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The Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less [Hardcover]

Barry Schwartz
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 15 2004

Whether we're buying a pair of jeans, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting a long-distance carrier, applying to college, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions -- both big and small -- have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented.

As Americans, we assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress. And, in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz explains at what point choice -- the hallmark of individual freedom and self-determination that we so cherish -- becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being. In accessible, engaging, and anecdotal prose, Schwartz shows how the dramatic explosion in choice -- from the mundane to the profound challenges of balancing career, family, and individual needs -- has paradoxically become a problem instead of a solution. Schwartz also shows how our obsession with choice encourages us to seek that which makes us feel worse.

By synthesizing current research in the social sciences, Schwartz makes the counter intuitive case that eliminating choices can greatly reduce the stress, anxiety, and busyness of our lives. He offers eleven practical steps on how to limit choices to a manageable number, have the discipline to focus on those that are important and ignore the rest, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make.


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From Publishers Weekly

Like Thoreau and the band Devo, psychology professor Schwartz provides ample evidence that we are faced with far too many choices on a daily basis, providing an illusion of a multitude of options when few honestly different ones actually exist. The conclusions Schwartz draws will be familiar to anyone who has flipped through 900 eerily similar channels of cable television only to find that nothing good is on. Whether choosing a health-care plan, choosing a college class or even buying a pair of jeans, Schwartz, drawing extensively on his own work in the social sciences, shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us. We normally assume in America that more options ("easy fit" or "relaxed fit"?) will make us happier, but Schwartz shows the opposite is true, arguing that having all these choices actually goes so far as to erode our psychological well-being. Part research summary, part introductory social sciences tutorial, part self-help guide, this book offers concrete steps on how to reduce stress in decision making. Some will find Schwartz's conclusions too obvious, and others may disagree with his points or find them too repetitive, but to the average lay reader, Schwartz's accessible style and helpful tone is likely to aid the quietly desperate.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Who woulda thunk it? Here we are, in the early years of the twenty-first century, being driven bonkers by the staggering array of consumer goods from which we must choose. Choosing something as (seemingly) simple as shampoo can force us to wade through dozens, even hundreds, of brands. We are, the author suggests, overwhelmed by choice, and that's not such a good thing. Schwartz tells us that constantly being asked to make choices, even about the simplest things, forces us to "invest time, energy, and no small amount of self-doubt, and dread." There comes a point, he contends, at which choice becomes debilitating rather than liberating. Did I make the right choice? Can I ever make the right choice? It would be easy to write off this book as merely an extended riff on that well-worn phrase "too much of a good thing," but that would be a mistake. Despite a tendency toward highfalutin language ("the counterfactuals we construct can be tilted upward"), Schwartz has plenty of insightful things to say here about the perils of everyday life. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most helpful customer reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My review of The Paradox of Choice Jan. 10 2004
Format:Hardcover
I enjoyed reading this book very much. Having rules and constraints in society is a good thing and should be embraced. This is an important idea of this book. The Paradox of Choice explains how people arrive at the decisions they do. This book also talks about the negative aspects of making decisions in a world with so many choices. Finally, this book offers suggestions on how to make better choices and reduce stress.

