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The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger
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The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  5,364 ratings  ·  354 reviews
From terror attacks to the war on terror, real estate bubbles to the price of oil, sexual predators to poisoned food from China, our list of fears is ever-growing. And yet, we are the safest and healthiest humans in history. Irrational fear seems to be taking over, often with tragic results. For example, in the months after 9/11, when people decided to drive instead of fly ...more
Hardcover, 339 pages
Published July 17th 2008 by Dutton Adult
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Start your review of The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger
Stephanie *Eff your feelings*
This book was rather dry. With the title being fear I kind of expected it to be more dramatic. Not so much.

In this book Mr. Gardner reveals to us that the stuff we are scared of, most of the time is really not what we should worry about. He points out how the news media will pick up a story and run with it because it is sensational. Fear sells. Then we will get all paranoid about it. I could have told you that.

Pesticides for example, are not all that bad, because what we ingest is not enough to
Aug 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Some things that our brain doesn't evaluate correctly:
Smoking marijuana
Traveling by plane
Mad cow disease
Nuclear weapons
Nuclear power
West Nile Virus
Clean water

This book is well-intentioned and well-researched. Before I read the book, I knew that a lot of groups (political, product-marketing, health service related, etc.) were trying to motivate me by blasting me with "threat of the moment" scenarios in which I was left helpless, broke and disease-ridden
Nov 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Okay, I’ll own up. Deep down, and not so deep down, I’m the sort of gal who could walk up and down Oxford Street with a placard on my back saying “THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH”. My outlook is definitely pessimistic. This book on the other hand is the absolute opposite, arguing from beginning to end that we should be a whole stack less worried than we are. It therefore gave me a very bumpy ride. To say it was counter-intuitive was putting it mildly.

Dan Gardner’s basic premise is that we have two
Scott Rhee
Daniel Gardner's "The Science of Fear" is an immensely readable and fascinating examination of the culture of fear that we live in and how it consistently makes us do stupid things.

Gardner is fond of quoting FDR's famous quote, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" several times throughout the book, but he emphasizes that what FDR is referring to is not healthy fear (the kind that has helped our species to survive this long) but an "unreasoning, unjustified" fear.

This kind of fear he
Aug 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: A sentient beings
Recommended to David by: The universe
This is one of the few books that I've given 5 stars to this year and it deserves every one of them. Gardner's analysis of fear and the motivators of fear (both collective and individual) are brilliant and how these connect to ~

1. Brain
2. Media
3. The many individuals and groups with an interest in stoking fear.

His contention is that we are luckier than any generation that has ever lived, and he goes a long, long way to proving this, and yet we are more afraid than ever before. The reasons for
Imagine, for a moment, one of our early human ancestors. A first-generation Homo sapiens, exploring his world with an amazing brain that would be the envy of the animal kingdom. If they understood envy. He, and his children, and their children and grandchildren will spread across the Earth as hunter-gatherers, the first beings (so far as we know) who can look at the world and attempt to pass on what it knows and learns. Their threats were simple: survive or don't. Find food or starve. Hunt or be ...more
Ivan Raszl
Great book. Makes you realize that we fear things with a negligable risk and do not worry about things we rationally should. it also exlains why that happens and what to do about it.
Tanja Berg
Oct 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a good book, all-in all it was interesting and lucid although not all chapters had me sitting at the edge of my seat. Half-way through the book I was intent on giving it 3 stars, but the chapter on terrorism and the conclusion made me change my mind to 4.

This book is about risk and fear. Or rather, it is about how fear makes us perceive risk. The one thing is miss is the lack of discussion of real and possibly imminent risk. Real risk is only used as comparison. The psychology of risk p
Jana Light
Mar 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
In The Science of Fear, Dan Gardner explains the human experience of fear, first presenting accounts of how we consciously and unconsciously interpret information we receive, then showing how some current social and cultural circumstances bring out the worst in our reactionary interpretive tendencies. Overall, Gardner argues, we are far more afraid than reality warrants, for reasons both psychological and sociological.

Even though the book is interesting and useful (I am certainly now more aware
Jun 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of two books I recommend to anyone and everyone, but especially to young high school students and college students. Fear can make us adopt bad policies, waste money, and even do harm to very good people, companies or institutions. it's one of the best times in the world to be human, but you wouldn't know it from the press...and there's a reason for that. Read this to be the proper, skeptical and informed person you need to be and live in a democracy. ...more
Feb 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
This book has three main researchers at its heart: Paul Slovic, Amos Tversky, and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. The three men have both done work on the two-system brain and it is this idea that Daniel Gardner uses to explain and link all the topics in this book. It is a fascinating explanation of how we think and make decisions. There is an excellent description (chapter 2 Of Two Minds) of why our brains still function as our ancient ancestors brains did, even though our society has devel ...more
Mar 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“So why is it that so many of the safest humans in history are scared of their own shadows?”

