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Bookmarks Issue: 
57-Mar-Apr-2012
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A-Thinking-Fast-and-SlowDaniel Kahneman, trained as a psychologist, won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002 and is considered one of the field's most influential thinkers. This is his first book for a popular audience.

The Topic: The science of economics relies on the assumption that human beings are rational decision makers. Work based on that assumption has led to powerful predictive models but also harmful fallacies: after all, we all know at some level that people don't make reasonable decisions. But in the 1970s, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky conducted a series of bold experiments designed to document our "cognitive biases" and to use them to improve economic theory. Now Kahneman has collected the stories of many of those experiments and the lessons learned in this book. The overarching narrative is a conflict between two metaphorical processes in the brain: "System 1" (fast, intuitive, associative, primal, always on, but often wrong) and "System 2" (slow, methodical, rational, easily tired, often switched off), both means of making difficult choices.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 512 pages. $30. ISBN: 9780374275631

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4.5 of 5 Stars"It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Daniel Kahneman's contribution to the understanding of the way we think and choose. ... Thinking, Fast and Slow is a magisterial work, stunning in its ambition, infused with knowledge, laced with wisdom, informed by modesty and deeply humane. If you can read only one book this year, read this one." Janice Gross Stein

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars"Thinking, Fast and Slow ... is an astonishingly rich book: lucid, profound, full of intellectual surprises and self-help value. It is consistently entertaining and frequently touching, especially when Kahneman is recounting his collaboration with Tversky." Jim Holt

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars"[Thinking, Fast and Slow] is an outstanding book, distinguished by beauty and clarity of detail, precision of presentation and gentleness of manner. Its truths are open to all those whose System 2 is not completely defunct; I have hardly touched on its richness. Some chapters are more taxing than others, but all are gratefully short, and none requires any special learning." Galen Strawson

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars"[A] tour de force of psychological insight, research explication and compelling narrative that brings together in one volume the high points of Mr. Kahneman's notable contributions, over five decades, to the study of human judgment, decision-making and choice. ... Mr. Kahneman's stated goals are minimalist: to ‘enrich the vocabulary that people use' when they talk about decisions, so that his readers benefit from his work at the ‘proverbial watercooler, where opinions are shared and gossip is exchanged.' Such modesty is rare and inspiring." Christopher F. Chabris

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars"Readers who enjoyed Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan and wanted a bit more bulk in their Blink will gravitate to Kahneman's readable, valedictory work. ... Thinking, Fast and Slow can be repetitive and a touch pedantic." Karen R. Long

Independent (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars"Kahneman offers his readers a vocabulary to describe the biases of thought, in a text that surveys both his own work and the rich field it has seeded. It sometimes requires more work than it should: at several points I had to turn to the internet to find clearer accounts, including by Kahneman himself." Marek Kohn

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars"His book is partly an intellectual autobiography, with an affecting portrait of his collaboration with Tversky, and it's enlivened with anecdotes drawn from his years in the Israeli army and advising the Israeli government. ... But Thinking, Fast and Slow is mainly a methodical march--a bit too much of a march--through what psychologists know about how the brain analyzes situations and retrieves information." Christopher Shea

Critical Summary

When reading Thinking, Fast and Slow with the methodical "System 2" part of their brains, critics had no doubt of its importance. Not only did Daniel Kahneman win the Nobel Prize for his seminal papers with Amos Tversky (who died in 1996), but his work has influenced thinkers in dozens of other fields. Where critics differed was how the book engaged their more intuitive and emotional "System 1." Some felt that the book's pacing, structure, and anecdotes were even more engaging and enlightening than those of frequently cited popular authors on this subject like Malcolm Gladwell. Others were quick to admit the importance of Thinking, Fast and Slow but noted that at times it felt too structured and academic. Either way, it's an enlightening tome on how--fast or slow--we make decisions. n