Barry Schwartz makes many good points about decision making. One of them is that because of the growing number of choices we are presented with, we don't always have the time to look at all the information out there to make the best choice. Another interesting point is that people expect certain decisions to be made for them. In the health care field for example, we expect the doctor to tell what kind of treatment we need.
I learned from reading this book that we should all strive to be satisficers rather maximizers. A satisficer is a person who chooses a product or service that is good enough. A maximizer is a person who is always trying to get the best product. A satisficer is usually happy with their choice. In contrast, a maximizer isn't happy and often regrets what they bought.
We should also try to stick our choices and not change our minds. This is another way to reduce anixety I learned in the book. This is very hard to do consistently, but I thought this was a good piece of advice. I also enjoyed the idea of being a chooser and not a picker. Choosers have time to change their goals whereas pickers do not. Choosers take their time making a decision considering all their options unlike pickers who do not.
The Paradox of Choice is an excellent book with a lot of interesting information about the habits people have in making decisions. It also has very useful tips on how to reduce anixety in your life.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo Feb. 27 2004
Format:Hardcover
I remember reading about ten or twelve years ago of Russian immigrants to America who were overwhelmed by the choices in the average supermarket. Accustomed to a choice of cereal or no cereal, they became paralyzed when confronted with flakes, puffs, pops, sugared or not, oat, wheat, corn, rice, hot or cold, and on and on. Now, according to Barry Schwartz, we are all overwhelmed by too many choices.
No one is immune, he says. Even if someone doesn't care about clothes or restaurants, he might care very much about TV channels or books. And these are just the relatively unimportant kinds of choices. Which cookie or pair of jeans we choose doesn't really matter very much. Which health care plan or which university we choose matters quite a lot. How do different people deal with making decisions?
Schwartz analyzes from every angle how people make choices. He divides people into two groups, Maximizers and Satisficers, to describe how some people try to make the best possible choice out of an increasing number of options, and others just settle for the first choice that meets their standards. (I think he should have held out for a better choice of word than "satisficer.")
I was a bit disappointed that Schwartz dismissed the voluntary simplicity movement so quickly. They have covered this ground and found practical ways of dealing with an overabundance of choice. Instead of exploring their findings, Schwartz picked up a copy of Real Simple magazine, and found it was all about advertising. If he had picked up a copy of The Overspent American by Juliet Schor or Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin instead, he might have found some genuine discussion of simple living rather than Madison Avenue's exploitation of it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who decides what you buy? or think? Feb. 20 2004
Format:Hardcover
Faced with too many choices, Schwartz has stumbled in his erudite and well-reasoned attempts to illustrate the dilemmas of too many choices too often for too many people in a too affluent society.
"As the number of choices we face increases, freedom of choice eventually becomes a tyranny of choice," Schwartz intones one page from the end of his book. Maybe that's why America, the land of choice, has always limited itself to two major political parties rather than a profusion of ideologies and opinions.
If choice is good in the marketplace, surely it is good for politics. Schwartz says he "found 85 different varieties and brands of crackers." Didn't it occurred to him that if America has cracker democracy, it should also have 85 different varieties and brands of political parties? If it's good for the marketplace, why not for politics?
The key, which he passes over briefly, is found in his third chapter when he says cigarette manufacturers in the 1930s "discovered that smokers who taste-tested various cigarette brands without knowing which was which couldn't tell them apart." The result, he says, was "the practice of selling a product by associating it with a glamorous lifestyle."
It's the foundation of modern marketplace. People who are satisfied with their lives don't spend their time worrying about whether they have the most elegant, tasty, healthy or socially responsible cracker; instead, they buy and use the cracker that meets their needs. Is this possible? Well, years ago I worked with a former executive from Kraft foods who once explained that Kraft factories produced 90 percent of the macaroni and cheese sold in America. Some was sold under the Kraft name; much was sold as private brands.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Read this and see where consumerism is going
Purchased this as I was interested in what the author was trying to get across in a TV interview. Really makes you think about all the choices in life we have to make, and do we... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Terry
4.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating, Valuable but Repetitive
This book is full of golden nuggets of thought. If you're fascinated with society, the human mind and happiness then you will devour this book and love every minute of it. Read more
Published on July 18 2010 by J. A. Broad
4.0 out of 5 stars When is Too Much Choice Bad?
According to Barry Schwartz, the Swathmore sociology professor, the latitude of choice and the freedom to choose has caused all kinds of social problems in modern America. Read more
Published on April 13 2008 by Ian Gordon Malcomson
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Barry Schwartz explores interesting paradox. If we as consumer have a lot of choices, it does not mean that we would be able to make a better decision or be happier. Read more
Published on April 3 2008 by Lev Virine
5.0 out of 5 stars Choose This Book!
The counterintuitive title of this book makes sense by page two, which is only the first of many wonders Schwartz makes happen over the course of this deceptively thin and breezy... Read more
Published on June 16 2004 by Richard Nelson
5.0 out of 5 stars Feel better about your decisions...
Schwartz takes an interesting perspective on the decision sciences, exploring not how we could make decisions better, but instead how we can feel better about the decisions we do... Read more
Published on June 9 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and helpful
I am deeply thankful to live at a time, in a country, where I enjoy unprecedented freedoms; I would never want someone else to restrict my choices. Read more
Published on June 3 2004 by Renaaah
2.0 out of 5 stars Great book if you haven't taken Psych 101
I was expecting alot more from this book than it provided. That isn't bad, but in an effort to set expectations (which this book advocates) I wanted to write a review to let people... Read more
Published on June 2 2004 by Gina Bianchini
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read!
If there was a class on the sociology of shopping, this would be a required book. A fascinating read on the challenges fraught during a shopping experience and the evolution of... Read more
Published on May 20 2004 by Amanda Miller
2.0 out of 5 stars Another version of blame my flaws on someone else
Schwartz states that our indecision, regret, and depression is not due to our inability to prioritize, think logically or take responsiblity. Read more
Published on April 29 2004 by Kasper Gutman
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