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Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  323 ratings  ·  52 reviews
We all make bad decisions. It's part of being human. The resulting mistakes can be valuable, the story goes, because we learn from them. But do we? Historian Zachary Shore says no, not always, and he has a long list of examples to prove his point.From colonialism to globalization, from gender wars to civil wars, or any circumstance for which our best solutions backfire, Sh ...more
Pasta dura, 260 pages
Published October 28th 2008 by Bloomsbury Pub Plc USA (first published January 1st 2008)
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Nov 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book got me thinking of my own mental framework. Particularly, exposure anxiety and the masks we wear to “to keep the world from knowing about the pain and struggle inside.” After reading, I rededicated myself to building an open mind.

To succeed as a historian, you must become acutely sensitive to how other people think, to discover why they did something in the first place.

Douglas Feith, assistant to the US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was one of the principal architects of the USA w
Apr 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's a certain kind of person who falls for books with covers like 'Blunder - Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions'. Alas, I am one of those people who am powerless to pass it by. Even if I had been able to resist the cover, I could not resist buying this book after reading page 1 ("By age 35, Thomas Alva Edison stood at the peak of his career.")

With all that magnetism, I still approach books like this with trepidation. In this case I enjoyed the book all the way to the end. Although Shore doe
Mar 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shore did not convince me that the lessons we can learn from his stories will help us avoid blunders. His subtitle says that Blunder will tell us "Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions." I'm not sure that the book does that.

Shore does present some theories on that score. He talks about "causefusion," his coined word for confusion about causation. He talks about "infomisering" and "infoavoiding," two more coined words for keeping too much secret and for ignoring inconvenient truths. He talks about
Jan 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book about cognitive traps, especially touching on international development failures and how each situation has to be approached in a unique way, and must be understood from many perspectives. The developed world doesn't have all of the answers.
Feb 08, 2015 rated it did not like it
The author says that he will try to teach you think or at least help you avoid some of the common logical mistakes. And then he makes one, almost at the beginning of the book when describing one of the psychological counseling therapy. If he did not venture in the area which was not his domain, I might have believed him. However, as I am a psychologist I know exactly that his description of the health problems and his conclusions, especially the conclusion based on a simple event which may be in ...more
Nick Huntington-Klein
Apr 05, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2011
Terrible, terrible, completely content-free book. Here, I'll sum it up in one sentence:

"Bad decisions are those that turn out badly, good decisions are those that turn out well."

All of the terms and labels that are supposed to identify bad decision-making are vague enough to essentially translate to "don't make bad decisions." Frequently in the later chapters he'll be describing how someone made a great decision by avoiding the pitfall Shore is currently describing while in the back of your head
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book sounds like it'd be self-help-ish, and teach you ways to overcome cognition-traps. It doesn't really do that, so much as it shows examples of cognition traps and how they've played out throughout history. It's not a how-to, but it does present the opportunity to learn from history. After all, it is written by a historian.
Ryan Carney
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This guy is good. Awesome read about common pitfalls and the root cause behind bad decisions. Basically a book about psychology from a historians perspective with lots of examples that psychologists dont typically give.
Thomas W. Scott
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Required q Reading?

This exposure of how we can avoid bad decisions is critical to success. The examples are some of the most vexing problems we face politically in the US. À
Nikolina Radosevic
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Book made me reconsider my way of thinking😊at the end everything points to psychology - vanity, stubbornness, insecurity...
Jan 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: white
Subtitle: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions.

The author is a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, and also at UC Berkeley. Obviously a man with a foot in two different worlds. Also, an historian with a deep knowledge of the history of blunders down through the ages. For this book, he categorizes them into several broad categories. It's kind of like a taxonomy of stupid decisions.

Here's a bit of a spoiler: this book is about the war in Iraq and how we got into
Jul 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
I don't want to seem like a loose type of lady, but not even a few pages in I was ready to take this delectable book to bed and get busy (you know you read in bed too, I'm not the only book slut here).

Opening the book with the perilous err of Thomas Edison in not listening to his employee by the name Nikola Tesla (you may have heard of him) sparks (twat a pun!) it off with some historical drama and doesn't look back. Mr Shore I may be taking you(r) books to bed more often if this keeps up.

May 24, 2010 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading Blunder, with a few exceptions. I don't really like when authors make up terms when it isn't necessary. The chapter "Causefusion" left me confused. It was not clear to me whether the examples of treating depressive disorders using interactive roleplay was seen by Shore as helpful or not, and whether or not he felt it led to a deeper understanding of the "causes" of depression.
I enjoyed the other chapters much more where Shore used examples from history, obviously something he
Mar 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is well written, specific and easy to follow.

It talks about cognition traps faced by competent people, like blind spots and choking and not because of lack of skill/expertise. I think everyone suffers from them. There are (a) exposure anxiety (b) causation confusion (c) flatview (d) cure-allism (e) infomania (f) mirror imaging and (g) static cling.

I would think the book deserves 5 stars if only the author talks more on the solution part, which he modestly calls guidelines (jam-packed
Mar 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this. Fairly short, it is an engaging and easy read and is truly excellent in some parts. It is written for a general audience - and obviously targeted to the type of people that are reading a lot of Gladwell et al. - but uses a number of historical examples, mixed with cases from other fields. I may be the exception, but I would love to see this book written for a more limited audience, in a more academic form, with deeper consideration of historical cases. I think that would look som ...more
Feb 09, 2009 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Richard by: KQED Forum
Shelves: nonfiction, cognition
Zachary Shore, author of Blunder (Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions), was interviewed along with Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide, on KQED's Forum. An archived podcast of the interview is available here.

