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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  4,048 Ratings  ·  404 Reviews
To err is human. Yet most of us go through life assuming (and sometimes insisting) that we are right about nearly everything, from the origins of the universe to how to load the dishwasher. If being wrong is so natural, why are we all so bad at imagining that our beliefs could be mistaken, and why do we react to our errors with surprise, denial, defensiveness, and shame?

Paperback, 405 pages
Published June 1st 2011 by Portobello Books (first published June 8th 2010)
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I am not a particularly violent person. But there were so many places in this book where I wanted to sit the author down, smack her briskly and scream at her "What were you thinking? It started with the very first word in the book, freshly minted for the occasion by the author. You read it and experience an involuntary recoil of revulsion at the sheer tin-eared ugliness of it. For God's sake, Kathryn Schulz, please don't title your opening chapter "Wrongology". If the first word in your book alr ...more
Will Byrnes
I have a very strong memory of the day my youngest was born. I can still summon the piercing scent of puddled broken water in a middle room of the second floor of our house. Problem is that my daughter was born before we moved into that house. Yet I, and hopefully everyone else who comes up short in a quest for perfection, can take solace from this outstanding book.

Schulz coins the term “wrongology” as a tag for her view that being wrong can, in the scheme of things, be a pretty good thing, tha
Schultz' review of H is for Hawk in the New Yorker magazine this spring really made me take notice not only of Macdonald's book but also of the art of reviewing. Schultz's review was as gorgeous and thoughtful as Macdonald's book. I set out to see what else Schultz wrote.

I really like Schultz' premise on this one: we feel badly when we make mistakes, but everyone does it. As Schultz points out, before Descartes ("I think, therefore I am") was St. Augustine ("I err, therefore I am" or "To err is
May 29, 2010 Sarah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
Being Wrong. Kathryn Schulz. 2010. Ecco. 400 pages. ISBN 9780061176043.

Being Wrong is an exploration of how and why making errors is a crucial, natural and necessary component of being human, and how we must embrace being wrong to grow as people.

Falling into the psychology versus scientific realm, Being Wrong provides an interesting history of wrongness using numerous examples of pop-culture incidents; if you can consider an intricate look at being wrong an interesting subject, that is.

Oct 22, 2011 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
This is really a must-read. Do you realize how little we can trust ourselves to perceive the truth? This is a great analysis of how we get things wrong, why it matters, and why errors can be a good thing in the journey of life. Plus, its analysis of Hamlet is spot on. I mean, if the only evidence of murder you have is a ghost's message, don't you think you'd better try to vet the facts a bit before taking justice in your own hands?-g
Oct 30, 2010 Ed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely loved this book, which really does uncover the extent to which we deny our mistakes and how much we would gain by admitting them, at least to ourselves. There is also an art to understanding that doubt is good so long as it does not paralyze us.

The author found that when she told people that she was writing about mistakes, they all said: 'Oh I have made tons of mistakes in my life'. She would reply: 'Oh it would really help my research if you could tell me about a few of them.' And
Jul 18, 2010 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting how polarizing this book is. I think an open mind and a willingness to be wrong are helpful as you read; there's a lot to be gotten from the psychological delving. An excellent examination of the psychological and physiological aspects of "being wrong." The first 1/2-2/3 of the book are dedicated to explaning WHY we are wrong, and why we usually think we are right! The rest of the book talks about acknowledging when we are wrong and why being wrong can is a good thing, and indeed an ...more
My copy of BEING WRONG: ADVENTURES IN THE MARGIN OF ERROR was a gift -- a Goodreads giveaway. My being wrong -- occasionally, frequently, perhaps consistently -- is a "gift" from our Creator and/or my creators. The ways in which I experience being wrong are probably also "gifts" from my creators, teachers, friends, et al. As a parent, I have passed on the "gift" of intermittent or perpetual wrongness and promoted certain reactions to being wrong. When my son was a young child, he would respond t ...more
Feb 09, 2014 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Think about the last time you were wrong. Can you remember it? I could, after taking some time to think about it. I thought my car had been stolen, and had reported it stolen, before I realized that I'd left it in the parking lot of a nearby Safeway and walked home with my groceries by mistake. I wonder if the police dispatchers still laugh at that one, or if the incident's been replaced in their memories by others like it that happen a dozen times a day.

