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3.91  ·  Rating details ·  1,485 ratings  ·  93 reviews
Why do doctors, generals, civil servants and others consistently make wrong decisions that cause enormous harm to others? Irrational beliefs and behaviours are virtually universal. In this iconoclastic book Stuart Sutherland analyses causes of irrationality and examines why we are irrational, the different kinds of irrationality, the damage it does us and the possible cure ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 27th 2007 by Pinter & Martin Ltd (first published November 1st 1992)
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Average rating 3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,485 ratings  ·  93 reviews

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Jan 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Posted on my blog.

Background: I was given this book by a friend on Christmas, and I started reading it soon afterward, but unfortunately had to stop for a couple of months and just recently finished it. This is unfortunate, since I recall a lot of things I thought about the book while I was reading it, but didn't mark any of the pages for quoting. Oh well.

Review: This book in a nutshell: humans can be very irrational at times. The book goes on to try to explore, explain and offer solutions to th
Dec 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a catalogue of wrong thinking: inconsistency, misinterpretation, false inferences, distortion, overconfidence, conforming to the general opinion, obeying authoritative figures and making bad bets. We form instant impressions and then only look for the evidence that will support our view, we suffer from availability error, meaning that we give more weight to the dramatic and memorable, or the most recent, and ignore the less exciting evidence, and after reading the chapter on reward and p ...more
Mar 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who wishes to learn to make better judgements and thus to take better decisions
Recommended to Orestes by: Su Pezuela
This book shows a number of psychological biases during human assessment of reality which, the author claims, moves us away from taken optimal decisions. It does so by means of captivating and many times funny examples, mainly drawn from psychological experiments, but also from interesting historical events and common behavior.

The author is competent in explaining each type of irrational behavior, but the book lacks a global perspective. The instances of irrational behavior introduced in the boo
I didn't realize this is a reprint of a work that is 20 years old, but it's still quite relevant. Just a little harder to get ahold of. Like most psychology books written by academics, this reads like a textbook so it's a bit of work to get through. Still, Sutherland injects a lot more wit into his writing than most, such as mentioning students who had ten grandparents with a distressing mortality rate. The material is quite good as a survey of various human tendencies to make irrational decisio ...more
Feb 26, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I'm soooooo bored with this.
Reads like a GCSE social psychology text book.

At times like this I really wish I was so OCD that I have to finish every book I start. This one is never ending.

I've abandoned it. Really dated, and really, really boring. It now has the honour of being the first ever book I've started but not finished, and has annoyed me further by making me create a new 'abandoned' shelf on Goodreads, which clutters things up.
David Wen
Jun 29, 2017 rated it liked it
The book summarizes studies done by others in the field in a fairly concise package. Problem is, if you read books by Kahneman, Sunstein, Thaler, Milgram, etc. there's nothing new for you to learn. Probably should be considered an intro to those books and then you can delve further into whichever piques your interest. ...more
May 29, 2009 rated it did not like it
This book is only actually interesting if you think people act rationally more than, say, 5% of the time. Otherwise it is just a book of commonplaces backed up by a lot of studies and anecdotes you've already heard about before. ...more
May 08, 2013 rated it did not like it
agree with one point: don't keep reading not to waste your money, at the end money won't be the only thing wasted.
one more book telling you what to do as if you did't have a brain, irrationality comes from here.
Nick Davies
Feb 21, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
Hard to form a completely fair opinion on. Very interesting, very through, well explained and mainly very clear - this is a great introduction to (and expansion on) the nature of cognitive biases. Originally published a quarter century ago, Sutherland writes with authority and wit, and the republish with preface and afterword bringing this to a new audience is 'a good thing'. I would recommend many people read this as they could benefit from it.

Alas though, as someone who has an interest in psyc
Babak Fakhamzadeh
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reference
Ancient, published in 1992, but still interesting if not entertaining, even if much of its contents has now been rehashed in later works, though still poignantly relevant for our extensive modern online discourse, where reason is often not the primary concern.

Sutherland spends roughly half the book explaining the different types of irrationality and then uses the remainder to highlight how these work in practice.

Judging by the first thing that comes to mind is called the availability error.
Dec 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
Pretty good, but Thinking, fast and slow, might be a bit more accessible: ...more
Darren Goossens
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Review from

Penguin, 1994, 357 pages.

Well. This book is replete with summaries of studies that on the whole show that we are creatures of habit, instinct and fear more than thought and reason. We suffer from the illusion of control. We make emotional decisions and then convince ourselves they were carefully reasoned. We avoid data that might prove us wrong, even when being proved wrong is
Sep 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mind
This book was first published in 1992, but don't let that put you off - the topics are more relevant today than ever before, particularly given the way we appear to be sliding head-first into another age of unreason. One example would be the chapter on stereotypes: very appropriate in this post 9/11 world, showing the development of prejudice towards out-groups and detailing 9 reasons why they occur - and shouldn't.

There are stacks of case studies in the book - well over a hundred, described in
Jan 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Academic attempts to hit the "trade" market have made for the creation of a capacious graveyard down the years. Everyone recalls the successes without taking into account that they form way less than 1% of the attempts. This is one of the modest triumphs - an at times fascinating exploration of why people behave irrationally.

For most of the book, Sutherland is a master with the juicy anecdote, although the book sags in the middle as he abandons real world examples in favour of that boring, over
Terry Clague
May 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Clearly something of a classic, this book has been described as a "thinking man's self-help guide" by Ben Goldacre. It's interesting to get an expert scholarly (but not heavy) view on the various and many ways in which the human brain has irrational tendencies. Much of what is discussed should be common sense (e.g. people tend to ignore evidence that doesn't fit their beliefes) but it's backed up with discussions of psychology experiments that have been replicated and offer some proof.

