Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

3.8 14
by Kathryn Schulz
     
 

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“Both wise and clever, full of fun and surprise about a topic so central to our lives that we almost never even think about it.”
—Bill McKibben, author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

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Overview

“Both wise and clever, full of fun and surprise about a topic so central to our lives that we almost never even think about it.”
—Bill McKibben, author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

In the tradition of The Wisdom of Crowds and Predictably Irrational comes Being Wrong, an illuminating exploration of what it means to be in error, and why homo sapiens tend to tacitly assume (or loudly insist) that they are right about most everything. Kathryn Schulz, editor of Grist magazine, argues that error is the fundamental human condition and should be celebrated as such. Guiding the reader through the history and psychology of error, from Socrates to Alan Greenspan, Being Wrong will change the way you perceive screw-ups, both of the mammoth and daily variety, forever.

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Editorial Reviews

Tom Vanderbilt
“Kathryn Schulz’s brilliant, spirited, and necessary inquiry into the essential humanity of error will leave you feeling intoxicatingly wrongheaded.”
Steven Johnson
“Kathryn Schulz has given us a brilliant and remarkably upbeat account of the long history of human error. If Being Wrong is this smart and illuminating, I don’t want to be right!”
Frans Johansson
“Kathryn Schultz is engaging, witty and fascinating as she uses a full arsenal of academic research, colorful stories, philosophical arguments and personal anecdotes to create a riveting account of why we, mostly, have been wrong about being wrong.”
Bill McKibben
“Both wise and clever, full of fun and surprise...[BEING WRONG] could also be enormously useful—there are very few problems we face...that couldn’t be helpfully addressed if we we were willing to at least entertain the idea that we might not be entirely right.”
Dwight Garner
“A funny and philosophical meditation on why error is mostly a humane, courageous and extremely desirable human trait. [Schulz] flies high in the intellectual skies, leaving beautiful sunlit contrails....It’s lovely to watch this idea warm in Ms. Schulz’s hands.”
Harold S. Kushner
“An amazing book. . . . I don’t know when I last read a book as stimulating, as thoughtful, and as much fun to read.”
Boston Globe
“[A]n unusual examination of the virtue and peril of being wrong and of all the ways we think we know things that just ain’t so.”
New York Times Book Review
“[A]n insightful and delightful discussion of the errors of our ways. . . . Schulz remains good company -- a warm, witty and welcome presence. . . . [S]he combines lucid prose with perfect comic timing. . . . Being Wrong is smart and lively.”
Washington Post
“Schulz draws on philosophers, neuroscientists, psychoanalysts and bit of common sense in an erudite, playful rumination on error.”
Associated Press Staff
“So, please take this advice: Read BEING WRONG, because it’s the right thing to do.”
Newsweek
“Intellectualism made fun! . . . Schulz’s call to embrace flaws and errors as potentially beneficial will surely draw legions of follwers.”
Huffington Post
“Schulz possesses playfulness even as she brings the reader to tears... Being Wrong has a heartbeat.”
Daniel Gilbert
…an insightful and delightful discussion of the errors of our ways—why we make mistakes, why we don't know we are making them and what we do when recognition dawns…From the expository first half through the character-driven second, Schulz remains good company—a warm, witty and welcome presence who confides in her readers rather than lecturing them. It doesn't hurt that she combines lucid prose with perfect comic timing…
—The New York Times
Michael Washburn
Being Wrong traverses disciplines and eras, deftly interweaving etymology (Schulz reminds us that "error" derives from the Latin word for "to stray or wander") with such sources as Saint Augustine's Confessions, contemporary neuroscience and vivid examples of radical mistakes…Through such cases, Schulz lays bare the inductive failures, misperceptions and biased assumptions that exist in less extreme form in everyone and that everyone should find instructive.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In the spirit of Blink and Predictably Irrational (but with a large helping of erudition), journalist Schulz casts a fresh and irreverent eye upon the profound meanings behind our most ordinary behaviors—in this instance, how we make mistakes, how we behave when we find we have been wrong, and how our errors change us. “[I]t is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are,” she asserts. Schulz writes with such lucidity and wit that her philosophical enquiry becomes a page-turner. She deftly incorporates Wittgenstein, Descartes, and Freud, along with an array of contemporary social scientists and even a spin with Shakespeare and Keats. There's heavy stuff here, but no heavy-handedness. Being wrong encompasses the cataclysmic (economic collapse) and the commonplace (leaving a “laptop in front of the window before the storm”). Being wrong may lead to fun (playing with and understanding optical illusions) or futility (the Millerite expectation of the Rapture in 1844). Being wrong can be transformative, and Schultz writes, “I encourage us to see error as a gift in itself, a rich and irreplaceable source of humor, art, illumination, individuality, and change”—an apt description of her engrossing study. (June)
Associated Press
“So, please take this advice: Read BEING WRONG, because it’s the right thing to do.”
Library Journal
In her first book, Schulz (former editor of Grist) fuses contemporary psychological theories on "wrongology" with classical philosophy, creating a well-rounded picture of what it means to be wrong. Rather than focusing on the negativity normally surrounding wrongness, Schulz urges the reader to see error as an adventure and, more important, a completely natural state of being. She uses a wide array of examples, including a "superior mirage" in the Arctic Ocean and a blind woman who believed that she could see, to illustrate how and why people get things wrong and how to accept and embrace error. Schulz challenges readers to confront their own sense of certainty, peppering her text with images of optical illusions in a unique method of reader involvement. VERDICT While the text is consistently insightful and entertaining, its main points are occasionally hidden beneath muddled examples and Schulz's overtly philosophical approach to error. Not quite a casual read, this book is most fitting for academics and readers interested in the complexity of being wrong.—Melissa Mallon, Univ. of Pittsburgh Lib., Johnstown
Kirkus Reviews
A sometimes plodding, sometimes illuminating disquisition on the fine art of getting it wrong. The world of error, writes former Grist editor Schulz, is not black and white. "[B]eing a little wrong in the right direction is one thing," she writes, "and being massively wrong in the wrong direction is something else entirely." Arguing over what direction is right and wrong, of course, occupies much of our days. Think of the invasion of Iraq over WMDs, for instance, which lies in a category of belief-driven error that persists because the perpetrator lacks a suitable alternate theory, a plan B. In that light, writes the author, investment in not wholly thought-through theories is a great cause of trouble, the equivalent of sunk costs, "money that is already spent and can't be recovered." As with much pop science of the day-think Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Johnson or Chris Anderson-Schulz consults little-heard-of authorities, in this case experts in what might be called error science. Yet her approach is more anthropological, even philosophical, than scientific. For example, she closely examines the role morality plays in our operational notions of right and wrong, since we live in "a culture that simultaneously despises error and insists that it is central to our lives." The author covers the ground well, with a particularly good account of why eyewitness police reports are so riddled with error. At times, however, her discussion bogs down in forced moments of supposed significance-e.g., a dream sequence featuring Samuel Taylor Coleridge-and longueurs in which things left better unexplained are subjected to weird science (incongruity theory as applied to jokes). There are also many areas in which other recent books-particularly Atul Gawande's Checklist Manifesto (2009)-do the same work better. Even with its faults, however, one has to like a book that proclaims, "To fuck up is to find adventure."Agent: Kim Witherspoon/InkWell Management

