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Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  551 Ratings  ·  81 Reviews
Laurence Gonzales shows how modern society has made us lazy and susceptible to previously unknown threats. "Curiosity, awareness, attention," he writes. "Those are the tools of our everyday survival...we all must be scientists at heart or be victims of forces that we don't understand."Gonzales turns his talent for gripping narrative, knowledge of the way our minds and bodi ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton Company (first published August 19th 2008)
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Kater Cheek
I expected this to be a book about psychology, peppered with anecdotes about how common decision-making errors caused smart people to die. I'd hoped also for maybe a little advice about how to avoid making stupid mistakes. Alas, what I got was something completely different.
Not that there weren't interesting ideas in this book. Gonzales talks about entropy, global warming, deep-sea bacteria, caving, global warming, Alzheimers, ancient Mexican cultures, and global warming.
For starters, I could h
...more
David
Oct 13, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, audiobook
This is a really fun book, and parts are fascinating. So why just two stars? I still don't know what the book is about. The first six or so chapters are truly about "why smart people do stupid things". But then the book becomes practically a free-for-all. I just never knew what subject would come up next; ecology, caving, consumerism, black holes, water vortices, evolution, cosmology, global warming, entropy and war, anthropology. There simply is no connection between all of these topics. It's f ...more
Adam
Feb 11, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very much like and as enjoyable as Gonzales' Deep Survival, but with a more general outlook (actually, the most general of all outlooks). Gonzales, if you haven't read any of his stuff, is extremely easy to read; he's one of those authors whose books you put down without realizing you blew threw 50 pages. Without a doubt, you can improve your understanding of the world -- and maybe even the rate at which you improve that understanding -- by reading this book. That's Gonzales' main take-away: con ...more
Dave
Mar 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction-read
I got this from my local library on a whim. To me it is fascinating.
Gonzales approaches human error from several perspectives: psychology, sociology, cognitive science, evolution, and philosophy. I expected the book to deal with the psychology of error and fallibility but the scope is much more broad. Gonzales approaches human error holistically and moves from individual and group error resulting from biases and blindness to foibles to the roots of error on a cosmological scale. I found the ear
...more
Erica
Oct 29, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
Shortly before finishing this book I was babysitting my niece who, through non-verbal communication, suggested she would like something to eat. I put her in the toy car seat her parents had just brought up from the basement, gave her a couple of animal crackers, and went to the refrigerator for milk. When I turned back from refrigerator I glanced at her high chair and, for a few seconds, completely freaked out. She wasn't there! My 1 year old niece had vanished into thin air! And then I realized ...more
Lianne Downey
Apr 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a huge fan of Deep Survival, I looked forward to this book despite the warnings from other readers that it might go off-topic. Yes, the book wanders through many subjects, always turning the lens in the author's attempts to make sense of the subtitle, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

My curiosity must work like the author's, because I followed him through caves and jungles and sociological studies, fascinated by the discoveries he makes and the answers he's reaching for. I loved it, right
...more
Katherine
It wasn't bad necessarily. I just found it kinda boring, and well, it didn't tell me why smart people did stupid things. That was my intention for reading this book.
The tag on the front cover literally says, "Why smart people do stupid things". And while I think Laurence Gonzales answered this question, it wasn't as in depth as I would've liked. The entire book was very broad. From the Big Bang to psychology, this book had it all. However, I think it was too broad. It's like he was searching fo
...more
Claudia Putnam
Laurence Gonzales is starting to have a major impact on me. This book is more wandering than his others. I started to feel as though he were just throwing in every interesting thing he'd ever thought or read about, which unfortunately weakened his main point, which is whatever are we going to do to survive as a species... seemed like he might have an answer, but no. At one point he appeared to be going somewhere with how mass movements might be harnessed for the positive, and also that he might ...more
Don
Very interesting, thought-provoking book, although it's extraordinarily random. The sub-title is "Why Smart People Do Stupid Things," but that's really just a small part.

For the most part, this book is a collection of thoughts on the meaning of life from a very smart guy who has access to lots of other very smart guys. So it's a fascinating read, even though it really goes all over the place.

