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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  6,300 ratings  ·  578 reviews
The bestselling history of and investigation into human error by beloved New Yorker writer Kathryn Schulz

“Both wise and clever, full of fun and surprise about a topic so central to our lives that we almost never even think about it.”
—Bill McKibben, author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
In the tradition of The Wisdom of Crowds and Predictably Irrational, Being
Paperback, 405 pages
Published January 4th 2011 by Ecco (first published June 8th 2010)
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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
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Daniel Chaikin
I wrote this 2014, and just came across it. It's one of favorite books. In my review there is a "things I learned" part that I think is very apt for today. So, sharing here on GR.

42. Being Wrong : Adventures in the Margin of Error (Audio) by Kathryn Schulz, read by Mia Barron (2010, 14 hours, 17 minutes, 420 pages in paper format, Read July 10-25)

I thought about my job the entire time I listened to this. Not sure that comes across as a compliment. It’s just that I’m wrong a lot. And this book ha
Oct 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
May 29, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Jul 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really thought I was going to like this. I guess I was...
Jack Hart
Feb 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
Jun 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a book!

One of those "easy reads" with regards to how it's written, the way the language flows easily, the sense of humor has me chucking more than once every chapter, and then at the same time, this is not an easy read, not at all.

If you truly read it, take in what Kathryn points at, this is definitely a game-changing book (that is, it has the potential to be, if you let it. But it requires one thing from you: a willingness to be wrong, and admit to it, at that!)!

My full review here:
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Sanjeev Mishra
Jul 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would give this 4.5 stars but it doesn't look like that's an option. Really amazing and insightful, and honestly helped me to breathe a little easier with uncertainty and overpowering wonder of the universe. Life is more pleasant when you lighten your death grip on your little theories and beliefs. Only would take a way a half star because of some weird takes like attributing the ongoing Iraq War to being too mean to war hawks and the part near the end that goes to bat too hard for settler dem ...more
Dec 18, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Manages to be fascinating and dead boring at the same time.
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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Amsterdam Nonfiction: You're probably wrong *right now* 1 8 Feb 23, 2016 11:42AM  

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Kathryn Schulz is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of Lost & Found, forthcoming from Random House on January 11, 2022. She won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Magazine Award in 2015 for “The Really Big One,” an article about seismic risk in the Pacific Northwest. Lost & Found grew out of “Losing Streak,” which was originally published in The New Yorker and later anthologized in The ...more

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“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.” 50 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.” 18 likes
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