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The Wisdom of Crowds Paperback – Aug 16 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (Aug. 16 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385721706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385721707
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.6 x 1.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 222 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #53,736 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Gleick on July 10 2004
Format: Hardcover
Although the subtitle to THE WISDOM OF CROWDS is an awkward mouthful, it is at least accurate: the book does an exceptional job of illuminating a remarkably wide range of material from politics, everyday life, and the business world. Surowiecki's not offering a grand unified theory of everything, but in the course of investigating how and when groups and crowds are and are not intelligent, he takes you on an exhilarating ride. You can't go more than a couple of pages without coming across some interesting factual tidbit or clever anecdote. Just a short list of stuff Surowiecki writes about includes: crowds on city sidewalks, Navy men trying to find a lost submarine, the Nielsen ratings, Google, scientists trying to find the SARS virus, the stock market, game-show audiences, fashion stores, and the C.I.A. Thankfully, though, he understands that just stringing together stories isn't enough. Instead, he fits his examples into a strong argument that holds the book together. You can get a lot out of this book just by dipping into individual chapters, but reading it from beginning to end is a powerful experience.
One of the things about the book that hasn't been much remarked on is the light it sheds on the flaws in the way the U.S. intelligence community -- and, I would argue, the Bush administration -- approaches the problem of forecasting the future and making good decisions. The book's main subject is the wisdom of crowds, but Surowiecki spends a lot of time on how groups go wrong, and his discussion of how groups make bad decisions seems to me completely relevant to our current problems.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 28 2004
Format: Hardcover
I wanted to read this book because I have a personal interest in Prediction Markets and have read a couple of Surowiecki's columns in the New Yorker and Wired magazines on this subject. My expectation was that he would expand on his columns and get into details on how Prediction Markets can be used in a corporate or public decision making process. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to agree with the more negative reviews already posted. While the first 50 pages do a good job of explaining these markets and setting the table for a detailed examination, that discussion never happens. Instead, the majority of the book is a collection of studies and anecdotes about the behavior of crowds - most of which I have some recollection of from Psychology classes taken long ago. The second half of the book focuses on what he calls Case Studies, but what I would call simply stories. There's a story about corruption of Italian soccer judges, Richard Grasso's compensation, a review of crowd theory in the movies, the retail fashion industry, the Columbia disaster, etc. Fairly interesting, but hardly instructive. My amateurish explanation for all this is that while Surowiecki may be a talented columnist, but when challenged when writing a full length book, he has neither the practical experience nor educational background to give any great insight on how to leverage the wisdom of crowds to tackle the issues of the day.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Swartz on June 12 2004
Format: Hardcover
Upon hearing about a book on "the wisdom of crowds", I expected it to answer three qeustions: Are crowds wise?, When are they wise?, and Why are they wise? Sadly, this book answers none of them.
Are crowds wise? Surowiecki fills his pages with unconvincing anecdotes. He has only a handful of real studies and he buries them randomly throughout the book. Worse, Surowiecki sometimes describes a study that would be easy to conduct, but instead of doing it he simply tells us what he expects the results would be. And despite the book's constant championing of dissent, Surowiecki offers no evidence that cuts against his argument. Instead, every failure of a crowd simply helps prove his thesis, since he claims it failed because it violated one of his vaugely-stated rules.
When are crowds wise? Surowiecki offers only untested speculation. He claims they need "diversity, independence, and a particular kind of decentralization" (oddly, by decentralization Surowiecki appears to mean aggregation). Surowiecki never defines any of these particularly clearly but instead gives lots of examples. This makes them useless as predictors of a crowd's intelligence which is probably why Surowiecki makes no attempt to test them.
Why are crowds wise? Surowiecki doesn't even bother to answer this one, even though it's the first half of the books subtitle. He considers the question briefly on page 10, only to spout some empty sayings (crowds are "information minus error") and wonder in amazement ("who knew ... we can collectively make so much sense") before finally concluding "You could say it's as if we've been programmed to be collectively smart."
Perhaps noticing these weaknesses, Surowiecki gets all this out of the way in the first 40% of the book.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ron Dwyer on June 20 2004
Format: Hardcover
The interesting thesis of the book, if I understand correctly, is that sometimes the viewpoint of the crowd is better than the opinion of a sole, or a few experts.
For example, the scientist Galton observed, at a fair, that a group of people who guessed the weight of an ox were, when averaged, only 1 pound off from the actual weight of the ox.
Another example are prediction markets like the Foresight Exchange on the Internet. There was another prediction market, that, as time went on in 2000, had Bush defeating Gore; this prediction market turned out to be right, and some political scientists turned out to be incorrect.
In order for the crowd to give a pretty good opinion, there are four critieria that must be satified, according to the author: 1. diversity of opinion; 2. independence of members from one another; 3. decentraliation; 4. a good method for aggregating opinions.
But here I disagree--even with these four conditions fulfilled, the crowd does not always give the correct view. For example, I am a member of Internet discussion groups. I would say that all the four conditions are pretty well satisfied, but I have hardly seen a consensus develop in the first place--and even if it did, that would not make it true.
Going back to the above examples, what made the people at the fair to nearly guess correctly the weight of the ox, or for a prediction market to correctly predict the winner of the 2000 US Presidential election, is, in a word, incentives. The participants in those cases have a stake in being correct--they can win an ox, or win some sort of status in the Internet prediction market.
I think that it is a fair generalization to make that participants, when given incentives to be correct, do tend to be correct. This is interesting.
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