A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
A talented journalist taps the latest research in neuroscience and behavioral economics to explain what we now know about human decision making.
Each of us makes thousands of decisions a day; so many, in fact, that we make most of them without much forethought or rational reflection. But, as Jonah Lehrer proves in this persuasive book, making "rational decisions" about even the most consequential matters isn't always the wisest strategy. Drawing on cutting-edge studies, he describes how our minds evaluate incoming data and why the optimal mix of feeling and reason depends on the problem at hand. Packed with surprises, How We Decide brims with counterintuitive advice: New Yorker contributor Lehrer argues, for instance, that it's best to emotionally "feel out" major purchases, such as buying a house, before making the jump. Stimulating reading for fans of Malcolm Gladwell.
Explaining decision-making on the scale of neurons makes for a challenging task, but Lehrer handles it with confidence and grace. As an introduction to the cognitive struggle between the brain's "executive" rational centers and its more intuitive regions, How We Decide succeeds with great panache, though readers of other popular books on this subject (Antonio Damasio's Descartes' Error and Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence, for example) will be familiar with a number of the classic experiments Lehrer describes.
The New York Times
…[Lehrer's] expert at both storytelling and hard science. is always fascinating
The Washington Post
What is going on in the brain of a pilot deciding how to handle an emergency or a man trying to escape a wildfire? Does reason or emotion rule our decision making? Seed magazine editor-at-large Lehrer (Proust Was a Neuroscientist) brings recent research in neurobiology to life as he shows that the view, dating back to Plato, of the decision-making brain as a charioteer (reason) trying to control wild horses (emotions) comes up short. As Lehrer describes in fluid prose, the brain's reasoning centers are easily fooled, often making judgments based on nonrational factors like presentation (a sales pitch or packaging). And Lehrer cites a study of investors given varying amounts of financial data to show that our inner charioteer also can be confused by too much information. Even more surprisingly, research shows that "gut instinct" often does make better decisions than long, drawn-out reasoning, and people with impaired emotional responses have trouble coping with the decisions required in everyday life. Lehrer is a delight to read, and this is a fascinating book (some of which appeared recently, in a slightly different form, in the New Yorker) that will help everyone better understand themselves and their decision making. (Feb. 9)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Rhodes scholar Lehrer (Proust Was a Neuroscientist) takes listeners on a journey through how the human brain makes decisions, exploring factors that influence decision-making and combining medical diagnostic data with real-life examples. While Malcolm Gladwell's Blink discussed from afar how reason and intuition influence snap decisions, Lehrer's book digs more deeply into new research from the fields of psychology, sociology, and neuroscience to provide an erudite, scholarly view of the inner workings of the human brain as it makes decisions. Audie Award nominee David Colacci's (The Suspect) evenhanded delivery will help listeners of this often technical material stay focused. For interested lay readers as well as students and professors of psychology/psychiatry. [Audio clip available through brillianceaudio.com.—Ed.]—Dale Farris, Groves, TX
A Gladwellian exploration of the brain's inner workings during the decision-making process. Given the recent deluge of pop-science books, readers may find it difficult to make a selection. Enter Seed and Scientific American contributor Lehrer's second book (Proust Was a Neuroscientist, 2007), a laudable attempt to help people understand how their brains make decisions-and hopefully, improve the process. On the former point, the book is a treasure trove of scientific data, clinical research and real-life examples of decision-making processes. On the latter point, however, it leaves something to be desired. At its best, Lehrer's narrative is a compelling mixture of recently discovered facts and intriguing theories about the differences between the rational and emotional centers of the brain. The author's research indicates, somewhat counterintuitively, that the emotional areas are the primary drivers when making complex decisions that involve multiple variables, such as purchasing a house or car. Lehrer also looks at anecdotal evidence of those theories in action, ranging from the incredible efforts of a pilot to land a plane after its hydraulic systems failed (a prime example of using the reason center of the brain to conquer fear and take action) to clinical experiments involving tests to see how long unsupervised four-year-olds can resist a marshmallow (not very, in most cases). In its most effective chapters, the book ties research to practical applications, such as a 401(k) program designed to overcome our irrational need for immediate reward (to the detriment of long-term saving) by deferring the start of the program until a few months after employment begins. Other sections lack thesame practical applicability, and the vague generality of much of the decision-making advice feels more therapist than scientist. May not facilitate great improvements in decision-making, but the Cliff Clavins of the world will exult in the factoids and anecdotes. Author tour to New York, Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Seattle
“Cash or credit? Punt or go for first down? Deal or no deal? Life is filled with puzzling choices. Reporting from the frontiers of neuroscience and armed with riveting case studies of how pilots, quarterbacks, and others act under fire, Jonah Lehrer presents a dazzlingly authoritative and accessible account of how we make decisions, what’s happening in our heads as we do so, and how we might all become better ‘deciders.’ Luckily, this one’s a no-brainer: Read this book.”—Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)
"Over the past two decades, research in neuroscience and behavioral economics has revolutionized our understanding of human decision making. Jonah Lehrer brings it all together in this insightful and enjoyable book, giving readers the information they need to make the smartest decisions.”—Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error and Looking for Spinoza
“Jonah Lehrer ingeniously weaves neuroscience, sports, war, psychology, and politics into a fascinating tale of human decision making. In the process, he makes us much wiser.”—Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational
“Should we go with instinct or analysis? The answer, Lehrer explains, in this smart and delightfully readable book, is that it depends on the situation. Knowing which method works best in which case is not just useful but fascinating. Lehrer proves once again that he’s a master storyteller and one of the best guides to the practical lessons from new neuroscience.”—Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired and author of The Long Tail
“As Lehrer describes in fluid prose, the brain’s reasoning centers are easily fooled, often making judgments based on nonrational factors like presentation (a sales pitch or packaging)...Lehrer is a delight to read, and this is a fascinating book (some of which appeared recently, in a slightly different form, in the New Yorker) that will help everyone better understand themselves and their decision making.” —Publisher's Weekly, starred review