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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  5,875 ratings  ·  520 reviews
In the tradition of The Wisdom of Crowds and Predictably Irrational comes Being Wrong, an illuminating exploration of what it means to be in error and why homo sapiens tend to tacitly assume (or loudly insist) that they are right about almost everything. Kathryn Schulz, editor of Grist magazine, argues that error is the fundamental human condition and should be celebrated ...more
Hardcover, 339 pages
Published June 8th 2010 by Ecco
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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Will Byrnes
I have a very strong memory of the day my youngest was born. I can still summon the piercing scent of puddled broken water in a middle room of the second floor of our house. Problem is that my daughter was born before we moved into that house. Yet I, and hopefully everyone else who comes up short in a quest for perfection, can take solace from this outstanding book.

Kathryn Schulz - image from TED

Schulz coins the term “wrongology” as a tag for her view that being wrong can, in the scheme of thin
Jun 30, 2010 rated it it was ok
I am not a particularly violent person. But there were so many places in this book where I wanted to sit the author down, smack her briskly and scream at her "What were you thinking? It started with the very first word in the book, freshly minted for the occasion by the author. You read it and experience an involuntary recoil of revulsion at the sheer tin-eared ugliness of it. For God's sake, Kathryn Schulz, please don't title your opening chapter "Wrongology". If the first word in your book alr ...more
Oct 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved this book, which really does uncover the extent to which we deny our mistakes and how much we would gain by admitting them, at least to ourselves. There is also an art to understanding that doubt is good so long as it does not paralyze us.

The author found that when she told people that she was writing about mistakes, they all said: 'Oh I have made tons of mistakes in my life'. She would reply: 'Oh it would really help my research if you could tell me about a few of them.' And
Schultz' review of H is for Hawk in the New Yorker magazine this spring really made me take notice not only of Macdonald's book but also of the art of reviewing. Schultz's review was as gorgeous and thoughtful as Macdonald's book. I set out to see what else Schultz wrote.

I really like Schultz' premise on this one: we feel badly when we make mistakes, but everyone does it. As Schultz points out, before Descartes ("I think, therefore I am") was St. Augustine ("I err, therefore I am" or "To err is
Thomas Edmund
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
At the time I grabbed it, Being Wrong was just an interest book in my non-fiction wishlist, something that I would little away a few minutes on Kindle when waiting at the bus-stop, for dinner, or for friends to show up.

Before I knew it I was jumping into the world of "Wrongology" for my daily fix. In her own words Schulz did not want to write an encyclopedia of Wrong, meaning the book isn't simply a long laundry list of different examples or major incidents of wrongness throughout history. Rathe
Oct 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
This is really a must-read. Do you realize how little we can trust ourselves to perceive the truth? This is a great analysis of how we get things wrong, why it matters, and why errors can be a good thing in the journey of life. Plus, its analysis of Hamlet is spot on. I mean, if the only evidence of murder you have is a ghost's message, don't you think you'd better try to vet the facts a bit before taking justice in your own hands?-g
May 29, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: first-reads
Being Wrong. Kathryn Schulz. 2010. Ecco. 400 pages. ISBN 9780061176043.

Being Wrong is an exploration of how and why making errors is a crucial, natural and necessary component of being human, and how we must embrace being wrong to grow as people.

Falling into the psychology versus scientific realm, Being Wrong provides an interesting history of wrongness using numerous examples of pop-culture incidents; if you can consider an intricate look at being wrong an interesting subject, that is.

Michael Perkins
Apr 13, 2016 rated it liked it
I read the book and then watched her TED talk. I would rarely say this about a book, but her TED encapsulates her central insights. The rest of the author's book felt like padding. The quote below is from her TED talk.


"Think for a moment about what it means to feel right. It means that you think that your beliefs just perfectly reflect reality. And when you feel that way, you've got a problem to solve, which is, how are you going to ex
Jul 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Interesting how polarizing this book is. I think an open mind and a willingness to be wrong are helpful as you read; there's a lot to be gotten from the psychological delving. An excellent examination of the psychological and physiological aspects of "being wrong." The first 1/2-2/3 of the book are dedicated to explaning WHY we are wrong, and why we usually think we are right! The rest of the book talks about acknowledging when we are wrong and why being wrong can is a good thing, and indeed an ...more
Jack Hart
Feb 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: decision-theory
This is, to my way of thinking, an extraordinary book about a great topic. Although, if you're not an intellectually ambitious person the book may seem to have, as several Good Reads reviewers opined, too damn many words.

