three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
By: 
Jonah Lehrer
user_rating: 
0

A-How We DecideJonah Lehrer, journalist, Rhodes scholar, and one-time research assistant to neuroscientist and Nobel laureate Eric Kandel, is the author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2008).

The Topic: We all make decisions, whether you’re a Super Bowl quarterback driving for the game-winning touchdown, a professional golfer staring over a five-foot putt to win the Masters, a soldier faced with incoming fire, or an average Joe wondering which breakfast cereal to eat. But do you really understand how you arrive at these decisions? Drawing on empirical research, psychological studies, and anecdotal evidence, Jonah Lehrer concludes in How We Decide that decision making in every aspect of our lives (and regardless of who we are) involves both head and gut. "Sometimes we need to reason through our options and carefully analyze the possibilities," the author writes. "And sometimes we need to listen to our emotions. The secret is knowing when to use these different styles of thought."
Houghton Mifflin. 302 pages. $25. ISBN: 0618620117

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"In this entertaining, insightful book that combines neuroscience with in-depth anecdotes about decision-making by shoppers, NFL quarterbacks, professional poker players, and others, Jonah Lehrer argues that the best decisions are not only rational but blend reason and feeling. … Lehrer’s exhaustively researched and skillfully crafted book will appeal to anyone who wants to improve their decision-making skills." Chuck Leddy

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Fortunately, Lehrer offers real substance by going short on agenda and overreaching simplifications and being long on scholarship; his book presents an excellent synthesis of how many leading mind scientists view decision making. … What Lehrer does deliver is a readily engaging, literate and well-researched glimpse into the great mystery of how we make up our minds." Robert Burton

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Lehrer’s beliefs about the brain sometimes outrun his data, but one view he shares with philosophers is that we humans are strongly predisposed to pulling the wool over our own eyes. … In admirable earnestness, the twentysomething author admonishes that if we want to improve our decision-making IQs, we need to make an effort to nurture our inner skeptics." Gordon Marino

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Lehrer is prone to hyperbole—fans of Joe Namath’s 1969 New York Jets might not agree that the New England Patriots’ 2002 victory over the St. Louis Rams was ‘the greatest upset in NFL history’—but he’s expert at both storytelling and hard science. How We Decide is always fascinating, which is not to say that the book is without problems." Peter D. Kramer

Critical Summary

With Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell has cornered the market on popular studies of human behavior. But Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide holds its own with Gladwell, Stephen Pinker, Daniel Dennett, and the host of science writers increasingly focused on the complexities of the human brain. "There isn’t any spectacular revelation, unique viewpoint or knockout final summation," noted the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post felt that Lehrer "does little to integrate science’s contradictory findings." Lehrer nonetheless illuminates the many processes involved in even the simplest decisions. By letting the experts do much of the talking and by drawing conclusions from his voluminous research and knowledge of the field, Lehrer presents a readable account of what we know about how we decide—and acknowledges the vast universe of what we don’t.