Of course,
Aug 07, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A very good book examining the irrational decisions people make. It also provides methods on how best to make a rational decision and not fall into the common traps. Learning statistics and probability theory are a start.

I did find it a little boring to read at times. The writing style is a little bland and technical in nature. Also, one thing the book only touched on was why people are irrational. Is it because of the way the brain works, or is it because of our schooling, society norms or cult
Jul 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first pop science book on rationality I ever read, and it made a great impression on me. Of course, this is now more than twenty years old (the first edition dates from 1992), and probably nowadays there are many eqivalent books, but this one gives a good overview of many common pitfalls in decision making, illustrating many cognitive biases: from selective evidence, to overconfidence and ignoring or misinterpreting evidence. So you wont' get exposure to the latest developments on de ...more
Dec 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Human beings are not nearly as reasonable as we think we are. Intuition, the failure to understand how probabilities work, and the curious phenomenon of "availability" (universalizing the most recent experience we can remember or alternatively the first experience, depending on whether you perceive later information as replacing or augmenting the original) all conspire to help us survive, but not to be reasonable.

Sutherland has written a satisfying little book that opens the door to being slight
Ben Pace
Jul 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
The most readable and well-written popular-level book about the irrationality of humans that I have discovered. I am not a fan of the first chapter, but this is possibly because I've read a lot more of the literature on irrational behaviour and the philosophy of it, and I feel he is a little inaccurate. Furthermore, the morals at the end of each chapter could be a little less whimsical and a little more useful. The entirety of the rest of the book is excellent however, and the discussion especia ...more
Feb 13, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology, project
This book was a extensive list of the ways in which humans are irrational. Although the advice at the end of each chapter on how to avoid these irrationality were almost simply "don't be irrational", ie if humans tend to over count X in importance the advice would be "don't over count X", the book was helpful.
While the book was written 21 years ago, it was very helpful and insightful and the editor made sure to comment on things that had changed in a footnote (but it was rarely needed).
The boo
Neil Powell
Jan 31, 2011 rated it liked it
Some interesting theories and points made, but it got a little too heavy on statistical analysis in the last third which led to me lose interest. Don't be put off by the fact the book is nearly 20 years old, it has dated very well apart from a few of the examples given.

I was particularly interested in the sections regarding why people seem to follow irrational orders and the group mentality in human behaviour. Further reading on the experiments of Stanley Milgram (Obedience to Authority) might b
Murat Aydogdu
Jul 02, 2012 rated it liked it
I really liked this book, but somehow it wasn't an easy read. The subject matter is very interesting and it's presented in small chunks, but the language was a bit dry and boring. I am also amazed how much overlap there is between this book and Kahneman's "Thinking fast and slow" which I am currently reading also. Kahneman's book is more fun to read in terms of language and presentation but also a larger text (maybe a bit too comprehensive). There are so many common examples in these two books e ...more
Stuart has, in layman term explained some very widely mis-oriented confused belief we keep in our mind. Some of them are so common and obvious, we are doing it every moment, not even realizing it.

The best part of this book is a moral section at the end of each chapter. A very useful part, due to the vastness of statistical data and experiment done on the topic of irrationality, it is very obvious that during the whole read we forget the important take away.
Stuart does a great work by providing
Peter Perhac
Jan 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: educative
this was an interesting book. fell a little short of my expectations, but was a great book still. towards the end i had to force myself a bit. the book could have done without the chapter on Utility. Starts off well, maintains its pace for quite a while and then slows down. The chapter before last, The Paranormal, was quite good again, and refers to most of the forms of irrationality mentioned in the body of the work, then it slowly winds down to an easy end. Neat. Recommend.
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
It's been a long time since I read this but many of the cases presented have stuck with me. A great potted summary of how we really aren't as objective as we think we are. Frankly, I think this stuff should be on every school curriculum ever. This is about more than psychological phenomena, it's really about how we make decisions and why we can't trust our unqualified instincts. ...more
Unsung Stories
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
It's been a long time since I read this but many of the cases presented have stuck with me. A great potted summary of how we really aren't as objective as we think we are. Frankly, I think this stuff should be on every school curriculum ever. This is about more than psychological phenomena, it's really about how we make decisions and why we can't trust our unqualified instincts. ...more
Sian Bradshaw
Aug 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a pretty good read. It really does make you think about why you do the things you do. The section on lists is quite interesting. For example - if you need to tell someone something and it's a list of information. Always put the most important thing first. It is something I would do but the explanation in the book is quite compelling. ...more
Carl Christian
Jan 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: pop-science
I learned that if you want to motivate people you shouldn't give them bonuses or prize money. And that if you loose your ticket you should buy a new one. -- If it was worth buying it once, it should be worth buying it again. ...more
Apr 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology, science
All true and easy to understand. A couple of quotes from it:
"How cunning people are at twisting the evidence to suit their own beliefs."
"It is easy to manipulate the conclusions people draw from the same evidence."
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British PsychologistNorman Stuart Sutherland (26 March 1927 – 8 November 1998), always known professionally as Stuart Sutherland, was a British psychologist and writer.

Sutherland was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham, before going to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read Psychology, Philosophy and Physiology. He stayed at Oxford for his DPhil which he took in zoology under the supervi

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