That's one story of my being wrong. I hav
Elizabeth Hunter
I found Being Wrong slow going, not because I wasn't enjoying it--although I do think that the first couple of chapters are the most dense--but because I needed to stop and digest and think about how what Schulz says resonates with my own experiences.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book, was Schulz' examination and concise rendering of questions I've often pondered. She looks at why we're wrong so often, why we have trouble admitting that and go to great lengths to stay on the "right
Jun 26, 2012 Stewart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Over many years I have grappled with the related issues of error, ignorance, and uncertainty. When measured against what there is to know, what we humans do in fact know is in the order of zero-point-several zeroes. No matter how well-read, well-traveled, or well-informed we think we are, our ignorance is immense. We have to make decisions – most trivial, many of them life-changing, a few of them life-and-death – based on a trifling amount of information, the vast majority second- or third-hand ...more
Jack Hart
Feb 02, 2013 Jack Hart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: decision-theory
This is, to my way of thinking, an extraordinary book about a great topic. Although, if you're not an intellectually ambitious person the book may seem to have, as several Good Reads reviewers opined, too damn many words.

But I like Kathryn Schulz's prose. She knows her western canon and cites it deftly. In the course of elaborating her ideas about the experience of wrongness she'll even uncover a novel point here and there about the literature and philosophy she so clearly loves.

I also like tha
George Musser
A worthwhile read that gives me much to think about in my own life. Schulz's broad point is that the fear of committing an error is often worse than the error itself -- it fills us with a fear of exploration and prevents us from acknowledging, correcting, and learning from our mistakes. The risk of error is often a necessary tradeoff for creativity and growth. I think Schulz convincingly makes her case.  I vow to ease up on screwups, whether mine or others'. To err is human; to forgive, humane.

Mar 12, 2017 Gio marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition

I Now Want To Read This Book.
Expanding Bookshelf
I consider myself the consummate fuckup. Even when I succeed in accomplishing something difficult, once the warmth of self-congratulatory celebration dissipates I can’t help thinking about every screw up and each way they’ll likely weigh me down during the course of my life the rest of my life and preclude me from divinity and the promises of pennies from heaven. I know a lot of people who think like this while we know that this manner of thinking is stupid and counterproductive, every time we t ...more
Chris Walker
Mar 19, 2011 Chris Walker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great stuff. This is what writers are for. To set down in language what you feel but can't necessarily enunciate well yourself. Take this example: "Fortunately, we don't get stuck in this place of pure wrongness very often. And we don't get stuck there via the collapse of small or medium-size beliefs. We get stuck there when we are really wrong about really big things - beliefs so important and far-reaching that we can neither easily replace them nor easily live without them. If our trivial beli ...more
Sep 02, 2010 Cathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know about you but I'm rarely, if ever, wrong. No, really! I'm almost always right and the same is probably true of you. As Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong; Adventures in the Margin of Error, explains, it's almost hardwired in humans to dislike being mistaken. Being wrong, even about minor things, makes almost everyone so incredibly, throughly uncomfortable that we often can't admit to ourselves that we've made a mistake. Yet, being wrong is also a key to growth and essential to ou ...more
Jun 04, 2010 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Two truths readily acknowledged: being right feels oh so good, and being wrong feels just awful. Nuff said? No! As it turns out, there's a lot more to be said, and Ms. Schulz says it quite elegantly, entertainingly, and movingly.

With examples ranging from the mundane to the tragic, she carefully explains precisely how errors come about and why we feel about them as we do. Along the way, she makes the point that error not only has the capability to embarrass us, but also can have the power to te
Raj Agrawal
An exploration of wrongness as the essence of the human condition -- something that not only should be expected, but embraced as a central tenant of life. Takes Kuhn, Kahneman, and Jervis a step further into practical discussion and brainstorming.

While the author often takes self-involved tangents on occasion, this book must be included in the discussion of bias, error, and decision making. Reading this book takes some patience since the author explores in and around her thoughts regarding "wro
Jun 06, 2012 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book, but had to break it up by reading other things throughout - it was really slow at times. The author repeated herself a lot, and you get the gist of it after the first chapter. However, it was worth reading the full book - a lot of the stories scattered throughout were really thought-provoking.
Manuel Palacio
Jan 14, 2012 Manuel Palacio rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i love this book so far. one of my favorite is the quote: “The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong.”
― Philip Roth
Sep 02, 2011 Red rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really thought I was going to like this. I guess I was...
Feb 28, 2017 Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We all live steeped in the false security that feeling right bestows upon us.

