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The Upside Of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home Hardcover – May 12 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (May 12 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061995037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061995033
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #148,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


John Marburger, Vice President for Research, Stony Brook University and former Science Advisor to President George W. Bush
“Roger Pielke, Jr.’s voice in the global warming debate is one of rare common sense. While many authors link anthropogenic climate change with energy technology, Pielke, Jr. goes farther and emphasizes the role of development economics and deep seated social behaviors that cannot easily be addressed. You may not agree with his ‘oblique, pragmatic’ proposal for ‘accelerating decarbonization’ of society, but you will be hard-pressed to find a better analysis of the thorniest aspects of the climate challenge.”

Neal Lane, Malcolm Gillis University Professor and Senior Fellow in Science and Technology at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, Rice University; former Science Advisor to President William J. Clinton
"The present climate policy stalemate cries out for a new approach in dealing with a challenge that is unprecedented in scope and complexity. This book offers scientists, policy makers and the general public a critical perspective and thoughtful suggestions for a way forward. It should be read by anyone who cares about the future of the planet and its people.”

D. James Baker, William J. Clinton Foundation and former Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
“Pielke’s thoughtful analysis of how climate science has interacted with policy - often not productively - provides new and engaging insights. Moreover, his conclusion about the importance of decarbonization and disaggregating climate policy gives the climate debate a new dimension. By weaving his personal story into the development of these issues, he presents a compelling narrative that deserves a wide readership.”

Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, MIT
“Roger Pielke, Jr., cuts through passions and politics to propose a clear and sober way forward in addressing one of the critical issues of our time.”

The Economist
“A bright and provocative book…the arguments for an energy-innovation approach to climate change seem currently to be gaining ground… For those who want to understand them, this [book] is a very good place to start.”
“This year’s must-read global warming book.”

“Pielke’s proposals look increasingly likely to garner some bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. …The Climate Fix is a clear-eyed analysis of how climate science became politicized and of the magnitude of the technological and economic issues that addressing the uncertainties of any future warming will entail.”

Bjørn Lomborg
“This year’s must-read global-warming book [is] The Climate Fix.”

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

The provocative follow-up to the New York Times bestseller Predictably Irrational

  • Why can large bonuses make CEOs less productive?
  • How can confusing directions actually help us?
  • Why is revenge so important to us?
  • Why is there such a big difference between what we think will make us happy and what really makes us happy?

In his groundbreaking book Predictably Irrational, social scientist Dan Ariely revealed the multiple biases that lead us into making unwise decisions. Now, in The Upside of Irrationality, he exposes the surprising negative and positive effects irrationality can have on our lives. Focusing on our behaviors at work and in relationships, he offers new insights and eye-opening truths about what really motivates us on the job, how one unwise action can become a long-term habit, how we learn to love the ones we're with, and more.

Drawing on the same experimental methods that made Predictably Irrational one of the most talked-about bestsellers of the past few years, Ariely uses data from his own original and entertaining experiments to draw arresting conclusions about how—and why—we behave the way we do. From our office attitudes, to our romantic relationships, to our search for purpose in life, Ariely explains how to break through our negative patterns of thought and behavior to make better decisions. The Upside of Irrationality will change the way we see ourselves at work and at home—and cast our irrational behaviors in a more nuanced light.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an amazing read; first heard Dan Ariely interviewed on the BBC; I have been a fan ever since and have based my doctoral dissertation on a study mentioned in this book.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Shawn Arora on Feb. 21 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you're familiar with behavioural economics (Freakonomics, Predictably Irrational, etc.), then you know what to expect -- no surprises here. Great read.
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3 of 11 people found the following review helpful By C. Gee on July 7 2010
Format: Hardcover
The difficulty with this book is there is far too much Dan Ariely and his life circumstances and not enough attention paid to the practical use of the irrational approach to decision making. The author has had a tough go in life, having to deal with extensive burns and their aftermath, but that has taken over the book and it becomes a boring read. I sent the book on to the thrift store where someone will get it for what it is worth maybe $00.25
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0 of 7 people found the following review helpful By MM on May 15 2011
Format: Paperback
The first book permanently altered my model for dealing with people - it had a big positive impact. I won't be buying this until there is a Kindle version, which is when the review gets a 4 or 5.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 224 reviews
149 of 160 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating look at human behavior May 29 2010
By John Chancellor - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
In his latest book, Dan Ariely takes another look at some irrational behavior of humans. I am not sure that there is an upside to all the different irrational behaviors he explores. You could make the case that by becoming aware of our irrational behavior and understanding better where it comes from, we might be in a better position to make appropriate changes. My point is I am not sure the title is indicative of the subject matter.

