Customer Reviews for

Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

Well-written explanation of why crowds are smart

This well-written bestseller explores the apparent anomaly that crowds of nonexperts seem to be collectively smarter than individual experts or even small groups of experts. This basic insight is at the heart of contemporary financial investment theory, with its emphasi...
This well-written bestseller explores the apparent anomaly that crowds of nonexperts seem to be collectively smarter than individual experts or even small groups of experts. This basic insight is at the heart of contemporary financial investment theory, with its emphasis on the difficulty of outguessing the market. Beginning with British scientist Francis Galton's remarkable discovery in 1906 that a crowd of nonexperts proved surprisingly competent at guessing the weight of an ox, financial columnist and author James Surowiecki skillfully recounts experiments, discoveries and anecdotes that demonstrate productive group thinking. The concept does not come as news to anyone reasonably well read in modern financial literature, but we recommend this comprehensive, fresh presentation.

posted by Anonymous on June 19, 2006

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Most Helpful Critical Review

4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

A huge disappointment

I had high expectations for this book because James Surowiecki's New Yorker column is usually so good. But THE WISDOM OF CROWDS is one of the most disappointing books I've read in years. (Indeed, I feel somewhat ripped off by having purchased it and devoted se...
I had high expectations for this book because James Surowiecki's New Yorker column is usually so good. But THE WISDOM OF CROWDS is one of the most disappointing books I've read in years. (Indeed, I feel somewhat ripped off by having purchased it and devoted several hours to reading it.) The main problem with this book is that despite Surowiecki's often breathless tone, nothing he says is new. Every point he makes has been made many times before by many other writers. For instance, the key theme of his book is that groups can solve certain 'cognition problems' better than individuals. No kidding. Ever hear the phrase 'Two heads are better than one?' The thesis is so self-evident and widely-known that it comes with its own cliché! Yet Surowiecki devotes more than one-third of the book essentially to arguing that two people can solve a crossword puzzle faster than one person. Amazing, no? What's more, Surowiecki's central point about the power of 'collective intelligence' has long been a staple of business education. If you've ever taken an organizational behavior class, you've done the exercise where groups of varying sizes are stuck on a desert island with a dozen supplies -- and then each group must devise a solution for escaping the island using those supplies. Inevitably, the larger the group, the better the solution -- because larger groups reflect the accumulated experience and expertise of more people. (In other words, five heads are even better than two.) Want another example of how threadbare this idea is? Google the phrase 'none of us is as smart as all of us' - and you'll discover that Surowiecki's supposedly 'counterintuitive' notion has been talked about in business circles since Bill Gates was in short pants. If that weren't bad enough, the rest of the book -- particularly Suriowiecki's discussion of 'coordination,' his second 'stunning' insight--- is essentially a retread of arguments that have been made elsewhere for more than a decade. James Gleick made many of these points in CHAOS. Kevin Kelly said everything that Surowiecki says ten years ago in OUT OF CONTROL. Steven Johnson said it again four years ago in EMERGENCE. Howard Rheingold said lots of it last year in SMART MOBS. And Surowiecki's third argument -- that sometimes cooperation is preferable to competition -- is even older. Charles Darwin told us this in the 19th century! Indeed, there's an entire branch of evolutionary psychology devoted to studying cooperation. Just read Robert Wright's THE MORAL ANIMAL if you want a more thorough and engaging account of this point. If this book were an undergraduate term paper that summarized the self-evident and reviewed what others had already had said, I'd give it a B. But for book that costs 20 bucks from a writer who's obviously got some talent, I'd have to give THE WISDOM OF CROWDS an Incomplete. Please try again, James. But next time, try a lot harder.

posted by Anonymous on May 26, 2004

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2006

    Well-written explanation of why crowds are smart

    This well-written bestseller explores the apparent anomaly that crowds of nonexperts seem to be collectively smarter than individual experts or even small groups of experts. This basic insight is at the heart of contemporary financial investment theory, with its emphasis on the difficulty of outguessing the market. Beginning with British scientist Francis Galton's remarkable discovery in 1906 that a crowd of nonexperts proved surprisingly competent at guessing the weight of an ox, financial columnist and author James Surowiecki skillfully recounts experiments, discoveries and anecdotes that demonstrate productive group thinking. The concept does not come as news to anyone reasonably well read in modern financial literature, but we recommend this comprehensive, fresh presentation.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2004

