go around thinking about the internal scripts that I and other people use for a while. After that, though, the book quickly deteriorates. The latter part of the book has no focus and little relation to the first half. I believe he has some interesting ideas, just wish he had written a wel...more
Nathan Nipp
Not the book I expected, but a long meditative look at the entire history of the universe, entropy, the nature of life, the evolution of caring, groupness, etc. Mr. Gonzales weaves an exotic tale out of the most wide-reaching science. This book has a strong message about global warming & expresses a worldview different from my own, but the language is beautiful and there is a good-take away from it: "ay attention to the world around you. It is more wonderous and vast that you think, things i...more
Maddy
This book is a little all over the map, but I like it. Gonzales writes like a person who was unfamiliar with the idea of cognitive bias, which of course is well-studied in psychology. Also, his understanding of entropy (that systems "want" to accelerate toward entrophy, and will order themselves to do so) doesn't make much sense to me. But hey, I'm a geochemist, not a physicist. My favourite thing about this book was Gonzales' love affair with interdisciplinary studies. I get the feeling that he...more
Cannady
While some of the chapters seem to wander off the main idea (behavioral patterns and how to break them), Gonzalez is still an interesting read. This now makes me want to re-read his "Deep Survival," which seemed to be more tightly written. Still, I'm only about halfway through, and enjoying this. The story about the cop who was training to disarm an assailant is sticking with me; when you're training for anything, train correctly. Don't hand the practice assailant his gun back. :)
Corey
I didn't listen to the audio cd, but it's the only option for some reason. Meh, one of the many books out there about a really interesting subject that fall short of the mark. Boring info throughout, punctuated by funny or enthralling little stories that back up his point. Which seems to be, everyone needs to be a generalist, and stay intellectually curious or they'll die in a state park in the middle of summer from hypothermia. Duly noted.
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Laurence Gonzales is the author of Surviving Survival and the bestseller Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. He has won two National Magazine Awards. His essays are collected in the book House of Pain.
More about Laurence Gonzales...
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why Lucy Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience One Zero Charlie: Adventures in Grass Roots Aviation

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“But what is the way forward? I know what it isn't. It's not, as we once believed, plenty to eat and a home with all the modern conveniences. It's not a 2,000-mile-long wall to keep Mexicans out or more accurate weapons to kill them. It's not a better low-fat meal or a faster computer speed. It's not a deodorant, a car, a soft drink, a skin cream. The way forward is found on a path through the wilderness of the head and heart---reason and emotion. Thinking, knowing, understanding.” 15 likes
“Bureaucracies force us to practice nonsense. And if you rehearse nonsense, you may one day find yourself the victim of it.” 10 likes
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