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061176050
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/04/2011
Pages:
405
Sales rank:
139,145
Product dimensions:
7.92(w) x 5.38(h) x 1.02(d)

What People are saying about this

Tom Vanderbilt
“Kathryn Schulz’s brilliant, spirited, and necessary inquiry into the essential humanity of error will leave you feeling intoxicatingly wrongheaded.”
Dwight Garner
“A funny and philosophical meditation on why error is mostly a humane, courageous and extremely desirable human trait. [Schulz] flies high in the intellectual skies, leaving beautiful sunlit contrails....It’s lovely to watch this idea warm in Ms. Schulz’s hands.”
Steven Johnson
“Kathryn Schulz has given us a brilliant and remarkably upbeat account of the long history of human error. If Being Wrong is this smart and illuminating, I don’t want to be right!”
Harold S. Kushner
“An amazing book. . . . I don’t know when I last read a book as stimulating, as thoughtful, and as much fun to read.”
Frans Johansson
“Kathryn Schultz is engaging, witty and fascinating as she uses a full arsenal of academic research, colorful stories, philosophical arguments and personal anecdotes to create a riveting account of why we, mostly, have been wrong about being wrong.”
Bill McKibben
“Both wise and clever, full of fun and surprise...[BEING WRONG] could also be enormously useful—there are very few problems we face...that couldn’t be helpfully addressed if we we were willing to at least entertain the idea that we might not be entirely right.”

Read More

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