I found the book fascinating. At times I thought that he might be going into too much detail or dragging the story out a bit too long. But as I finished reading the book, I found that the lessons were sticking with me. I suspect that his teaching and writing techniques are highly developed and his approach is one that will leave the greatest impact on the student or reader.

There are several important concepts that he explores in this book. One subject I truly enjoyed and learned from what our innate desire for revenge. To illustrate the point, he told about his unfortunate experience with the purchase of an Audi automobile. At one time or another most of us have felt taken advantage of by a large company with rigid rules and procedures. I strongly felt his sense of outrage toward Audi. And while the story is a great example, I also feel sure that he is getting some revenge by telling how horrible their customer service can be. I am certainly not their ideal prospect but based on the story, I would never consider buying an Audi. I do believe that social media has leveled the playing field and given the average consumer a way to lash back. But as he points out in the book, revenge is a hollow victory and when we get consumed in seeking it, we generally lose.

There are numerous other concepts involving irrational behavior that he explores. One is our tendency to make rash decisions under the influence of emotions and then to continue to make decisions which are consistent with the emotional based decisions long after the emotional feelings have faded. We can become victims of our own emotional decisions.

Dan tells plenty of very personal stories in this book. You get to know him very well ... at times you get to share in-depth some very personal painful experiences he has gone through. It makes him very real. He is extremely open and transparent in this book. You will probably find it difficult to read about some of the pain he experienced during the recovery from a terrible accident. But there are some very valuable lessons imbeded in the stories he tells.

I immediately found myself using some to the lessons in this book in my work helping others. One very important lesson involves what we get from work. He told the story of a book editor who completed the task of editing a book and was paid the agreed price. She was then told by the publisher that he had decided not to publish the book. On a rational level, it should have made no difference. But she was highly disappointed. The lesson is we want/need both the material compensation from work and the feeling of contribution we get from work. Without the feeling that what we do matters, we are left with an emotional letdown.

There is an interesting chapter on why online dating does not work and another chapter on how compensation is a poor motivator. Reading this book will give you a much better understanding of human behavior.

The book is very easy to read. It is written in a totally conversational style. Dan has the rare gift to take a complex subject and present it in easy to understand concepts. His approach to writing is somewhat different but I believe highly effective in terms of understanding and retention.

As Daniel Goleman pointed out in his books Social Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence, so much of our success is dependent on our social and emotional intelligence - not our IQ. This book will help you improve your social and emotional intelligence.
49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
"We need to know our limitations." June 1 2010
By E. Bukowsky - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Dan Ariely's "The Upside of Irrationality" is subtitled "The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home." A more apt title would have been "Predictably Irrational--the Sequel," since this book comes across more as a follow-up to Ariely's first book ("Predictably Irrational--The Hidden forces that Shape Our Decisions") than a presentation of completely new material. The author, who is a behavioral economist, recounts a series of experiments that he and his colleagues conducted to explore such questions as: What makes work meaningful and, conversely, what can make it dull and unsatisfying? Why do people procrastinate? How does a person's self-image influence whom he chooses to date? Why is revenge so sweet even though it "has no more quenching effect on emotions than salt water has on thirst"? In what ways do our emotions impel us to make self-destructive decisions?

In Chapter Eleven, "Lessons from Our Irrationalities," Ariely sums up his thesis succinctly: "Our cognitive biases often lead us astray, particularly when we have to make, big, difficult, [and] painful choices." The author brings his point home in a poignant manner when he discusses what happened after he incurred third degree burns in an accident. In order to reduce his pain and the number of surgeries he would have to undergo, his doctor recommended the amputation of his hand and forearm. Dan says, "I decided to hold on to my poor, limited, eviscerated limb and make the best of things." Now he wonders if he made a mistake: "I was not so rational, and I kept my arm--resulting in more operations, reduced flexibility, and frequent pain."

Although this book breaks little new ground in a popular field crowded with similar works, Ariely's personal account of his ordeal, including the excruciating physical and occupational therapy that he endured, make for compelling reading. When Dan admits that he agonized over his ability to find a woman to love as well as a satisfying job, we cannot help but empathize. "The Upside of Irrationality" offers a much-needed reminder that we can never totally eliminate our subconscious biases. At best, we can remain cognizant of our irrationality, and make use of our self-knowledge to optimize our chances for success and happiness.
88 of 104 people found the following review helpful
flawed and plodding July 19 2010
By Silea - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Behavioral Economics has been an expanding section of bookstores for a few years now, and a lot of the books coming out are thought-provoking and intelligent. This one makes the others look better by comparison.