That’s the question posed by this fantastic tract which looks at why modern man – despite having advantages which his ancestors could never dream of – is beset by so much fear. It explores how that fear is exploited and exaggerated by the media, governments and corporations – so that we are constantly told of new things to worry about, new dangers ahead and new reasons to panic.

Gardner deals with violent
Kirsty Darbyshire
Dec 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
This book is all about putting a realistic twist on all the big risks everyone thinks the world holds - zillions of people terrified of terrorism and the like. The only problem for me is that I'm already a numerate sceptic who explains to others that the risk of, oh, their kids being abducted by paedophiles or similar, is vanishingly small and takes all use of statistics in news stories with a huge pinch of salt. So I wasn't sure how much I was going to get out of it.

The good news is that it's a
Melvin R.  Blann IV
Hands down, this is one of the most valuable books I’ve ever read. It should be required reading in high school and college. It pairs nicely with the works of Kahneman, Tversky, Tetlock, Thaler, Sunstein, Ariely, Gigerenzer, and Taleb. This book is indispensable when it comes to understanding reality and human nature. I can’t recommend it enough.
Great use of statistics to show how we do not use rational thought to make decisions. While it is entertaining, his use of the phrase "my inner caveman" annoyed me. ...more
Angel Contrera
Sep 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very interesting, made me really think about the way we process information...
Apr 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: red
Subtitle: Why We Fear Things We Shouldn't - and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger. Lame subtitle, good book.

The starting point for this book is an observation: after 9/11, the number of people flying dropped, and stayed lower for about a year. However, during that time, people didn't stop traveling entirely, they just were more likely to take a car than a plane. For long trips, though, a plane is a much safer way to travel than a car. Sure enough, road deaths in America soared in the year after 9/
Mar 03, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the sort of the book that is nice and easy to read – nothing that requires too much of thinking to comprehend – and yet so immensely useful and informative that I’d rate it as required reading for all of us. Everyone needs to read this book or something like it. It reminded me of Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling Upon Happiness. It contains the same kind of tidbits of information and insight that can be very useful in helping us get a better grasp of what is happening to us and what is going on ...more
Jerry Smith
Gardner takes a look at the psychology of fear and why we are more fearful today than ever, even though we live in perhaps the safest time in all human history. Introduces reasons that are hard wired into us via evolution and therefore served us well previously, but tend to misinterpret things in the modern world, resulting in erroneous assumptions especially regarding risk.

The central point concerns the two means by which we perceive risk and react accordingly - Gut reaction and head reaction.
Blake Nelson
May 09, 2009 rated it liked it
This book starts out well - describing the psychology of how people evaluate risk, and how come we are often so bad at it. One great example from the September 11 attacks. If there had been a single attack of similar magnitude every month for a year, then a person's risk of dying in an attack would be 1 in 7,750. In one year, a person has a 1 in 6,498 chance of dying in a car accident. So our billions of dollars spent on anti-terrorism measures would have been better spent trying to find ways to ...more
Nov 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Worriers
Recommended to Russell by: Philitsa
After years of trying to figure out why I think news reporting is bullshit, and advertising is bullshit, and politicians are full of bullshit, I finally have some reference material to actively back up my instincts. This book confirms something that I think we all sense, but don't have the context to express. Life should not be such a scary thing, but there are a whole lot of people with a whole lot of vested interest in convincing us otherwise.

Only two problems with the book. First, his use of
Sergey Antopolskiy
Dec 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Your media and politics skepticism 101.

The book covers a wide range of material, which is mostly related to what kind of things we fear as a society and individually, how and why most of these fear are completely unjustified, and how politicians, media and the market create a self-reinforcing environment of fear, which allows them to get votes/views/sales.

This book is very unsettling in its own way. Unsettling, because you realize that the media-politics-psychology create such a screwed up envir
Sally McRogerson
This was brilliant! We stress constantly; currently about swine flu, but that's only the most recent in a long list of many paranoias. This book actually quantifies risk in a way that puts everything into perspective.

