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Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average
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Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  8,672 ratings  ·  337 reviews
We forget our passwords. We pay too much to go to the gym. We think we'd be happier if we lived in California (we wouldn't), and we think we should stick with our first answer on tests (we shouldn't). Why do we make mistakes? And could we do a little better?

We human beings have design flaws. Our eyes play tricks on us; our stories change in the retelling; and most of us ar
Hardcover, 221 pages
Published February 17th 2009 by Broadway (first published 2009)
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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Start your review of Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average
Nov 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Have you ever forgotten your pin number?
Have you gone upstairs to find something and forgotten what it was?
Have you been unable to find things in the stationary cupboard?
Do you recognise faces but cannot remember names?
Have you lost your Facebook password?
Are you allergic to instruction manuals or asking directions?

Then this is the book for you!

It's an absolutely fascinating and eye-opening account of what very inadequate creatures we are. Our fallibility and proneness to making mistakes i
Jun 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Trevor by: Lena Phoenix
I’ve spent the last three days reading parts of this book to whoever will listen or (perhaps more accurately) whoever is in earshot. This really is a wonderful book and I don’t think I can recommend it too highly, but let’s see.

If I read a book, as opposed to listen to an audio book, I tend to turn down the corners of pages that say something interesting – I decided early in this book to try not to over do this, as it became clear early on I would have to turn down virtually every page. This one

Why We Make Mistakes is an eye-opening shocker that may leave its most arrogant, self-assured readers a bit...traumatized. Actually, only the humblest of readers will close this book with their reality still intact. Journalist Joseph Hallinan asserts that we’re not nearly as perceptive, observant, unbiased, intelligent, and, well, a whole host of flattering things that we fancy ourselves to be--and he does so very convincingly.

This is one of those “you just have to read it” book
Mar 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Where to start?! I don’t enjoy self-help books, so I was reluctant to try this. I am very, very glad I did. I want to begin by thanking the two Carolines that both told me how very good the book is. I think everyone should read it. I think you will be surprised by how much it contains, by how valuable its content is.

I am against self-help books because so very often they just do not REALLY help. We continue doing the same things we have always done. It is hard to change patterns. It is hard to c
Mar 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Persons who wish to become less foolish
A survey of cognitive biases and other limitations of the human brain,
with references and bibliography. The conclusions:

* Take notes on your mistakes, so you can learn from them.

* Get a Devil's Advocate, even if you have to do it yourself.

* No, you aren't that good at multitasking. You really aren't.

* The plural of "anecdote" is not "data". The singular of "anecdote" is "advertising".

* Have someone without your habits check for mistakes.

* Get some sleep, damn it!

* Happy people are smarter.

* Bri
Books Ring Mah Bell
Science light.

Quick, interesting examples of how we humans manage to goof up on everything from selecting credit cards (one can be swayed by a pretty face to take that high interest rate!) to cutting off the wrong leg in surgery. (Overconfidence is a bitch!)

The author explains mysteries of life, such as, "why did I give that stripper so much more for that lap dance this week?" answer: she's in that fertile cycle, where she appears more lovely (and maybe even smells better too!)

He also explains
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This easy-to-read book, written by a journalist, summarizes a great many recent psychological studies revealing various deficiencies in people’s perceptions, memory, and judgment. Unfortunately, its analysis is shallow, it offers few suggestions for avoiding mistakes, and its logic is all too often flawed.

The Good:

1) Hallinan is familiar with many studies, which he describes in laymen’s terms and in a readable and concise manner. People need to know that we aren’t perfect: our memories are not
May 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Of the various books I've read on the quirks of human cognition and how they affect our lives, this is one of the most readable. Journalist Joseph Hallinan has a storyteller's ability to take some of the most interesting research on problems with how our brains process information and weave it into a very effective argument for why it's a really, really bad idea to try to text while driving.