    A huge disappointment

    I had high expectations for this book because James Surowiecki's New Yorker column is usually so good. But THE WISDOM OF CROWDS is one of the most disappointing books I've read in years. (Indeed, I feel somewhat ripped off by having purchased it and devoted several hours to reading it.) The main problem with this book is that despite Surowiecki's often breathless tone, nothing he says is new. Every point he makes has been made many times before by many other writers. For instance, the key theme of his book is that groups can solve certain 'cognition problems' better than individuals. No kidding. Ever hear the phrase 'Two heads are better than one?' The thesis is so self-evident and widely-known that it comes with its own cliché! Yet Surowiecki devotes more than one-third of the book essentially to arguing that two people can solve a crossword puzzle faster than one person. Amazing, no? What's more, Surowiecki's central point about the power of 'collective intelligence' has long been a staple of business education. If you've ever taken an organizational behavior class, you've done the exercise where groups of varying sizes are stuck on a desert island with a dozen supplies -- and then each group must devise a solution for escaping the island using those supplies. Inevitably, the larger the group, the better the solution -- because larger groups reflect the accumulated experience and expertise of more people. (In other words, five heads are even better than two.) Want another example of how threadbare this idea is? Google the phrase 'none of us is as smart as all of us' - and you'll discover that Surowiecki's supposedly 'counterintuitive' notion has been talked about in business circles since Bill Gates was in short pants. If that weren't bad enough, the rest of the book -- particularly Suriowiecki's discussion of 'coordination,' his second 'stunning' insight--- is essentially a retread of arguments that have been made elsewhere for more than a decade. James Gleick made many of these points in CHAOS. Kevin Kelly said everything that Surowiecki says ten years ago in OUT OF CONTROL. Steven Johnson said it again four years ago in EMERGENCE. Howard Rheingold said lots of it last year in SMART MOBS. And Surowiecki's third argument -- that sometimes cooperation is preferable to competition -- is even older. Charles Darwin told us this in the 19th century! Indeed, there's an entire branch of evolutionary psychology devoted to studying cooperation. Just read Robert Wright's THE MORAL ANIMAL if you want a more thorough and engaging account of this point. If this book were an undergraduate term paper that summarized the self-evident and reviewed what others had already had said, I'd give it a B. But for book that costs 20 bucks from a writer who's obviously got some talent, I'd have to give THE WISDOM OF CROWDS an Incomplete. Please try again, James. But next time, try a lot harder.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    "The Wisdom of Crowds": Relevant Suggested Reading

    I never do this--comment before having read the book. And I will read the book. But also consider Elias Canetti's "Crowds and Power" from many years ago. It will scare the daylights out of you when you think of crowds. To say nothing of the fact that the judiciary in this country was established to protect the individual against crowd rule.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2004

    Essential

    This is one of the most entertaining and intellectually engaging books I've come across in a long while. Surowiecki has a gift for making complex ideas accessible, and he has a wonderful eye for the telling anecdote. His thesis about the intelligence of groups made up of diverse, independent decision-makers seems initially counterintuitive, but by the end of the book it seems almost obvious, because of all the evidence Surowiecki piles up on its behalf. The book does cover a lot of ground in not very much space, and the pace of the argument is at times too fast. But the throughline of the argument is almost always clear, and the stories Surowiecki tells are often memorable. The chapter on NASA's mismanagement of the Columbia mission and the tale of how a man named John Craven relied on collective wisdom to find a lost submarine are especially striking. This is one of those books that I expect people will still be talking about and referring to years or even decades from now. It's also a book that I hope will have a concrete impact on the way that people make decisions, since the implications of Surowiecki's argument are radical in the best way. All in all, a terrific read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2006

    go with the crowd, else loose

    yes the author is right, unfortuately the paranoid that others might prosper is driving us to follow the herd. men like organic molecules, aggregate or segregate with trends rich become rich, poor are further stripped, with weak vandervals forces in place. the sheep off the herd is lost dead. how ever happiness and satisfaction of having done something different what u believe is right is diiferent. think different and live different live a custom-dreamt life unlike sheep. consumer economy is governed by these laws of masses, 'mobocracy'.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2006

    try advanced phyics or math

    The crowd theory only works, and then only sometimes, in fields without rigor. Ten million people who have not studied calculus could not integrate a simple polynomial. How many would it take to come up with Maxwell's equations? The book is a poor answer to an unasked question.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2005

    Worst book that I've read in years

    This book is actually a fine example of the kind of 'cascading' systems talked about in the book. It is enormously overhyped and poorly argued. The author presents what amounts to a dumbed down explanation of game theory with pseudo-social science. Horrible book skip it. Excellent books that cover this topic (generall) and are accessible are Dixit and Nalebuff's _Thinking Strategically_ and Barabasi's _Linked_.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 22, 2013

    This is an entertaining and engaging book. It's somewhat repetit

    This is an entertaining and engaging book. It's somewhat repetitive, yet Surowiecki uses a great variety of intriguing examples to prove his viewpoint.

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  • Posted March 8, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I enjoyed The Wisdom of Crowds. I found the book to be well res

    I enjoyed The Wisdom of Crowds. I found the book to be well researched and well written. While the arguments for crowd wisdom can often be very complex, Surowiecki presents them in a clear fashion so that even numbskulls like me can get the message.

    And while I agree with his arguments and positions on the wisdom of crowds and found truth is each of the 12 chapters I do not believe that I am fully sold on this idea. Certainly not when we look at a variety of other arenas. The stupidity of crowds is why our nation as a republic. God forbid that we were a true democracy and forged our laws passed strictly on the crowd sentiment. I also didn’t find a lot of wisdom in the recent OWS movement. I’m not saying this from a political point of view as I do not care either way but this movement couldn’t muster enough cognitive power to formulate a simple goal, much less the strategy to achieve the objective.

