Saturday, 4 May 2013

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking, Fast and Slow is just okay. It's being marketed as a book on psychology (and economic psychology, in particular) for the layperson. I'm not sure if other laypeople agree, but this wasn't really for me. And it's not that the prose is too technical (okay, sometimes it is) but rather that Kahneman is stuck somewhere between academic technicalities and clear expressive prose. 

In short, sometimes, this book is clunky. There is this one example that I reacted to strongly because I didn't understand his explanation. Or rather, to give myself a little credit, because his explanation was crappy. I can think of one simple sentence that would have clearly and easily laid out the whole logical fallacy that I (and, apparently virtually everyone else who read this question ever) fell into. It's very simple. It's very simple to explain.

He doesn't do it. He talks around it, sure, but never gets to the actual nuts and bolts. It wasn't until a stray line at the beginning of the next chapter set off a bunch of associations in my head that I understood what I'd gotten wrong. And if you're trying to explain to people common mistakes in how we think and how to look for them, being able to explain clearly what they are is a bonus.

Once I figured it out, it was obvious. I did exceptionally well in probabilities in my last year of high school math, in the course for those not going on to do any more math ever, entitled "Finite Math." (I did so well the teacher suggested I should think about math as a career. I laughed and laughed.)

There is some good stuff here. There are interesting examinations of why we try to use "intuition" to think statistically, and why that doesn't work. Why we overjudge risk. When we risk, and what the psychology is. Most of the psychology is the psychology of how people interact with the marketplace, and how badly we do it (even, and perhaps particularly, the professionals). I'd be interested to hear how these concepts might be applied to non-economic psychology.

There is a lot of meat in this book. The problem is, to get to it, you have to slog through a lot of fairly boring prose. And I do that during my actual work anyway. I'm not that interested spending my leisure time doing the same. And as the book goes on, the anecdotes that illustrate concepts get fewer and fewer.

This is a fascinating topic, and Kahneman clearly knows his stuff. But the prose style is dry. Take those two things into consideration, and decide whether this one is for you. I don't mind having read it, but I can't say I thoroughly enjoyed it, either.

1 comment:

  1. I came over from Goodreads to read the complete review and I don't think it is un-kosher(if there is such a word) in your review. I recently reviewed a book in which i was annoyed with the ciffhanger ending - okay, gave it a three star rating, but it's still there. I also reviewed a book, which ai gave one star and it is also still there. Don't give up too easily. Goodreads is still my first book-home. But I also moved to Booklike and started my own blog for cross-posting. I would love it if you can join them as well.