I have global complaints, like the plodding pace of the writing, the confusing way in which some of the experiments are presented, the odd withholding of information (at one point the author declines to explain the difference between two different auction styles, citing the complexity, but they must have been able to explain each style to the participants in order for the experiment to work), and such. Even if the experiments themselves were done well, this would be a major reason to avoid this book, even for someone doing a thorough reading of the lay-literature of Behavioral Economics.

Then there's some nitpickier complaints, like how the author feels compelled to mention the horrible injury, and arduous healing process, that he suffered years before. While i do understand that this was a major life event for him, and in fact got him started in the field, it's unclear what it adds to the book to mention it every chapter. He's also compelled to mention his other book repeatedly, just in case we missed the fact that this is his second book, even though this one doesn't build on the last one directly.

The major failing of this book, though, is the experiments themselves. And, for reasons of sensationalism and piling on the bandwagon of complaining about the 2008 financial crisis, one of the most flawed experiments leads the book. In short, in an attempt to show that paying financial experts huge bonuses actually harms their efficacy, they show that paying random passers-by huge bonuses for tasks totally unrelated to their actual profession harms their efficacy. There are several marked differences between the experimental subjects and the bankers to whom the author would like to generalize the results (no, i'm not arguing that bankers are 'special' as the author claims his banker friends often do, just that they're businesspeople and random people on the street in India probably aren't, if they're wandering down the street in the middle of the day and have the time to stop and do the experiment). There are several marked differences in the way the bonuses were offered, whether they were expected, how the bonuses related to the tasks, etc. Basically, either the author totally failed to convey how the experiment was actually related to his conclusion, or he took an experiment only tangentially related to the topic and claimed it was related in order to lead his book with a chapter about the 2008 financial crisis.

Other experiments, while less flawed, are just pointless. For example, he showed that if someone's rude to you, you're more likely to take an opportunity to punish them than you would be if they weren't rude to you. (Shocking, i know, but he has the data to back up the claim.)

Another great sin is that the author only rarely follows through on the promise of the subtitle. There are dribs and drabs of comments on how being irrational can be beneficial, but more often it's simply observations that humans aren't, in fact, machines of pure reason that always seek the greatest gain for the least effort. After a few requisite digs at how Rational Economists totally fail to actually predict human behavior, this 'oh, and check that out, people aren't perfectly rational!' mantra gets redundant.

If you like books on Behavioral Economics, read Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics. They are better written, with better data and better analysis. And if you've already read those two, stay well clear of this one, as you'll find it vapid, slow, frustrating, and poorly written when compared to those.
75 of 89 people found the following review helpful
Well worth the wait. May 27 2010
By Kevin Hogan - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Fans of Predictably Irrational will be pleased with the second installment into what appears to be an "Irrational" series.

I would quibble with the title and the subtitle of the book but what really matters is what is between the covers.

Without giving away a book full of hard earned research results, perhaps capturing a clip from the book will best describe why this book will do so well.

In a comparison of perceived clutch basketball players with bankers, you find out that there really is not much evidence for a category of "clutch" basketball players. Yes, these players get the ball more in the final five minutes of the game, and therefore score more points but they perform no better or worse than they do in the rest of the game. The notion of the "clutch player" is not completely negated, but evidence is brought forth that any apparent higher caliber play in the final five is simply a function of more opportunities.

The reason this research was done was to build on research conducted in India using a limited bank account but wanting to find out just how performance bonuses might motivate people.

Various individuals are offered a chance to be given certain amounts of money based upon how well they perform in 8 games. It turns out the more money possible to be scored, the more likely the individual was to fail at the games. There was a bump over people performing for little more than a few hours of their time taken up but a more significant bump for individuals who received moderate sized "bonuses."

The experiment was laid out to show that large bonuses...amounting to as much as 5 months worth of income if medium difficulty level tasks were completed...don't motivate but actual interfere with performance.

Ariely was obviously on top of the notion that this part of India was incredibly poor so having a chance at 5 months worth of income was truly dramatic.

As I read this I thought, "yes but could this be the difference between eating and not eating, or is this the difference between buying a TV or not having a TV."

With that mindset I found the results fascinating.

If you've ever watched the TV Show Survivor, you've seen similar behaviors by people who consistently lose. People who let the pressure get to them because the clock is ticking... can do nothing but fail, and do indeed fail. But in Survivor there is always a winner. Some adapt. Some do not. An area for further study perhaps.

I suspect Ariely's findings will generalize in most areas of business. It's hard to imagine that mega-bonuses do anything but reduce performance. Sharing a similar view with an audience of bankers he reports having found little support for his notion. No surprise to Ariely or the reader.

