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Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear Hardcover – Apr 15 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart (April 15 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0771032994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771032998
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 3.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 780 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #108,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By James Connolly on Aug. 13 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After having read Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions and Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies: And Other Pricing Puzzles, I was predisposed to find Gardner's Risk lacking in depth and relevance.

While the first two are written by economists for the masses and fail (in different ways) to deliver content that goes beyond "interesting" to "generalizable to the human condition", Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear is exceptionally interesting and illustrative. Gardner, a reporter not an economist, has researched his topic to depths atypical of modern texts. He provides historical and visceral examples of his topics, then extends the understanding to current happenings in the world and goes so far as to show the implications (practical and irrational) of such understanding.

Like Naked Economics, this book is powerfully educational without being dry, preachy, or esoteric. A particular sign of quality is Gardner's highly insightful treatment of the modern media and those who wield it. While I won't say I sympathize with media editors and producers, I have a greater appreciation for how they are swayed by the "current story" - zeitgeist or meme if you will - almost as much as consumers of media.

If you want to enjoy a book which may expose your own consistent (yet mistaken) views on risk, and if you're ready for the challenges posed by this newfound knowledge, you will find Gardner's book well worth the time invested in reading it.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 21 2008
Format: Hardcover
Dan Gardner's concerned about how we handle fear. In North America, of course, a single event, the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon generated a new level of fear in the population. So unexpected and abrupt was use of commercial aircraft in a terrorist assault that an avoidance of flying was the immediate and widespread reaction. Gardner, however, wants to consider the event and the reaction in a more rational perspective. He notes at the outset of the book that the chance of dying in auto incidents is far higher than that of flying. As the statistics proved - since nearly 1600 additional auto deaths - about half of those lost at the World Trade Centre - were added to the annual total in the following year. Gardner taps into psychology and the field of risk assessment in this fascinating study of how we deal with fear. We aren't doing a very good job of it.

For millions of years animals relied on quick responses for survival. Reaction to potential danger or a possible meal left no time, nor need, for reflecting. Act fast or expire. That kind of brain is now called the limbic system, or "lizard brain". Evolution granted humans a chance to build on that foundation to produce a "thinking" part of the brain. The limbic system is still in place, however, and issuing commands we are rarely aware of. Psychologists, says Gardner, call these System One and System Two. The author, in the best journalist's style, calls these The Gut and The Head. The Gut reacts to crisis situations quickly and effectively. The Head follows along later at a more deliberate pace - if it gets any voice at all.

Gardner is eager to have us understand how these Systems work. He contends that we are carrying a reaction system founded on our ancestors' time on the African savannah.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert Waller on Aug. 23 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At the time I write this review there are 7 reviews showing 5 stars and 2 reviews showing 1 star - nothing between.

The texts in the 5 star reviews tend to be cerebral and reflect good understandings of what Gardner communicates. The texts in the 1 star reviews tend to be visceral and show no indication that the readers understood the point of the book. I think this says it all.

If you like to think about and understand important issues in life today you will love this book. I have read dozens of books on similar or related topics (recently including The Flaw of Averages, Fooled by Randomness, The Psychology of Decision Making, The Logic of Failure, How We Know What Isn't So, etc.) but I found Gardner's book to be the best combination of assembly of component ideas (heuristics, biases, social amplification) then interpretation of those ideas to explain recent events. I was a little frustrated by the lack of references to primary sources but this was not enough of a problem to budge me from giving a 5 star rating (and that is not just due to anchoring). :-)

If you prefer to hold to strongly rooted opinions and never think about the possible faults of those opinions then do not read this book - you will not like it.
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By ATC123 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 7 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Coming from a science background, one of the basic concepts is the idea that one needs to look at the evidence and then use it to prove or disprove a particular theory and that this methodology needs to rigorously applied. So often in public policy areas we see special interest groups trotting out "evidence" to get them more funding and to restrict individual freedoms. What Dan Gardner has done in this book is to frankly assess what is a "risk" and how this should be assessed. Examples he cites such as how Americans decided to drive more immediately after 9/11 to avoid "the risk of flying" actually resulted in more deaths (traffic accidents) than would have happened if normal travel patterns had been maintained. Whether it is this type of individual irrationality or the more pernicious type by unelected officials to "protect" us from ourselves, this books provides valuable insights in a format that is easy to read and understand. So the next time someone tries to tell you how dangerous the world is - tell them to go read this book and then come back and talk to you.
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