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How We Decide [Hardcover]

Jonah Lehrer
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 9 2009
The first book to use the unexpected discoveries of neuroscience to help us make the best decisions

Since Plato, philosophers have described the decision-making process as either rational or emotional: we carefully deliberate, or we “blink” and go with our gut. But as scientists break open the mind’s black box with the latest tools of neuroscience, they’re discovering that this is not how the mind works. Our best decisions are a finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason—and the precise mix depends on the situation. When buying a house, for example, it’s best to let our unconscious mull over the many variables. But when we’re picking a stock, intuition often leads us astray. The trick is to determine when to use the different parts of the brain, and to do this, we need to think harder (and smarter) about how we think.

Jonah Lehrer arms us with the tools we need, drawing on cutting-edge research as well as the real-world experiences of a wide range of “deciders”—from airplane pilots and hedge fund investors to serial killers and poker players.

Lehrer shows how people are taking advantage of the new science to make better television shows, win more football games, and improve military intelligence. His goal is to answer two questions that are of interest to just about anyone, from CEOs to firefighters: How does the human mind make decisions? And how can we make those decisions better?

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“Cash or credit? Punt or go for first down? Deal or no deal? Life is filled with puzzling choices. Reporting from the frontiers of neuroscience and armed with riveting case studies of how pilots, quarterbacks, and others act under fire, Jonah Lehrer presents a dazzlingly authoritative and accessible account of how we make decisions, what’s happening in our heads as we do so, and how we might all become better ‘deciders.’ Luckily, this one’s a no-brainer: Read this book.”—Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)

"Over the past two decades, research in neuroscience and behavioral economics has revolutionized our understanding of human decision making. Jonah Lehrer brings it all together in this insightful and enjoyable book, giving readers the information they need to make the smartest decisions.”—Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error and Looking for Spinoza

“Jonah Lehrer ingeniously weaves neuroscience, sports, war, psychology, and politics into a fascinating tale of human decision making. In the process, he makes us much wiser.”—Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational

“Should we go with instinct or analysis? The answer, Lehrer explains, in this smart and delightfully readable book, is that it depends on the situation. Knowing which method works best in which case is not just useful but fascinating. Lehrer proves once again that he’s a master storyteller and one of the best guides to the practical lessons from new neuroscience.”—Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired and author of The Long Tail

“As Lehrer describes in fluid prose, the brain’s reasoning centers are easily fooled, often making judgments based on nonrational factors like presentation (a sales pitch or packaging)...Lehrer is a delight to read, and this is a fascinating book (some of which appeared recently, in a slightly different form, in the New Yorker) that will help everyone better understand themselves and their decision making.” —Publisher's Weekly, starred review

About the Author

Jonah Lehrer is a Contributing Editor at Wired and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. He writes the Head Case column for The Wall Street Journal and regularly appears on WNYC’s Radiolab. His writing has also appeared in Nature, The New York Times Magazine, Scientific American and Outside. He’s the author of two previous books, Proust Was A Neuroscientist and How We Decide. He graduated from Columbia University and attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.


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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything "Blink" Should Have Been Feb. 27 2009
Format:Hardcover
I often hear a lot of comments criticizing this book's similarity to Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink". Yes, the subject matter is the same and there are 3 or 4 real-world examples that they both had in common.

But "Blink" left me rather disappointed. It was a book that was about these real-world examples and not much else. It was a fun read, like Gladwell's other books, but it amounted to little more than trivia.

Lehrer's "How We Decide" not only delves into the neuroscience behind the subject matter, but most crucially it leaves its readers with conclusions that they can apply to their own lives - something that was sorely missing in Blink. The structure of the book is solid and deliberate, with the final chapters of the book putting all the pieces together.

Was it as fun to read as "Blink"? I imagine many people would say that it's not. But the insight Lehrer provides is vastly more valuable and resolves many of the frustrations I had with Gladwell's book. Anybody with a background in science, social science, or even math will probably feel the same way. Where Gladwell made reckless assumptions and created many shady links between cause and effect, Lehrer tends to keep the examples more relevant and the logic much more airtight.

If you read books solely for entertainment, you probably don't need to read this if you've already read "Blink." But if you have even the slightest interest in expanding your knowledge and applying this information to improve your decision-making, "How We Decide" is an infinitely better resource.

