Douglas Sherk's Reviews > Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian
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Aug 12, 2016

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Read 2 times. Last read April 3, 2017 to April 29, 2017.

Algorithms to Live By, as its title implies, is an exploration of the intersections of computer science and human decision-making. It excludes all proofs and deeper analysis, thereby providing only a shallow understanding of the topics it covers.

It's most useful in forming connections in your mind between the two spaces, rather than as a tool to ramp up on either or both. I've read Thinking, Fast and Slow, and I have plenty of background in computer science, therefore I felt that I was well-equipped to tackle this. Don't get me wrong, you can still follow along quite handily without a background in either space, but you'll miss many of the useful insights.

This book gives little in the way of actionable information. Most of its treatments are entirely theoretical, with only one or two directly actionable recommendations per topic. Furthermore, it often places caveats on these recommendations, for example: requiring very well-formed problem statements, or stating that humans already happen to choose the optimal solution, thereby not needing the recommendation at all. It's a series of brain teasers; don't go into it expecting more.

I softly recommend this somewhat unactionable book to anyone who considers themselves logical thinkers and wishes to build upon that strength further. I would also recommend it for people who are searching for topics to get excited about, as its anecdotes, particularly on probability and game theory, are quite good. A good heuristic is that, if you enjoy Malcolm Gladwell books and any STEM field, you would probably enjoy this. Unfortunately, people with an extensive background in computer scientist will derive little benefit from this book.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 12, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
August 12, 2016 – Shelved
April 3, 2017 – Started Reading
April 29, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
April 29, 2017 – Finished Reading

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