Irrationality (1992) by Stuart Sutherland is an absolutely superb book. The book goes through common ways that people act irrationally. It’s compact, well written and witty.

Sutherland was an experimental psychologist who clearly understood his subject and had seen just how poorly people make many decisions. He goes through how we make decisions badly in groups, because of sunk costs and because of our inability to look at numbers carefully and properly. Most of the 20 or so chapters looks at a particular aspect of irrationality and there are a few points summarizing the chapter at the end.There is also a chapter on the paranormal which doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the book. It does, however, provide some nice examples of people failing to be rational.

There is so much in the book that is worth thinking about, there are so many good examples of just how we consistently go wrong. There are fine quotes, such as “intuition is that strange instinct that tells a person that he is right, whether he is or not”. There are examinations of how evidence was systematically ignored, such as by the US commanding General at Pearl Harbor. The book’s conclusion also looks at why we think the way we do. Sutherland makes the point that for most of human existence quick decisions under pressure were life and death ones. He points out that drawing up tables of probability is a bad strategy for dealing with lion attacks. But the way our brain evolved to serve us under those conditions means that in the radical new world of civilization we have to consciously think about our actions in a way that doesn’t come naturally to us.

This book was from the library but is so good that I’ve just ordered it.

4.5 / 5


One response to “Irrationality

  1. Pingback: Innumeracy | ReviewSien

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