Viola's Reviews > Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Nudge by Richard H. Thaler
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Sep 20, 2010

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Read in March, 2009

As an economist, Nudge was a book that I desperately wanted to like. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Perhaps my low rating of the book stems from my high expectations of a book co-authored by the well-regarded behavioral economist Richard Thaler. Without such expectations, my rating might have been higher. But at the same time, without such expectations, I might not have bothered to read the book at all.

The only interesting part of the book is the first part, which consists of the first five chapters. Here, the authors lay out the main premise of the book. The decisions humans make are affected by "nudges." Since nudges are not easy to define, they are best explained through examples. The clearest example of a nudge is a default. When you register online at a site, you are often asked, "Would you like to receive future emails?" By default this box could be either checked or not checked. The default matters; that is, different results emerge under different defaults. The main point of the book is that nudges matter and thus should be carefully designed.

The rest of the book presents a laundry list of policies to which we should apply this principle. For me, this got boring fast. For some reason, the authors seem to be obsessed with identifying every possible nudge and offering their nudge design suggestions. The end of the paperback version of the book became really ridiculous - a bonus chapter of twenty more nudges. I think that the hardcover version is saved from this madness, because the bonus chapter was added after the publication of the hardcover version.

Many may find Nudge overly political. The authors weigh in on what they believe to be good nudges on a large number of hot political issues such as Medicare and same-sex marriage. I personally didn't mind their political stances as much as I minded the lack of economics.

The book is also poorly written. I felt that the publishers gave the authors complete free reign since the authors were well-regarded academics, and obviously academics don't need editors. One problem with the writing was the lack of a targeted audience. The book is supposed to be targeted towards a mass audience; or at least, that is the target of the book's marketing efforts. It is not a textbook or standard teaching material targeted towards undergraduate economics majors. It is also not a serious academic discourse targeted towards other economists. And yet, although it's supposed to be targeted towards the layman, the writing is oftentimes confused about its audience. Additionally, I didn't care for the writing style. While I do enjoy a casual and conversational tone, this book suffered from unnecessary tangential remarks that detracted from the main point. All of the writing issues in this book could have been easily rectified with a good editor. I don't fault the authors as much as I do the publishers for that oversight.

I weakly recommend Part I of Nudge to the intellectually curious layman. The rest of the book I recommend only to those want to read a laundry list of political suggestions.
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