One part of the book focusses on 9/11. The world gave up flying and as a direct consequence about 1500 US citizens died in road accidents. This figure can be extrapolated from the data for years before and after and the empty plane seats. GETTING INTO A CAR IS THE MOST DANGEROUS AC
Marco den Ouden
Aug 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How well do we assess risk? Not very well according to Dan Gardner in his fascinating book on the subject. He starts out with a story. The tragedy of 9/11 made a lot of people leery of flying. Yet, Gardner points out, flying remained and remains the safest way of traveling by far. How safe? Well, one statistician calculated that even if terrorists were hijacking and crashing one passenger jet a week in the United States, a person who flew once a month for a year would have a 1 in 135,000 chance ...more
Dec 27, 2019 rated it liked it
While I fully admit that at times, I was highly engrossed by “The Science of Fear”, and I learned a number of interesting facts and numbers that I will surely use when debating my friends and family, I want to start by prefacing this review with an assessment of both the title and the author himself. Dan Gardner is not a scientist. He is not a psychologist, biologist or cognitive neurologist. He is not a sociologist, policy maker or anthropologist. Gardner has consulted some of the relevant psyc ...more
Tadas Talaikis
Dec 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: consciousness
OK not the first book I hear this, about traffic fatalities after 9/11. Decided to find it finally: Driving deaths and injuries post-9/11. However I look into this data, I don't see it. So, injuries increased, it may be any reason, we don't know. Here's my reality based hypothesis - people don't give a f*ck, you only hear several active screamers, who consist of too small portion of the distribution.

And again, many references to original Thinking, Fast and Slow. I don't even know how much I read
Nov 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
If I had to come up with one word to describe this book it would be 'insightful.' The author cites study after study that shows how humans in general allow their gut to control their decisions and thinking. I often found myself thinking "Well, that doesn't apply to me" or "That's not how I look at it," before I realized that I am pretty much the same as the subjects in these studies. While people don't see themselves as biased by their gut or fear-tactics, we all certainly are. This isn't a book ...more
Jun 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
We are safer and healthier than ever, but yet we are just as (if not more) worried about disease, health, and death than ever. Why is this? Hint: influence and profits can be had by presenting messages that speak to us on a visceral level. This hardwiring in humans may have served us well 50,000 years ago, but if we allow ourselves to be influenced by those who know how to press this button in our minds in this age of mass communication, our human condition can lead us to ill-considered decision ...more
Lanre Dahunsi
Jan 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
From terror attacks to collapsing economies, from painkiller epidemics to mass gun violence and poisonous toys from China, our list of fears seems to be exploding. Yet we are the safest and healthiest humans in history. Why are we so worried?

The Science of Fear is an introduction to the new brain science of risk, dissecting the fears that misguide and manipulate us every day. Award-winning journalist Dan Gardner demonstrates how irrational fear springs from the ways humans miscalculate risks bas
Aug 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Maybe it's just my confirmation bias kicking in, but this book said what I've been saying for myself for years-- I have enough REAL stuff to worry about to be bothered by whether or not I'll get blown up flying across the ocean. Thank you, Dan Gardiner!

Yes, there are things to worry about. No, we shouldn't ignore a risk just because it's a small chance. But we should be smarter about what we worry about enough to a) stop us doing what we want to do or b) pour ridiculous amounts of time and mone
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Dan Gardner is a journalist, author, and lecturer.

Trained in law (LL.B., Osgoode Hall Law School, class of ’92) and history (M.A., York University, ’95), Dan first worked as a policy advisor to the Premier of Ontario. In 1997, he joined the Ottawa Citizen. In the years that followed, he travelled widely, researching long features about drugs, criminal justice, torture and other challenging issues.

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These twelve books are so consistently adored, they have become regulars month after month in our data of most popular and most read books on...
107 likes · 42 comments
“Put all these numbers together and what do they add up to? In a sentence: We are the healthiest, wealthiest, and longest-lived people in history. And we are increasingly afraid. This is one of the great paradoxes of our time.” 8 likes
“The rather uncomfortable feeling most of us have when we're around snakes is evidence of how this ancient experience continues to influence us today. Throughout the long prehistory of our species and those that preceded it, snakes were a mortal threat. And so we learned our lesson. Others didn't, but that had a nasty habit of dying. So natural selection did its work and the rule--beware of snakes--was ultimately hardwired into every human brain. It's universal. Go anywhere on the planet, examine any culture. People are wary of snakes. Even if--as in the Arctic--there are no snakes. Our primate cousins shared our long experience and they feel the same way: Even monkeys raised in laboratories who have never seen a snake will back away at the sight of one.” 6 likes
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