Summer Reading

Summer is halfway over, and I just finished reading How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. It covers some of the same ground as another excellent book I read in the spring, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. I highly recommend Ariely's book, especially to people who design information artifacts and services. It identifies types of scenarios in which people behave in consistently (hence, predictably) irrational ways and the principles that underlie that behavior - things like loss aversion, framing, and mental accounting. Ariely is a social scientist (and an engaging professor, as I can attest from my MIT days) writing mainly about his own research and the research of his colleages working in the field of behavioral economics. His book unfolds as a series of anecdotes that each illustrates a principle and then delves into the details and is a great starting point for anyone interested in looking further into the research. Lehrer's book doesn't go into as much depth with the behavioral economics, but he sprinkles some introductory neuroscience throughout that adds an interesting dimension to the material. He is also a journalist rather than a scientist, and some of his anecdotes read like excerpts from a dramatic piece of non-fiction. A pilot fights to land a stalled Boeing 737. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady makes a series of split-second decisions in the 2002 Super Bowl. A professional poker player faces off against a host of idiosyncratic rivals in Las Vegas. It all adds up to an entertaining and informative read, but I got a little lost trying to extract applicable takeaways straight from the text, and the ending felt a bit muddled and hand-wavy. It was still worth the time I spent reading it, though. I also give it bonus points for having images of ice cream cones on the front cover, leading countless hungry Americans into pursuing careers in neuroscience.