Hallinan begins his book with a chapter titled "We Look But We Don't Always See," addressing how limitati
Jun 17, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"Behavioral Economics for Dummies" would be a suitable subtitle for this book. The author isn’t a researcher or expert on the topic, or even someone with a particular message, just a journalist looking for a book to write and a drawer full of antidotal tidbits related to behavioral economics. As a result, the book is a cursory survey of the field presented by way of somewhat amusing little stories. I felt like I was at the breakfast table listening to a spouse read off newspaper articles… “Here’ ...more
Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nook-book, science
I really enjoyed how this book highlighted the important points in bold. I will list a lot of these. The first chapter talks about how we see things. For example, when a purse is snatched from a women, men tend to notice the thief other women tend to notice the purse. Right handed people tend to look right and turn right when lost. Left handed people tend to turn left.

Movies make lots of mistakes that people rarely notice. That is because a movie is never shot in order. It is shot over weeks or
Feb 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2010
This book covers some of the same behavioral economics territory considered in such recent books as Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational" (, "Nudge" by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (, and the Bronfman brothers' "Sway" ( There is also significant overlap with Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson's excellent "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs ...more
Mar 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
This book is the same as this one (it just has a different title in some countries...)

Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average

More positive reviews can be found other the other title.
May 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Edit! Gotta tell you guys that Joeseph Hallinan is the nicest writer ever. I wrote and asked him about visual inspection errors, and he actually called me to tell about people doing research in that area I could get in contact with. THAT is above and beyond. How amazing is that?


Easy science read on why we make the kinds of mistakes we do. I thought it was excellently written, and the audiobook version was well done...though some of the 'try it yourself at home' quizzes don't translate as well
Jan 31, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There was some really fascinating stuff in here, but it wasn't as in-depth or thought-provoking as other similar books I've read (like "How We Know What Isn't So"). It was still well-researched and fairly informative though, especially for being such a light read. You could breeze through it in a weekend, and get plenty out of it. There are also fun tidbits and experiments (like testing your memory of what a penny looks like), and overall it was a good balance of dry facts and well-crafted insig ...more
May 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I took this book along to a doctor's office thinking it might be interesting. It may be post operative displacement, but this is a book that makes my heart glad, tickles my brain and stimulates the production and release of endorphins almost as much as a good bicycle ride. There's not much new to someone (like me) who has done a bit of reading in the field of human error, but the book is so well written and neatly documented that, for me, it's a pure intellectual pleasure so far. The author illu ...more
Oct 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Some interesting notions that are new to me. For example, strong vs weak signal (feedback). Phone's busy signal= strong feedback; future stock performance=weak feedback.
Lorin Kleinman
Jun 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Human beings have an interesting dilemma. Sanity, I suspect, hinges to some degree on believing ourselves to be right more often than not, on believing that what we see is actually there, and that what we remember actually happened. Unfortunately, we are very often wrong, about almost everything. In Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average, Joseph T. Hallinan entertainingly plumbs the depths of our errors.

In a st
Jan 08, 2013 rated it liked it
It was an interesting read. Here are the cliff notes: We don't see. When we actually do read, we only skim. Our memories are biased. "Hindsight is 20/20," it is actually a bad thing. We'd rather fail by inaction than action. Drs make a zillion mistakes (always get a 2nd opinion!). Feedback is a powerful way to shape human behavior...and not all for good. Warren Buffet learns from his mistakes (ie: buying Dexter Shoe Co.) - but most people don't. We don't become more informed over time - just ove ...more
Brian Saul
May 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting summary of countless studies on reasons we goof up. Part way through, I was beginning to believe there's no way to avoid making mistakes. Later on, I was reminded that one could learn from one's own mistakes, but it's infinitely better to learn from OTHERS' mistakes. Except that we, generally, don't. The author's conclusions: One can expect to make _fewer_ mistakes, but it involves several skills and techniques such as thinking small. "The tiniest little change in circumstance c ...more
Jan 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Why We Make Mistakes is such an eye-opener.

Unlike most non-fiction book this one's language was easy and explains for people of all kinds not those specialized in the domain or something, besides it had some fun parts here and there,well and tragic ones too.

SO why we make mistakes: because we are dumb! ......kidding (that's the crude thought i had before reading this book)
We,humans are fallible creatures due to the presence of DIFFERENT hard-wired Biases and other reasons i was more than glad
Marcos Malumbres
"Currency of life is not money, it is time". Final conclusion by the author. A very good conclusion although I have to say it has nothing to do with the rest of the text.