I mean it wholeheartedly when I say that this book is everything that Blink should have been.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
With regard to neuroscience, I am the among non-scholars who have a keen interest in what the brain and mind are and how they function, and am especially interested in how decisions are made. In recent years, I have read a variety of books that have helped me to increase my knowledge in these specific areas. They include William Calvin's How Brains Think: Evolving Intelligence, Then And Now, Gerald Edelman's Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On The Matter Of The Mind, Guy Claxton's Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, Howard Gardner's Five Minds for the Future, Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, and most recently, Torkel Klingberg's The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory. I am grateful to these and other volumes for increasing my understanding of the decision-making process while realizing that is still so much more that I need to know. Hence my interest in Jonah Lehrer's book, How We Decide.

In the Introduction after sharing an experience aboard a simulated flight landing at Tokyo Narita International Airport, Lehrer observes: "In the end, the difference between landing my plane in one piece and my dying in a fiery crash came down to a single decision made in the panicked moments after the engine fire...This book is about how we make decisions. It's about airline pilots, NFL quarterbacks, television directors, poker players, professional investors, and serial killers...[Ever since the ancient Greeks, assumptions about decision making have revolved around a single theme: humans are ration.] There's only one problem with this assumption of human rationality: It's not how the brain works...We can look inside the brain and see how humans think: the black box has been broken open.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How We Decide Aug. 20 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent, authoritative yet entertaining text on a complex and perhaps controversial topic. The author is to be commended for his masterful treatment of the complexities and to his impact on the non-professional reader.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How We Really Decide May 15 2009
Format:Hardcover
How We Decide - Jonah Lehrer, 2009

After being blown away by his previous book, Proust Was A Neuroscientist, on the relationship between brain science and art, I snapped up Lehrer's next one. Its purpose is to demonstrate the relationship between brain science and the way we make decisions in our everyday world.

It points out early that the old dichotomy that we all know and our western tradition has believed for the past three millennia is in fact false. That tradition is that the brain is divided between reason and emotion and that from Plato on forward we have been told we have to pay attention to reason because emotion leads us of the rails and has to be cajoled and bullied back into place by reason.

Wrongo. The brain is a prediction machine and conscious and unconscious factors lead people to made decisions, sometimes favouring the speed and experience of intuition and on other occasions mulling over the facts.

In this context, Lehrer uses compelling real life situations to make his points. How Tom Brady passed into the 'future' to win the Superbowl; how the radar tech felt a returning jet blip was wrong and ordered it downed, less than a half mile from a battle ship he was not on - it was a missile; how the mind is averse to loss and that we invest money in the stock market for bad reasons; that superstar basketball players do not get on streaks of success; and so on.

Early on, Lehrer points out that a brain injury patient who has the connection between the subconscious and conscious centre (behind the right eyebrow) severed cannot make decisions because without emotional preferences consciousness has no way of determining which action to take.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brain 101
We spend our whole life trying to figure out how our mind works. This book is an open door to understand the mechanic of it. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Cognacazur
4.0 out of 5 stars How We Decide
This book is well written and easy to understand. Complicated science of the activity of the brain and what affects our brain activity is presented in lay terminology and... Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2012 by Betty
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Haven't finished reading it yet(3/4) but the situation used as examples for how the work do that it does are very interesting to say the least. Read more
Published on Nov. 1 2010 by Vincent Lachapelle
5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Book for Business
There are lots of book written about decision-making, but what is unique about Jonah Lehrer's terrific book, How We Decide, is that it is written from the point of view of... Read more
Published on Sept. 28 2010 by Engage the Fox
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but flawed
As others have noted, this book is quite good at explaining not only "how we decide," but more important, how we decide wisely or foolishly. Read more
Published on April 22 2010 by Michael W. Perry
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb insights into decision-making
This is very well written and referenced. This is a book about how parts of the brain affect decision-making. Different types of decisions may require different methods. Read more
Published on May 1 2009 by Karen M. Cooper
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
After immensely enjoying Lehrer's first book, "Proust Was a Neuroscientist", I was excited and interested to read anything else he wrote. Read more
Published on April 29 2009 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A Highly Accessible Description of Helpful Decision Practices for...
Don't just Blink! Instead, read a series of well-chosen, beautifully told stories of successful and unsuccessful decision practices, along with some rules of thumb for when to rely... Read more
Published on April 21 2009 by Donald Mitchell
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