This book is written for those who want to understand more about what this means. It is a neglected and deeply human attribute: being wrong, feeling wrong, discovering one's wrongness, changing as a result—or, more usually, denying it, ducking and running from the acknowledgement of error.

I was fascinated, particularly so once I got through the first chapters.

The writing is a curious mix of academic rigour and convivi
May 26, 2011 Forrest rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cbriii
It would be easy to simply say that reading Being Wrong is a small but powerful life changing experience. It very much is, but just saying that is a bit of a cop-out. The book is a brilliantly written examination of the concept of error from every perspective imaginable. Schulz explores wrongness as an outside observer, a philosopher, a victim and a compassionate friend. By so fully embracing the idea on every level, she synthesizes a unified thesis from many disparate parts and supports every c ...more
This book focused on many of the heuristics detailed in Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. Like David McRaney, in his book You Are Not So Smart, Schulz is a bit more relatable than Kahneman, which makes the study of heuristics (fallible thinking), easier to digest. Unlike McRaney, Schulz does a much better job of making arguments that do not fall prey to the very heuristics being argued against. She got tripped up a few times, in that her argument for one thing could just as easily have b ...more
Have you ever been wrong? Of course you have. Everybody makes mistakes and many people talk like that is all they do, "Oh I am always messing up" they might say. Now try reflecting on the moment when you realized that you were wrong about something. Don't reflect on your past beliefs, whether trivial or not, but rather think of that moment where you shifted from knowing that you were right to knowing that you were not. How did that moment feel when you realized that you were wrong, not when you ...more
Dec 14, 2013 William rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an impressive and surprisingly enjoyable book. While Schulz is a journalist, the work seems closer to scholarly than journalistic, though it has a lighter touch than scholarship typically achieves. In reading it, don't skip the foot- and endnotes. There is often good stuff there.

I experienced "Being Wrong" on three levels, and it works exceptionally well on two of them. To begin with, Schulz makes a compelling case that being wrong is by and large more a constructive thing than a negativ
Doug Cheever
Jan 27, 2014 Doug Cheever rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From within the design and advertising fields you hear a lot about making mistakes (quickly and often) in reference to prototyping and/or rapid iteration within project workflows. That is not what this book is about. It does not try to approve or disapprove of making mistakes during an intentional brain dump (or storm). It does not try to repackage any established wisdom heard at a marketing conference. This book should not be pigeon-holded as "self-help" or "business" even though it may, by cha ...more
Steve Penner
Dec 13, 2011 Steve Penner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Being Wrong" was a wonderful and fascinating plunge into the world of wrongology. It covers a wide-ranging host of topics on error, how it happens and particularly how we respond to being wrong. Her basic premise is that there are two models of error. One model propounds error as something to be avoided at all costs as it provides no benefits, only embarrassment and shame. The second, which Schulz celebrates, is that error is common and natural. It's benefit is that we can learn, grow and chang ...more
Lauren Monsey Nagel
Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
When I first got this book I actually didn't think it was going to be a book that I would enjoy. I'm not even sure why that is because I have just been nothing but fascinated, especially so at all the research this book must have required to write. The amount of work in putting the book together is not lost on me. My guess would be that this is one of those books that a college professor would assign to his class. I read it through once, and then rer
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Kathryn Schulz is a journalist, author, and public speaker with a credible (if not necessarily enviable) claim to being the world's leading wrongologist. Her freelance writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, TIME Magazine, the Boston Globe, the "Freakonomics" blog of The New York Times, The Nation, Foreign Policy, and the New York Times Book Review, among other publicat ...more
More about Kathryn Schulz...

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“To err is to wander and wandering is the way we discover the world and lost in thought it is the also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying but in the end it is static a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling and sometimes even dangerous but in the end it is a journey and a story. Who really wants to stay at home and be right when you can don your armor spring up on your steed and go forth to explore the world True you might get lost along get stranded in a swamp have a scare at the edge of a cliff thieves might steal your gold brigands might imprison you in a cave sorcerers might turn you into a toad but what of what To fuck up is to find adventure: it is in the spirit that this book is written.” 43 likes
“...[W]hen we make mistakes, we shrug and say that we are human. As bats are batty and slugs are sluggish, our own species is synonymous with screwing up.” 16 likes
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