Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average” as Want to Read:
Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  4,796 ratings  ·  254 reviews
We forget our passwords. We pay too much to go to the gym. We think we'd be happier if we lived in California (we wouldn't), and we think we should stick with our first answer on tests (we shouldn't). Why do we make mistakes? And could we do a little better?

We human beings have design flaws. Our eyes play tricks on us; our stories change in the retelling; and most of us ar
Hardcover, 221 pages
Published February 17th 2009 by Broadway (first published 2009)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Why We Make Mistakes, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Why We Make Mistakes

Blink by Malcolm GladwellOutliers by Malcolm GladwellPredictably Irrational by Dan ArielyFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittThe Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Greatest Psychology Books
67th out of 386 books — 655 voters
What's Behind Your Belly Button? A Psychological Perspective ... by Martha Char LoveThe Blank Slate by Steven PinkerDescartes' Error by Antonio R. DamasioSynaptic Self by Joseph E. LedouxOutliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Social Animal
23rd out of 75 books — 19 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Have you ever forgotten your pin number?
Have you gone upstairs to find something and forgotten what it was?
Have you been unable to find things in the stationary cupboard?
Do you recognise faces but cannot remember names?
Have you lost your Facebook password?
Are you allergic to instruction manuals or asking directions?

Then this is the book for you!

It's an absolutely fascinating and eye-opening account of what very inadequate creatures we are. Our fallibility and proneness to making mistakes i
Where to start?! I don’t enjoy self-help books, so I was reluctant to try this. I am very, very glad I did. I want to begin by thanking the two Carolines that both told me how very good the book is. I think everyone should read it. I think you will be surprised by how much it contains, by how valuable its content is.

I am against self-help books because so very often they just do not REALLY help. We continue doing the same things we have always done. It is hard to change patterns. It is hard to c

Why We Make Mistakes is an eye-opening shocker that may leave its most arrogant, self-assured readers a bit...traumatized. Actually, only the humblest of readers will close this book with their reality still intact. Journalist Joseph Hallinan asserts that we’re not nearly as perceptive, observant, unbiased, intelligent, and, well, a whole host of flattering things that we fancy ourselves to be--and he does so very convincingly.

This is one of those “you just have to read it” book
Dec 30, 2009 Trevor rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Trevor by: Lena Phoenix
I’ve spent the last three days reading parts of this book to whoever will listen or (perhaps more accurately) whoever is in earshot. This really is a wonderful book and I don’t think I can recommend it too highly, but let’s see.

If I read a book, as opposed to listen to an audio book, I tend to turn down the corners of pages that say something interesting – I decided early in this book to try not to over do this, as it became clear early on I would have to turn down virtually every page. This one
Mar 22, 2009 Trip rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Persons who wish to become less foolish
A survey of cognitive biases and other limitations of the human brain,
with references and bibliography. The conclusions:

* Take notes on your mistakes, so you can learn from them.

* Get a Devil's Advocate, even if you have to do it yourself.

* No, you aren't that good at multitasking. You really aren't.

* The plural of "anecdote" is not "data". The singular of "anecdote" is "advertising".

* Have someone without your habits check for mistakes.

* Get some sleep, damn it!

* Happy people are smarter.

* Bri
Books Ring Mah Bell
Science light.

Quick, interesting examples of how we humans manage to goof up on everything from selecting credit cards (one can be swayed by a pretty face to take that high interest rate!) to cutting off the wrong leg in surgery. (Overconfidence is a bitch!)

The author explains mysteries of life, such as, "why did I give that stripper so much more for that lap dance this week?" answer: she's in that fertile cycle, where she appears more lovely (and maybe even smells better too!)

He also explains
Of the various books I've read on the quirks of human cognition and how they affect our lives, this is one of the most readable. Journalist Joseph Hallinan has a storyteller's ability to take some of the most interesting research on problems with how our brains process information and weave it into a very effective argument for why it's a really, really bad idea to try to text while driving.

Hallinan begins his book with a chapter titled "We Look But We Don't Always See," addressing how limitati
I really enjoyed how this book highlighted the important points in bold. I will list a lot of these. The first chapter talks about how we see things. For example, when a purse is snatched from a women, men tend to notice the thief other women tend to notice the purse. Right handed people tend to look right and turn right when lost. Left handed people tend to turn left.

Movies make lots of mistakes that people rarely notice. That is because a movie is never shot in order. It is shot over weeks or
Edit! Gotta tell you guys that Joeseph Hallinan is the nicest writer ever. I wrote and asked him about visual inspection errors, and he actually called me to tell about people doing research in that area I could get in contact with. THAT is above and beyond. How amazing is that?