I have to say that his explanation of life as a necessary function of energy and entropy -- rather than a
...more
Scott
Nov 15, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Should be called, "Everyday Random Order: How a Smart Person Can Write a Stupid Book." I loved "Deep Survival" with it's rich practicality. This book has very little to do with surviving everyday and has more to do with "Green Philosophy and Politics". Bonobo...blah,blah,blah...Lucy Cave Lady...blah,blah,blah...Global Warming...blah,blah,blah...Origins of the Universe...etc,etc,etc. Not that I disagree with these principles at all. I agree that we should all be good stewards of the Earth and adh ...more
Arash
Aug 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
After really enjoying his first book "deep survival," I was really disappointed by this follow-up. The first few chapters were interested and engaging and seemed to conjure the same spirit as the first book in discussing real life cases of people making illogical and poor decisions that threatened their well-being and delving into the reasons why that happened.

About halfway through the book, it all went downhill. Gonzalez went on some serious tangents: climate change, physics, chemistry, cosmolo
...more
Sam
Feb 03, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book really cant be reviewed. Its throwing some knowledge, some history and leaves it to you- to do want you want with it. Its touches all bases really, from why some of the most educated people make some of the most irrational decisions to how remembering to tie your shoe. Its about how we lost out natural instincts to danger. How now a days we see and understand "danger". From a natural disaster, to a training scar, to everyone else around you. Its about your brain, how its evolved, and w ...more
Kevin
Sep 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kevin by: Todd Kearns
Okay it's not the audio cd version of the book, but that was all I could find. He gets really into depth with evolution of both the body and the brain and for some it could get a little overwhelming... but it is a short book unlike say Jared Diamond who he refers to several times... so it is much easier to digest the information... so far... not finished yet but hard to put it down. Might be because I am finding so much of it relevant to my work at the moment.
Awesome, incredible and thoroughly i
...more
Jenn
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
Amazon reviews I agree with on this one… “After chapter six, the book unravels…”, “meandering, free-association ramble…”, and “a collection of unfocused essays about miscellaneous topics.”

I really enjoyed the first few chapters. He really gave some great examples of how and why we go on auto-pilot sometimes and end up making bad decisions (or lack of decisions, since we are on auto-pilot). There was a great section on unintended, unforeseen consequences. But after that, the book veered into the
...more
Nan
Aug 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Author Laurence Gonzales would find many of the Goodreads reviews amusing, as they illustrate his point that our mental models prevent us from seeing things as they really are. When people complain that they didn't like the book because it was different from what they thought it would be, they are exhibiting the rigidness of thought that so often endangers us. True, the title seems to indicate that the book will be about individual decisions, when in reality it relates to global, corporate, huma ...more
Joe
Jun 29, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Since the base theme of the book seemed to be the universe moving toward entropy, I was hoping the epilogue would let us in on the tongue-in-cheek joke that this book was really a great example of entropy. But no luck, I suggest it should be renamed 'Great thoughts and ideas reduced to random nonsense all in no particular order'

en·tro·py
noun
2. lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.
Susie
Jan 02, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wednesday-group
There were some interesting parts to this book - but the author wandered and then half-heartedly makes the case that we really have to do something about the environment before it's too late. Still not exactly sure what the whole point was except to show how smart he was and stories about his father and his microscope.
Kathy Loden
Nov 16, 2009 rated it it was ok
Its not everyday that the back cover description of a book has absolutely nothing to do with its content.
Ap
Mar 10, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chapter 1

interesting. The book is about the behavioral scripts we create through action -- how to tie a shoe, how to drive, how to act/re-act in certain situations. We create these scripts so that we can go on auto-pilot during these times. However, auto-pilot can be dangerous. He uses a lot of examples and has an overarching anecdote for each chapter.