Anyway, a book full of examples of why we fail and trying to give the helpful advice that focusing to small thinks ("think small") will make us better at not failing. Some of the examples were familiar to me probably from other books. Anyway, an helpful read with some interesting experiments and good advices. I like the fact th
Duncan McLaren
Dec 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
Rather disappointing. Mainly a compilation of often sloppily described research by others; frequently asserting causality where the evidence only offers correlation; and often omitting so much that all that remains may as well be assertion. Easy to read, but ultimately poorly written.
Troy Blackford
Aug 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Entertaining look across a range of subjects and disciplines, all coordinating on how humankind makes various common mistakes. Entertaining synthesis of various topics.
Monica Willyard Moen
This is an interesting and well written book that stimulated many useful thoughts and insights for me. It may help people who are struggling to make decisions on many levels concerning the coronavirus and related issues like employment. This book was not written with the virus in mind, but it’s concepts can be very useful during this stressful time.
Jul 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Halliman covers a lot of biases and limitations that are inherent to our human perception and judgment, then suggests ways to lessen or counter these natural tendencies.

If you're new to this subject, you will be amazed at how flawed human perception and thought really are. How people like you and me are by nature inattentive, easily-influenced, and overconfident.

For good books on the same subject matter, see 『You Are Not So Smart』and 『The Invisible Gorilla』.
Jill Furedy
Having read several decision making books, like How to Decide and Sway, among others, I was a little disappointed in how many of the exact same studies were in this book, with nothing new to draw from them. Yet there were a number of footnotes that I thought...why didn't we hear more about that? Like a note that baby faced oeople are judged as less competent but tended to be more intelligent. And toward the end of the book, he throws in a Jet Blue story where they extended their flight crew's wo ...more
Aug 14, 2009 rated it liked it
Why We Make Mistakes takes an entertaining and sometimes amusing look at the peculiarities, quirks and limitations of the human mind.
We all know we do dumb things, and that we persist in doing dumb things even when we have every reason to know better. This book explains why. We don't pay attention. We don't read directions. We make snap judgments based on scant data. We think we know more than we do. Our eyes fool us.

While it's tempting to think that reading this book might reduce one's tenden
Jun 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Lots of ideas substantiated with data and studies... Depressed people see things realistically. Happy people think outside of the box. It is easier to not act than to act and make a mistake. The line to the left will almost always be shortest. We make decisions part from the gut and part from being rational-- the problem is when we make a smart decision we don't know how the decision was made. One way to improve the quality of your decisions is to document your decisions (i.e. not just why you c ...more
May 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I thought this book answered its title well. You do find out the many different reasons that we make mistakes. In fact, there are so many reasons for us to make mistakes, it's somewhat of a miracle that we actually get as much done correctly that we do. Hallinan also discusses how to take the knowledge of why we make mistakes and apply it so that we make less mistakes. I think this book should be required reading for organizations and companies where mistakes should be minimized -- hospitals, pa ...more
Aug 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Another in my series of easy, thought provoking reads which have included Blink, Outliers and this book to name a few. Here is what I learned:

1) Why men don't ask for directions (totally agree with this)
2) Why gamblers are overconfident (agree. again)
3) Who makes the most mistakes
4) There is no such thing as human multi-tasking

A fun, easy and informative book. Joseph Hallinan has a good sense of humor while still keeping things tight and moving. Unusually arranged and presented (jumped around it
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Joe Hallinan is a writer based in Chicago. He has written for many of the world's leading publications, including The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Sunday Times of London. His most recent book is Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception (Crown, 2014).

His previous book, Why We Make Mistakes (Broadway Books, 2009), was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.

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51 likes · 21 comments
“As a general principle, people feel more responsible for their actions than they do for their inactions. If we are going to err at something, we would rather err by failing to act.” 8 likes
“Nearly eighty years of research on answer changing shows that most answer changes are from wrong to right, and that most people who change their answers usually improve their test scores. One comprehensive review examined thirty-three studies of answer changing; in not one were test takers hurt, on average, by changing their answers. And yet, even after students are told of these results, they still tend to stick with their first answers. Investors, by the way, show the same tendencies when it comes to stocks. Even after learning that their reason for picking a stock might be wrong, they still tended to stick with their initial choice 70 percent of the time.” 2 likes
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