Here is a very intriguing look at how and why we—ordinary, intelligent people—are sometimes compelled to act in extraordinarily foolish ways. How could a respected and accomplished pilot choose to ignore all of his training and wind up killing himself and everyone on board his plane? How could a student let himself get talked into buying a $20 bill for more than $200? Why did nearly 60 percent of a game-show audience say that the sun revolves around the Earth, when they surely knew better? It all comes down, the authors say, to ordinary human behavior: our tendency to try to minimize losses; to rethink our first impressions; to admit a course of action is wrong, once we’ve committed to it. The book relies heavily on actual case studies, as opposed to general theorizing: the authors point to a specific situation, analyze it, and explain it (often by referring to psychological experiments or material in the literature of psychology). This is one of those books that, by telling us about things other people have done, tells us even more about ourselves.
This review originally appeared in Booklist, April 2008.