But I like Kathryn Schulz's prose. She knows her western canon and cites it deftly. In the course of elaborating her ideas about the experience of wrongness she'll even uncover a novel point here and there about the literature and philosophy she so clearly loves.

I also like tha
Sep 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Psychology Geeks
Recommended to Julianna by: Foothills Book Club
Reviewed for THC Reviews
If not for it being our latest book club read, I’m not sure I would have picked up Being Wrong on my own, not because it didn’t sound interesting (it did and was one of my top picks among the choices we voted for this month), but because I may not have found it without someone else bringing it to my attention. It’s simply not the type of book that probably would have come up in my day-to-day browsing of reading recommendations. But I can’t deny that it ended up being a ve
Robin Tobin (On the back porch reading)
My Nerdy Brain Loved Pondering discussions in this Read.....
My copy of BEING WRONG: ADVENTURES IN THE MARGIN OF ERROR was a gift -- a Goodreads giveaway. My being wrong -- occasionally, frequently, perhaps consistently -- is a "gift" from our Creator and/or my creators. The ways in which I experience being wrong are probably also "gifts" from my creators, teachers, friends, et al. As a parent, I have passed on the "gift" of intermittent or perpetual wrongness and promoted certain reactions to being wrong. When my son was a young child, he would respond t ...more
Feb 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Think about the last time you were wrong. Can you remember it? I could, after taking some time to think about it. I thought my car had been stolen, and had reported it stolen, before I realized that I'd left it in the parking lot of a nearby Safeway and walked home with my groceries by mistake. I wonder if the police dispatchers still laugh at that one, or if the incident's been replaced in their memories by others like it that happen a dozen times a day.

That's one story of my being wrong. I hav
George Musser
Nov 24, 2010 rated it liked it
A worthwhile read that gives me much to think about in my own life. Schulz's broad point is that the fear of committing an error is often worse than the error itself -- it fills us with a fear of exploration and prevents us from acknowledging, correcting, and learning from our mistakes. The risk of error is often a necessary tradeoff for creativity and growth. I think Schulz convincingly makes her case.  I vow to ease up on screwups, whether mine or others'. To err is human; to forgive, humane.

Elizabeth Hunter
Sep 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
I found Being Wrong slow going, not because I wasn't enjoying it--although I do think that the first couple of chapters are the most dense--but because I needed to stop and digest and think about how what Schulz says resonates with my own experiences.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book, was Schulz' examination and concise rendering of questions I've often pondered. She looks at why we're wrong so often, why we have trouble admitting that and go to great lengths to stay on the "right
Ryan Holiday
Jun 22, 2012 rated it liked it
I should have liked this more than I did. Having sat on it a bit, I kept going back to thinking how much I like the author. The book's a bit long at times and redundant, and I don't think it's organized well, but it's the right kind of book. There's actually a saying in the The Present Alone is Our Happiness: Interviews with Pierre Hadot -- that real philosophical dialog sets out to form rather than inform. That's what this book does. Most of these psychology books try to teach you a bunch of st ...more
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
I really thought I was going to like this. I guess I was...
Jun 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Over many years I have grappled with the related issues of error, ignorance, and uncertainty. When measured against what there is to know, what we humans do in fact know is in the order of zero-point-several zeroes. No matter how well-read, well-traveled, or well-informed we think we are, our ignorance is immense. We have to make decisions – most trivial, many of them life-changing, a few of them life-and-death – based on a trifling amount of information, the vast majority second- or third-han ...more
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow! I've read quite a few books about being wrong (e.g. Don't Believe Everything you Think, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), How We Know What Isn't So, You Are Not So Smart), now that I look at it, but this one, focusing on the *experience* of being wrong and how it feels, is my favorite so far. Part of it is that I identify closely with the author's description of what being wrong is like, and part is the author's philosophical discussion about why being wrong is human, even essential to be ...more
Jun 03, 2011 rated it liked it
I consider myself the consummate fuckup. Even when I succeed in accomplishing something difficult, once the warmth of self-congratulatory celebration dissipates I can’t help thinking about every screw up and each way they’ll likely weigh me down during the course of my life the rest of my life and preclude me from divinity and the promises of pennies from heaven. I know a lot of people who think like this while we know that this manner of thinking is stupid and counterproductive, every time we t ...more
Interesting but also dry. Hard for me to concentrate on the philosophical parts of the first 1/3rds of the book.
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent tour through why we err and how we convince ourselves that we didn't, don't, and never will. The science is well-explained, the quotes and anecdotes are perfectly picked, the philosophy is thoughtful and down-to-earth, and the focus on positive sides of error is inspiring.