Easy science read on why we make the kinds of mistakes we do. I thought it was excellently written, and the audiobook version was well done...though some of the 'try it yourself at home' quizzes don't translate as well
This book covers some of the same behavioral economics territory considered in such recent books as Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational" (, "Nudge" by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (, and the Bronfman brothers' "Sway" ( There is also significant overlap with Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson's excellent "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs ...more
I took this book along to a doctor's office thinking it might be interesting. It may be post operative displacement, but this is a book that makes my heart glad, tickles my brain and stimulates the production and release of endorphins almost as much as a good bicycle ride. There's not much new to someone (like me) who has done a bit of reading in the field of human error, but the book is so well written and neatly documented that, for me, it's a pure intellectual pleasure so far. The author illu ...more
There was some really fascinating stuff in here, but it wasn't as in-depth or thought-provoking as other similar books I've read (like "How We Know What Isn't So"). It was still well-researched and fairly informative though, especially for being such a light read. You could breeze through it in a weekend, and get plenty out of it. There are also fun tidbits and experiments (like testing your memory of what a penny looks like), and overall it was a good balance of dry facts and well-crafted insig ...more
"Behavioral Economics for Dummies" would be a suitable subtitle for this book. The author isn’t a researcher or expert on the topic, or even someone with a particular message, just a journalist looking for a book to write and a drawer full of antidotal tidbits related to behavioral economics. As a result, the book is a cursory survey of the field presented by way of somewhat amusing little stories. I felt like I was at the breakfast table listening to a spouse read off newspaper articles… “Here’ ...more
It was an interesting read. Here are the cliff notes: We don't see. When we actually do read, we only skim. Our memories are biased. "Hindsight is 20/20," it is actually a bad thing. We'd rather fail by inaction than action. Drs make a zillion mistakes (always get a 2nd opinion!). Feedback is a powerful way to shape human behavior...and not all for good. Warren Buffet learns from his mistakes (ie: buying Dexter Shoe Co.) - but most people don't. We don't become more informed over time - just ove ...more
Lorin Kleinman
Human beings have an interesting dilemma. Sanity, I suspect, hinges to some degree on believing ourselves to be right more often than not, on believing that what we see is actually there, and that what we remember actually happened. Unfortunately, we are very often wrong, about almost everything. In Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average, Joseph T. Hallinan entertainingly plumbs the depths of our errors.

In a st
Troy Blackford
Entertaining look across a range of subjects and disciplines, all coordinating on how humankind makes various common mistakes. Entertaining synthesis of various topics.
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This easy-to-read book, written by a journalist, summarizes a great many recent psychological studies revealing various deficiencies in people’s perceptions, memory, and judgment. Unfortunately, its analysis is shallow, it offers few suggestions for avoiding mistakes, and its logic is all too often flawed.

The Good:

1) Hallinan is familiar with many studies, which he describes in laymen’s terms and in a readable and concise manner. People need to know that we aren’t perfect: our memories are not r
Jill Furedy
Having read several decision making books, like How to Decide and Sway, among others, I was a little disappointed in how many of the exact same studies were in this book, with nothing new to draw from them. Yet there were a number of footnotes that I thought...why didn't we hear more about that? Like a note that baby faced oeople are judged as less competent but tended to be more intelligent. And toward the end of the book, he throws in a Jet Blue story where they extended their flight crew's wo ...more
Brian Saul
Very interesting summary of countless studies on reasons we goof up. Part way through, I was beginning to believe there's no way to avoid making mistakes. Later on, I was reminded that one could learn from one's own mistakes, but it's infinitely better to learn from OTHERS' mistakes. Except that we, generally, don't. The author's conclusions: One can expect to make _fewer_ mistakes, but it involves several skills and techniques such as thinking small. "The tiniest little change in circumstance c ...more
Why We Make Mistakes takes an entertaining and sometimes amusing look at the peculiarities, quirks and limitations of the human mind.
We all know we do dumb things, and that we persist in doing dumb things even when we have every reason to know better. This book explains why. We don't pay attention. We don't read directions. We make snap judgments based on scant data. We think we know more than we do. Our eyes fool us.

While it's tempting to think that reading this book might reduce one's tenden
Rod Hilton
"Why We Make Mistakes" is a light read, light on science and long on anecdote, but interesting nonetheless. It's educational, but nothing groundbreaking. Similar books about the mind and its tendency to make errors are more detailed and more thorough in their analysis, but as far as an easy read for an airplane or a bus trip, Joseph Hallinan's book does just fine.