    And finally, from a personal viewpoint, I have found through years of collective bargaining that the wisdom of crowds is usually absent from these groups of contract voters. I have seen more than one manufacturing facility closed by management because the crowd would not pass a labor contract over a minor detail. Nope, no wisdom here.

    I could go on but this is suffice to say that while the book is excellent, the reader would be advised to approach these theories with a wide open mind. I do recommend as a thought provoking well executed tome on a very important subject.

    Michael L. Gooch, SPHR – Author of Wingtips with Spurs

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  • Posted May 20, 2011

    Interesting insight into modern society and technology.

    Worth the read to understand how we have evolved as a society through the technology. Working in IT and developing tools for info sharing it gave me insights into how these same technologies have permeated into every day life.

    Like many books of it's genre it did stretch the points a bit and could have been more concise.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2008

    Ought to be Required Reading

    Absolutely fascinating. It transformed my thoughts about democracy, organizational governance, investing, management styles and executive salaries -- among other things.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2007

    The Smart Crowd

    When I heard a synopsis of the book, I knew I had to read it. My instincts were that crowds were always smarter than the 'experts' give them credit. The author's stories about livestock judging and the first shuttle disaster makes his point. The stock market is another great indicator of what we, as a crowd, believe and bet our money. Must read for anyone working with groups/organizations and needs validation that the crowd can make informed decisions.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2006

    When are the Many Smarter Than the Few and When Aren't They?

    A marvelous book!! It tells us that the crowd is much smarter than many of us think. But it also tells us under what conditions the crowd is not so smart. Its delight is in the counter-intuitiveness of its conclusions. The 'experts' will be bored, thinking it is old stuff, but the author shows us that the crowd is often smarter than they are. The book is worth reading more than once.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2005

    Skip it

    The Wisdom of Crowds crafted no unique theory of human interactions, psychology, or economics. It did not even serve as a good starting meta-text for those who are not initiated into the world of micro economics, game theory, and market theory. It did include a bevy of very interesting anecdotes, but it was unable to utilize them in defending a specific theory of behavior because the book. Yes, it is amazing that the mean of a few hundred guesses about the weight of a farm animal is 99.9% accurate, but it is neither a show of 'democracy' nor a solid proof of why stock markets operate as they do. It sadly, feels as if the author took an 'if Malcolm Gladwell (author of the tipping point) can do it, then I can do it, too,' approach to writing this book. The difference being that Wisdom's thesis is, at its core, anecdotes about a specific type of market. It is not an overarching principle to be applied across society. Wisdom's purpose seems to be to defend the idea that the stock market is rational- all while the author hedges his own bets and statements by conveniently footnoting that (paraphrase) 'What I just wrote doesn't prove anything, it just describes the idea that it is *possible* for averages and means to be more accurate than experts.' The emphasis (and reason why this book is a waste of time) there lies with the word, 'possible.' If it could be replaced with 'provable,' then we would be talking about a five-star review. ps. In defense to the author, the situations in which his anecdotes could be reapplied have almost all been rejected as 'cold-hearted,' 'immoral,' or 'not realistic,' and I applaud him for even mentioning the benefit they could have to society.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2004

    Excellent

    I'm a big fan of James Surowiecki's 'Financial Page' column in The New Yorker. He's consistently able to come up with unusual takes on seemingly familiar topics, and he has a great knack for making business stories compelling and entertaining as well as understandable. But because it's only a page long, I sometimes come away from the column wanting more, and I always wondered how Surowiecki would do if he was able to develop his ideas and arguments more fully. Luckily, 'The Wisdom of Crowds' lives up to all my expectations. It's wonderfully readable, full of terrific stories, funny, and its basic argument -- that groups, under certain conditions, can make better decisions than even the smartest individuals -- is counterintuitive without being willfully contrarian. The roots of the argument obviously stem from the way markets work -- buyers and sellers find each other and reach efficient outcomes without anyone being in charge, while the stock market (at least some of the time) does as good a job as possible of setting prices. But what I really like is the way Surowiecki extends this argument way beyond business and markets, showing how collective wisdom can be seen (and can potentially be used) in a host of other situations, including the racetrack, on the Internet, and on city streets. He also does a good job of drawing out the possible implications of this for everything from the U.S. intelligence community to the way companies are run. This is definitely a big-idea book, but the author is cautious in laying out his evidence, and is careful to show that groups, even if they're potentially wise, are often stupid and dangerous. The chapter on small groups in particular, which focuses on NASA's mismanagement of the Columbia mission, is powerful stuff, and useful to anyone interested in how to run a meeting well (or badly, for that matter). The least satisfying part of the book is the chapter on democracy, where Surowiecki shies away from pushing his conclusion to its logical end. But on the whole, this is just a wonderful book, elegant and enlightening. If you're interested in this book, it's also worth checking out Paul Seabright's 'The Company of Strangers' and Robert Wright's 'Nonzero.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted March 6, 2010

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    Posted June 26, 2010

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    Posted April 21, 2011

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    Posted January 11, 2011

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