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How Risky Is It, Really?: Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  171 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Do you worry more about radiation from nuclear power or from the sun?

Are you more afraid of getting cancer than heart disease?

Are you safer talking on your cell phone or using a hands-free device when you drive?

Do you think global warming is a serious threat to your health?


International risk expert D
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published March 1st 2010 by McGraw-Hill Education
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Erik Dewey
Nov 23, 2015 rated it liked it
A fascinating read on how we measure risk both from a physiological and psychological view point. I really enjoyed reading about the actual biochemical reactions that were going on inside my brain when I suddenly need to determine the risk of things around me. Along the way there are little quizzes you take before a new concept is introduced so you have a data personal to you to see how you fare.

One thing I found was that the chapters were abnormally long. I think there were only five or six cha
Nov 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This was a very interesting book! I found myself talking to my husband and family about it, and questioning my own beliefs about risk.
Alan K
Apr 04, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Half a Book

A very good discussion of the subtitle (why our fears don't always match the facts). A little weak in the "how risky is it really" .And for good reason. Because a person's reaction to risk is rarely based on "good reason" but rather on the welter of emotions that prove that whoever stuck the word "sapiens" on our species was either sorely mistaken or had an incredible sense of humor.

The book was a mostly enjoyable,informative read on risk PERCEPTION. And it makes the strong point that
Alan Kolok
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
How Risky is it really, is a pragmatist's approach toward risk perception. I found myself bending the corners of page after page, underlying sentences and writing notes in the columns. We are not social animals that survive on intellect alone, but rather are influenced by both intellect and our reptilian brain, our old friend the amygdala.

For me personally, I thought that the approach, with all of the self-evaluation inserts (think, Idiot's guide to risk perception) was a bit much, particularly
Arthur Thomas
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Perfect reading for the days of Covid-19

This was published in 2010 yet it is timely. We aren't grappling with HIV/AIDS, SARS, MERS, or Ebola but something similar. An infectious disease that is hard to detect, kills, and is new to our experiences.

He examines the many factors that influence our decisions. Some are beneficial while others are not depending on the circumstances. Ropeik goes beyond presenting sources of interference in our thinking but offers ways to deal with them effectively.

Volodymyr Melnyk
Feb 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What a book and what perfect timing to read it! Briefly, based on the physiology of our brain (primarily the affective response of the amygdala), the author writes that our risk perception is rather questionable. In other words, we tend to diminish risks around us should we feel be in control of a situation (e.g. driving and speaking on the phone), should our choice be voluntary (e.g. smoking), should we find benefits for us (sunbathing), should something be more comprehensive to us (burning fos ...more
Angela Ablaberdieva
Mar 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fast-moving book on human risk-perception. Very reader-friendly, definitely not a scientific tome. The most interesting/useful part was the section on Risk Perception Factors. After that, though, I felt the narrative stagnated a bit. This book was a good read overall, and it put a lot of the recent talk about COVID-19 in perspective. Recommended for anyone who wants to think more critically about the way they perceive and act on risk.
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I got this book before I had even heard about COVID-19. It's a little over 10 yrs old, but it holds up well because it explores how and why we perceive some things as safe and some as scary, and that these perceptions are so often flawed. It explains the science behind this while acknowledging that feelings are important too. ...more
We underestimate risk, when expecting success, and overestimate it, when have fear.
Practical book.
Feb 22, 2017 rated it liked it
I bought this book for a contract involving risk management, and wound up rather enjoying its conversational explanation of what risk is and how we experience it.

I particularly like knowing that we freakout before we think. Ropeik ran through the physiology and chemistry of fear and it was riveting. We humans are programmed to freak out unless we do some big work to overcome it.

So yes, most things may not be as risky as we think. Fun read if you're into this sort of thing.
Nick Lo
Feb 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
I persevered as much as I could but ultimately couldn't finish this book. For that reason I'd probably have given it 1 star if the subject itself wasn't interesting.

As mentioned by other reviewers here, there is a noticeable amount of repetition, but that bothered me less than the feeling that the conversation tended to ramble a lot of the time. The book really needed to be better organised and by that I mean with more than just headings and titles. After about the first third, it just starts t
Jan 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
React fast, think later. According to the scientific research Ropeik cites in this useful book, human brains are designed to respond quickly to perceived danger, before there's time to rationally consider what the real risks of the situation are. What served us well in the age of the saber tooth tiger is not as useful for making informed decisions in the modern world, plus all those fight, flight or freeze chemicals streaming through our nervous system create their own health risk. The heart of ...more
Sep 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
getAbstract Book Review: How Risky Is It, Really?

This lively, honest book is a pleasure to read and easy to digest. Journalist David Ropeik demystifies the common mental and social mechanisms humans use to evaluate danger. He explains how people often misrepresent and misunderstand possibly perilous circumstances and tells you how to weigh potential risk more accurately. Some explanations are too long and some “risk perception factors” are a bit similar, but, that noted, Ropeik’s many insights
Todd Martin
In How Risky Is It, Really? David Ropeik discusses why people perceive certain activities as risky and others less so. Fortunately, Ropeik has a keen eye for the obvious and lists such contributing factors as:
– our familiarity with the risk
– our control over the risk
– whether we trust the individuals/organizations involved in the risk
– cultural factors
– how the media communicates risk

My biggest irritation with the book is that it contains nothing that any reasonable person couldn’t have co
Feb 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
Weak. If there was one word to sum up the argument and delivery of the author's position, it would be "weak." The book was plagued by bad examples. Ropeik would present an idea, like "the Endowment Affect," explain it, say that people exhibit it, and then give an example. It all would seem to make sense and be convincing, but even with a little critical thought these sections fell apart, and the main unraveling came from his examples. The argument for a bounded rationality, risk mis-perception v ...more
Sherry Leffert
This book has something interesting to say but after having said it, repeats itself over and over. The point is that what we perceive as dangerous is often shaped by the media, by political point of view and by other factors and does not necessarily match the facts. This point is very worthwhile to understand but after that it is all repetition.
Oct 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
A good, basic introduction to the neurology and psychology of risk perception. It discusses risk perception in both individuals and society at large, and includes tips for both individuals and societies on how to understand our innate responses to fear, and how to incorporate that understanding into our discussions of, reactions to, and policies about risk.
Jan 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016
This is an excellent explanation of the mechanics our brains use to do risk assessment. In addition, the author identifies how people unknowingly rely on their personal opinions and experiences instead of objective information when assessing the existence or impact of a risk, especially in the long term.
Joe Ciola
The Grave Risk of Rationality Alone

To bring the "feelings" associated with risk to the conscious level is a giant step toward demystifying and dealing with rationality, feelings and risk. Acknowledging this reality is fundamental to healthy functioning individually and collectively.
Nov 26, 2015 rated it liked it
In the three months following the September 11 attacks, automobile fatalities rose by 11-34% (depending on which study you believe). Even though air travel, even on September 12, was/is statically safer than driving. But fear almost always wins out over facts, alas.

Some excellent information, but repetitive and over-long.
Nov 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: junk
The goal of this book is noble: counter balance the alarmist news. But the guy seems to be a journalist backed up only by a shallow read of Thinking, Fast and Slow. ...more
Oct 14, 2011 marked it as to-read
As heard on Point of Inquiry. ...more
Sep 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Great read. Definitely recommend.
Mattia Ferragina
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
Very interesting and readable insight into how human beings perceive reality around them and how, after all, we are not so different from animals in the way we take decisions.
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