Tim Gapinski
Jan 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is written by a historian but it reads more like a self-help book. That makes it interesting in and of itself. The book is not simple to apply, but I can say it has helped me not to overreact to things, but it also makes me wonder if I have been idle to long. Its a book about real world wisdom that is a little disappointing because you feel like its to complicated to apply easily. Yet that is also where the wisdom of the book is found. In the fact that real wisdom does not come easily ...more
Agile Kindergarten
Feb 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
Identifies 7 cognition traps such as Exposure Anxiety (peer pressure), Flat World View (you don’t know what you don't know) and Cure Allism (it worked before, it will work again). Spotlighting and labeling thought patterns that lead to failure is valuable analysis, but since no one in the midst of making such an error of logic or judgement easily recognizes his own faulty reasoning, I think it would be more valuable to discuss how to not go down those beaten paths. The author states the obvious ...more
Krishna Kumar
May 18, 2015 rated it liked it
“Blunder” is a book about “cognition traps”, which are mental conditions that prevent us from understanding a situation clearly and lead us into making wrong decisions. In contrast to most books of this type, the author has taken many examples from geopolitics instead of relying only on business stories.

But I am not really sure that even if we know about cognition traps, we can prevent ourselves from being trapped by them. There will always be blind spots caused by our belief systems and the peo
Apr 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Another book I read because my husband had to read the book for class. I ended up reading it and giving him a summary. The author was his professor. I really enjoyed this book. I'm not much into reading histories and non-fiction, however I enjoyed how much I learned about history from this book. This book takes the way people think and make judgements and explains them in an historical setting. This is a great discussion book. While the author gives many history lessons explaining how people ten ...more
Nov 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: put-down
I enjoyed the theories behind this book -- the different reason why things went horribly wrong. I loved the ancient history and the more current history. What I didn't like, and the reason I am just two or three chapters from the end, is that each chapter takes on the exact same structure. The first sentence in the first paragraph in each chapter serves the same purpose; so does the second; so does the third. The problem changes, of course, but I need something fresh and creative to keep my atte ...more
Jan 20, 2010 rated it liked it
I enjoyed listening to this book while walking to and from work and hearing some interesting perspectives on mistakes important historical figures have made, basically because they couldn't change their way of thinking. "Cause-fusion," "mirror-imaging," "cognition traps," "infovoiding," etc. have inflicted some great blunders (Edison's distrust of AC, both Saddam Hussein's fall from power and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Vietnam). Shore also focuses on some blunders avoided (the king of Siam).

It w
Jan 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
So far I haven't read any books on human error I haven't liked. Blunder is no less absorbing for me than any of the others. It is different from the others I've read, in that the author is a historian rather than a psychologist or journalist. I like Shore's approach and style. Part near the end discussing U.S. Administration blunders entering and handling the war in Iraq may seem overtly partisan / political to some. Overall an excellent book that I would give 5 stars to except for parts of the ...more
May 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Actually quite and interesting history book. Mr. Shore identifies seven "cognition traps" that cause bad decisions and uses historical events to show their impact. The cognition traps were a bit vague and repetitive for my liking. They seemed to have a hindsight is 20/20 feeling to them. That part of the book seems to boil down to, "Have an open mind". The history on the other hand was quite enjoyable. For a person who was never that interested in history in school, the historical events describ ...more
Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Two words: cognition traps. Read this book and you'll most likely recognize many of these traps in your own thinking or in that of those around you. This book can be a part of the path towards awareness of the traps, and thus possibly allow you to avoid the problems they bring on. It's an easy, fast read with numerous good, short vignettes that illustrate the author's various traps. Recommended.
Deborah Alvarez
Good info historically and militarily, but I was expecting something different in terms of personal relationships. This is geared more to a political world-view assessment. I don't seem to fall into any of the cognitive traps this book espouses, but some people might be able to find themselves in this book.
Danella Shea
Aug 10, 2011 rated it liked it
This wasn't so much a book to help a person avoid future blunders, but rather a book of hindsight. It looked at people, situations and quite a few moments in our history and explained the blunder after the fact. The author invented several psycho-babble-y type words to explain the circumstances leading to the blunder but I still found it entertaining.
Jul 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great book, it was one of many books we did discussed  at a ( critical class) but by all means it was the best. I had the honor to see the author of this book wandering through the school campus. A blind man help us to see and discover the bias around us or in his tactful words why smart poeple make bad decisions 
Dec 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a great book about cognitive traps in which humans often find themselves. It uses great historic examples to illustrate when people fell prey to them or managed to avoid them. It is a great book for anybody looking to become more aware of their thoughts and actions.
Kater Cheek
May 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
This book was a nice refresher course in certain areas of psychology, confirmation bias among them, but the author doesn't come up with any brilliantly original ideas. If psychology fascinates you, you will find this book interesting, but it does drag a little in the middle.
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Zachary Shore is Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Studies, University of California, Berkeley. He previously served on the Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State through an International Affairs Fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations. He has also worked as a National Security ...more

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“Expertise in any given single area is not enough to guarantee either prudent policies or the avoidance of blunders.” 1 likes
“While theories are a necessary aspect of planning, their true danger comes when we forget how often individuals, businesses, and nations defy the prototypes we assign them.” 1 likes
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