There was some interesting material about the differences between men and women, and the types of mistakes each gender is more likely
Lots of ideas substantiated with data and studies... Depressed people see things realistically. Happy people think outside of the box. It is easier to not act than to act and make a mistake. The line to the left will almost always be shortest. We make decisions part from the gut and part from being rational-- the problem is when we make a smart decision we don't know how the decision was made. One way to improve the quality of your decisions is to document your decisions (i.e. not just why you c ...more
I thought this book answered its title well. You do find out the many different reasons that we make mistakes. In fact, there are so many reasons for us to make mistakes, it's somewhat of a miracle that we actually get as much done correctly that we do. Hallinan also discusses how to take the knowledge of why we make mistakes and apply it so that we make less mistakes. I think this book should be required reading for organizations and companies where mistakes should be minimized -- hospitals, pa ...more
Another in my series of easy, thought provoking reads which have included Blink, Outliers and this book to name a few. Here is what I learned:

1) Why men don't ask for directions (totally agree with this)
2) Why gamblers are overconfident (agree. again)
3) Who makes the most mistakes
4) There is no such thing as human multi-tasking

A fun, easy and informative book. Joseph Hallinan has a good sense of humor while still keeping things tight and moving. Unusually arranged and presented (jumped around it
Charles Eliot
I've read many books about cognitive errors, memory mishaps, why we can't navigate, and so on. This is one of the better ones. For one thing, I like the way the chapters are organized by causes of mistakes: "We Skim", "We'd Rather Wing It", and "Men Shoot First" are three examples. I also like the brisk, clear writing, and good story-telling. Finally, I like the way the references are organized. I usually read books like this very quickly, then go back later to drill into some of the primary ref ...more
An interesting book at the start, but one in which I rapidly lost interest. After reading about 100 pages, and feeling I was reading the same stuff over and over, I flipped ahead. The same stuff, over and over, and not entirely about 'mistakes' we make. Lots of reference to studies done through the years, many of which I'd already read about in the news or Time or the New York Times, or some of the science mags I read.

So I stopped reading it.
Paul Froehlich
We make certain mistakes because of the way we are wired. That’s the thesis of Joseph T. Hallinan, who gives a readable summary of research on brains and behavior, along with entertaining anecdotes, to make his point. Studies show human beings have any number of systemic biases that make us prone to certain kinds of errors, in part because we aren’t aware of our biases. Here are a couple of them:

• We are powerfully influenced by our first impressions. Consequently, we are reluctant to change ans
Annemieke Windt
Joseph T. Hallinan explores human error in Why We Make Mistakes. Littered with great anecdotes, such as the story of the plane crashing with all the knowledge in the world on board to save the plane and the human penchant for early gratification instead of waiting just a little bit longer.

Hallinan is a journalist and that shows in the writing. While delving into the research he delivers his new found knowledge with an easy pen, making the book great fun to read. The best message I took from the
Krishna Kumar
Hallinan has written a smart book on how human beings keep making mistakes in our day-to-day lives even though we should know better. Many of these mistakes are because of deeply embedded behaviors in human beings.

For example, we are more likely to think we are above average and over-estimate our capabilities, thus taking on something that we cannot handle. We are not very capable of multi-tasking, but we don’t realize it, as evidenced by the many cell phone car accidents. There are differences
This book made me lose my trust in virtually everything, including myself. I couldn't imagine humans are so apt at committing mistakes.

The book is a systematic summary of a huge record of mistakes that the author collected over years, from obvious and stupid mistakes to much subtler ones. They are then analyzed and explained by modern psychology researches. The benefits and dangers of multitasking, overconfidence, pattern-recognition are closely examined.

Some lessons are to be learned from the b
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Cover change 4 22 Oct 10, 2014 07:48AM  
Why we Make MIstakes 2 16 Nov 24, 2012 06:41PM  
  • On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not
  • Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking
  • A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives
  • The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers
  • SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable
  • Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things
  • The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us
  • Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind
  • On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits
  • Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives
  • The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
  • How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like
  • How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life
  • The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind
  • What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite
  • Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
  • Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions
  • The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making

Share This Book

“As a general principle, people feel more responsible for their actions than they do for their inactions. If we are going to err at something, we would rather err by failing to act.” 5 likes
“Nearly eighty years of research on answer changing shows that most answer changes are from wrong to right, and that most people who change their answers usually improve their test scores. One comprehensive review examined thirty-three studies of answer changing; in not one were test takers hurt, on average, by changing their answers. And yet, even after students are told of these results, they still tend to stick with their first answers. Investors, by the way, show the same tendencies when it comes to stocks. Even after learning that their reason for picking a stock might be wrong, they still tended to stick with their initial choice 70 percent of the time.” 1 likes
More quotes…