Auto-piloted scripts enforce learned behaviors -- for example, if someone cuts you off in city traffic, you may have to cut the wheel to avoid hit
...more
Edward
Jan 04, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: survival
Giving this three stars, as it was well-researched, but I went into the book thinking it would be more about mental models for decision-making under stress and survival. It started off on this topic and was really fascinating, but then switched gears to evolution and the cosmos and I started losing interest as well as any sense of coherence to what most interested me.
Don
Aug 30, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written and with a clear moral to the story. Unfortunately I was expecting something more along the lines of a zombie apocalypse preparation book. This book gets somewhat preachy creating a world-view based on the natural cycle of the cosmos and dipping into the metaphysical.
Daniel Riley
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great
Elise
Feb 28, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
One star is a rating I save for books not worth finishing. I got 77% through and I'm all done. When the author stayed on topic it was great. The rest read like a journal or an autobiography. I'm not very interested in autobiographies.
David
Apr 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this book on a pocket "Playaway" device, which is for those of you who are not familiar with this, a self-contained digital player which you listen to using earbuds. Our library now has quite a collection of them, and they are nice and useful because you can take them with you wherever you go, like a CD player, but they are much smaller and unobtrusive. The device is smaller and thinner than a pack of cigarettes. I picked up this book knowing nothing about it but wanting something ...more
Adam
Dec 25, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Not anyone really unless you're really into the idea of entropy which is discussed at length!
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Huh!? I'm confused as to what happened here.

After reading Gonzales other book, Deep Survival, I was excited at the prospect of an equally informative and interesting read. Unfortunately, Everyday Survival turned out to be neither of those.

I was enticed by the books subtitle 'Why Smart People Do Stupid Things,' believing that the content would to some degree address human fallibility, a topic that tickles the interest of the psychologist in me. While the book started out down this path, addressin
...more
Paula
Mar 20, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I haven't started this yet but checked out the audio book to listen to this week as I drive eight hundred some miles (for work).

Update:
I listened to all eight cds of this book, though I would've been content to stop after the first two. My biggest complaint is that the title is misleading; my guess is that it was dictated by the publisher as a title that will sell more books (it's catchy & interesting, right? moreso than 'Basic Principles of Natural Law Physics, A Concise Summary and Study o
...more
Sue
Nov 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Having read and enjoyed his other book, "Deep Survival", I'd hoped that this one would be more along the same lines, full of examples of just what the title says--smart people doing stupid things. And initially it did give a couple of instances, along with theories into why those sorts of decisions happen all the time. But he quickly abandoned that and, just as his description of cave exploration in one of the last chapters demonstrates, the author goes deeper and deeper into a very winding path ...more
Cooper
Sep 04, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I only gave this book three stars (a "like" rating) because of the direction it took. Since I had already decided to read the book I avoided reading reviews in order to prevent from having any pre-formed ideas. I'm glad I didn't because I probably would have skipped this one.

I started the book with the notion that we would learn why everyone makes stupid mistakes, regardless of their amount of training or knowledge. I found many of the anecdotes interesting and his take on entropy very deep. Wha
...more
Barb
Dec 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wednedsay-group
The title is somewhat misleading, but, other than that I really liked this book. I love to think of myself as an energy transport channel designed to balance the entropy gap. Or that my body contains at least one atom from everything that lived and died more than 1,000 years ago. And that every bit of new learning changes all our knowledge, literally changes our brain and who we are. Gonzales points out that humans are subject to natural laws with rules that can't be broken and costs that must b ...more
Michael Brown
Jun 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
“One of our great hopes is, if we can change our thinking enough right now to become selfless and to be willing to [make:] some sacrifices in our lives, then we can bring our children along with us, then we can help them to move forward into a future that looks pretty good. If we don’t change the way in which we think and aren’t willing to sacrifice in the present moment, then they may face a pretty bleak future and that’s a very sad thing.”

The first 5 or 6 chapters seem in line with the title o
...more
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62 followers
Laurence Gonzales is the author of Surviving Survival and the bestseller Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. He has won two National Magazine Awards. His essays are collected in the book House of Pain.
More about Laurence Gonzales
“But what is the way forward? I know what it isn't. It's not, as we once believed, plenty to eat and a home with all the modern conveniences. It's not a 2,000-mile-long wall to keep Mexicans out or more accurate weapons to kill them. It's not a better low-fat meal or a faster computer speed. It's not a deodorant, a car, a soft drink, a skin cream. The way forward is found on a path through the wilderness of the head and heart---reason and emotion. Thinking, knowing, understanding.” 26 likes
“Bureaucracies force us to practice nonsense. And if you rehearse nonsense, you may one day find yourself the victim of it.” 13 likes
More quotes…