Notes and quotes for future me:
p.3 quoting Moliere: "It infuriates me to be wrong when I know I'm right."

p.4 "A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about ba
This book focused on many of the heuristics detailed in Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. Like David McRaney, in his book You Are Not So Smart, Schulz is a bit more relatable than Kahneman, which makes the study of heuristics (fallible thinking), easier to digest. Unlike McRaney, Schulz does a much better job of making arguments that do not fall prey to the very heuristics being argued against. She got tripped up a few times, in that her argument for one thing could just as easily have b ...more
Chris Walker
Mar 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Great stuff. This is what writers are for. To set down in language what you feel but can't necessarily enunciate well yourself. Take this example: "Fortunately, we don't get stuck in this place of pure wrongness very often. And we don't get stuck there via the collapse of small or medium-size beliefs. We get stuck there when we are really wrong about really big things - beliefs so important and far-reaching that we can neither easily replace them nor easily live without them. If our trivial beli ...more
Sep 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
I don't know about you but I'm rarely, if ever, wrong. No, really! I'm almost always right and the same is probably true of you. As Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong; Adventures in the Margin of Error, explains, it's almost hardwired in humans to dislike being mistaken. Being wrong, even about minor things, makes almost everyone so incredibly, throughly uncomfortable that we often can't admit to ourselves that we've made a mistake. Yet, being wrong is also a key to growth and essential to ou ...more
Nicole Lisa
May 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, non-fiction
This is an excellent read on how we go wrong, how we think about and react to going wrong, and about the place wrongness has in Western society.

The optical illusions are great. I had to print them out and cut them up myself to believe that my eyes were lying.

The brief mention of autism has not aged well and the author chose to include the racist slurs in quotes which I just felt was unnecessary since we all know what those slurs are in the context of the KKK.

I would have been interested to see
Jun 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Two truths readily acknowledged: being right feels oh so good, and being wrong feels just awful. Nuff said? No! As it turns out, there's a lot more to be said, and Ms. Schulz says it quite elegantly, entertainingly, and movingly.

With examples ranging from the mundane to the tragic, she carefully explains precisely how errors come about and why we feel about them as we do. Along the way, she makes the point that error not only has the capability to embarrass us, but also can have the power to te
Raj Agrawal
May 23, 2016 rated it liked it
An exploration of wrongness as the essence of the human condition -- something that not only should be expected, but embraced as a central tenant of life. Takes Kuhn, Kahneman, and Jervis a step further into practical discussion and brainstorming.

While the author often takes self-involved tangents on occasion, this book must be included in the discussion of bias, error, and decision making. Reading this book takes some patience since the author explores in and around her thoughts regarding "wro
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Amsterdam Nonfiction: You're probably wrong *right now* 1 7 Feb 23, 2016 01:42AM  

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Kathryn Schulz is a journalist, author, and public speaker with a credible (if not necessarily enviable) claim to being the world's leading wrongologist. Her freelance writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, TIME Magazine, the Boston Globe, the "Freakonomics" blog of The New York Times, The Nation, Foreign Policy, and the New York Times Book Review, among other publicat ...more

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33 likes · 10 comments
“To err is to wander and wandering is the way we discover the world and lost in thought it is the also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying but in the end it is static a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling and sometimes even dangerous but in the end it is a journey and a story. Who really wants to stay at home and be right when you can don your armor spring up on your steed and go forth to explore the world True you might get lost along get stranded in a swamp have a scare at the edge of a cliff thieves might steal your gold brigands might imprison you in a cave sorcerers might turn you into a toad but what of what To fuck up is to find adventure: it is in the spirit that this book is written.” 47 likes
“...[W]hen we make mistakes, we shrug and say that we are human. As bats are batty and slugs are sluggish, our own species is synonymous with screwing up.” 17 likes
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