Perhaps most interesting are his final thoughts on this specific topic which is decision makers he's spoken to at companies seem clueless as to the effects of bonuses on performance and they seem uninterested in testing to find out what the results are.

Each section in the book is filled with nuggets. There are many aha's to the wise. There are many moments of "Oh I knew that already," because the human mind is geared to have excellent hindsight and great ability to change what we would have predicted before the fact... Trying disengage from that bias is not as easy as one might think!

The Upside of Irrationality delves into a host of fascinating areas.

The research goes into the dating arena. Ariely shows us why we overvalue the things we make ourselves. He explains many things not covered by others in the field including a very nice indepth look at why we seek justice.

Like it's predecessor this book entertains, informs and gives pause for thought in your (my) own life.

Kevin Hogan
Author of The Psychology of Persuasion: How to Persuade Others to Your Way of Thinking
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Dropping the other shoe in behavioral economics June 13 2010
By Mark P. McDonald - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Dan Arliey's first book Predictably Irrational introduced business leaders to issues of behavior economics when it was released in 2008. His latest the Upside of Irrationality drops the other shoe in behavioral economics concentrating more on how economic behavior influences issues the context of business and everyday life.

This book is a worthy compliment to his earlier work and it pretty much follows the same pattern as Predictability Irrational. It is organized around a set of interrelated observations that are described first in terms of the hypothesis, then the tests conducted to evaluate the hypothesis and finally the results and implications. This would normally be quite boring, but Arliey's writing and the novel way of testing economic behaviors keep the book entertaining and interesting.

In addition, Ariely peppers the second half of the book - which focuses on personal issues of irrationality - with stories of his experiences following a horrendous accident he suffered as a teen-ager. These personal notes are essential in translating ideas from the antiseptic academic to the messy real world.

Here are brief summaries of the chapters.

1. Paying more for less: why big bonuses do not always work - the bonus structure that raises the performance of physical work often freezes out knowledge workers.

2. The Meaning of Labor: what Legos can teach us about the joy of work - how work defines us and the value we place on that definition. There are deep reasons why everyone's baby is the most beautiful in the world.

3. The IKEA effect: why we overvalue what we make - the behavioral realities of `sunk effort' and how to make products and services more sticky by stealing from Betty Crocker.

4. The not-invented-hear bias: why my ideas are better than yours - an examination of author bias and the behaviors behind executive, expert and management hubris in the workplace.

5. The case for revenge: what makes us seek justice - it is more than a dish best served cold. In fact revenge is a very powerful force in business.

6. On Adaptation: why we get used to things, but not all things and not always - provides a fascinating study of the behavioral economics of change that helps you understand why traditional change management does not work.

7. Hot or Not? Adaptation, assertive mating and the beauty market - if you always thought it was a jungle out there, you were right and this chapter talks about the realities of how you seek and form lasting social relationships.

8. When a market fails: an example from online dating - a fascinating look at how the most sophisticated technology and psychographics cannot resolve a fundamentally flawed market structure.

9. One empathy and emotion: why we respond to one person who needs help, but not to many - explains the rational and reality behind how to mobilize people and their resources and why the American Cancer Society is so effective.

10. Long term and short term emotions: why we shouldn't act on our negative feelings - the reasons and science behind why it really is best to sleep on it.

11. Lessons form our irrationalities: why we need to test everything - provides a framework and way of thinking to get your rationality back.


The book has kept the structure and formula that made Predictably Irrational successful. If you liked that book, then you will like this one.

The book connects with other research studies to demonstrate findings that go beyond one person, which is refreshing as many business books think that the individual authors are the single font of all wisdom (see Chapter 4)

The book is backed by real research and the author is not afraid to show you how they tested the idea, the results and the implications.

The writing style is personal, you feel as if Ariely is explaining the ideas in the book to you over a conversation without it getting stale or too academic.


In keeping with the formula for Predictably Irrational, the book can drag in places as you go through the same structure for each of the first 10 chapters.

The experiments, while interesting, involve college students (MIT and Harvard mostly) working with relatively trivial sums of money. This does not invalidate the findings, just raises an issue of applicability in a bigger business setting.

Others have already hijacked some of these findings and experiments, which may lead you to believe that Arliey's work is lagging rather than leading investigations into behavior economics. Just because others are talking about this, it does not mean that they did the work.

Overall Recommendations:

* Required reading for people who liked Predictably Irrational.

* Recommended for anyone who has heard of behavior economics, or read the dozens of other `brain science' books out there: How We Decide, Buy-ology, etc.

* If you a new to this area I really recommend reading Predictably Irrational first, not because I want you to buy more books, but starting here can easily lead you to get lost.