Review: The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely

16 Jun

The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at HomeThe Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Summary via Goodreads:

  • Why can large bonuses make CEOs less productive?
  • How can confusing directions actually help us?
  • Why is revenge so important to us?
  • Why is there such a big difference between what we think will make us happy and what really makes us happy?

In his groundbreaking book Predictably Irrational, social scientist Dan Ariely revealed the multiple biases that lead us into making unwise decisions. Now, in The Upside of Irrationality, he exposes the surprising negative and positive effects irrationality can have on our lives. Focusing on our behaviors at work and in relationships, he offers new insights and eye-opening truths about what really motivates us on the job, how one unwise action can become a long-term habit, how we learn to love the ones we’re with, and more.

Drawing on the same experimental methods that made Predictably Irrational one of the most talked-about bestsellers of the past few years, Ariely uses data from his own original and entertaining experiments to draw arresting conclusions about how—and why—we behave the way we do. From our office attitudes, to our romantic relationships, to our search for purpose in life, Ariely explains how to break through our negative patterns of thought and behavior to make better decisions. The Upside of Irrationality will change the way we see ourselves at work and at home—and cast our irrational behaviors in a more nuanced light.

I haven’t read Dan Ariely before, although I’ve heard a lot about Predictably Irrational from my husband, who really liked the book.

I enjoyed The Upside of Irrationality, although I wasn’t always sure what kind of book it was trying to be. The author was very clear that this book was much more personal than Predictably Irrational, giving a book that was a mixture of notes on research and what it tells us and of personal stories and anecdotes with a curious balance between them.  Was it a memoir of sorts, with the studies to support his personal thoughts?  Was the meat in the studies, with the personal stories meant simply as a supplement?  It was hard to tell at times.

Anything that looks into how we think, and why we behave the way we do is bound to be interesting, and this is an excellent example of that.

Certainly, Dan Ariely’s looks into the research were fascinating, particularly as he and his colleagues designed the studies to test certain hypotheses. I didn’t always agree with the conclusions they came to based on the results as explained in the book, but I also acknowledge that the actual analysis was much more complex than what was presented.  I was impressed with the thought that went into the studies, and I found them thought provoking.

On the other hand, I had more mixed opinions on his personal stories. Some of them gave interesting perspective to the studies he described. Some of them were an inspiring look at someone that really has overcome a lot.

And some of it made him sound like kind of a shallow guy. I admire his honesty, I guess, as he talks about how unfair it is that his accident lowers the expected hotness he could expect to find and date– after all he’s the same person inside as he was before. Evidently, this doesn’t carry through to the opposite sex– they should look past his exterior to his interior, but he shouldn’t be expected to do the same. Luckily, he found someone that was willing to do so, leaving him happy with his attractive spouse, and me with somewhat less respect for him. Luckily for both of us, our paths are unlikely to cross, and it should prove entirely irrelevant!

The really unfortunate thing is how much that tiny piece of the book stuck with me. I think of it far more than the studies on how to motivate people (which tied in nicely with Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which I read recently as well), more than the thoughts on how we value our own efforts, and those on the need for (and value of) revenge. The book spent more time on these issues than the ones of attractiveness, and they are the more interesting to me in an abstract sense.

There’s a lot of great reading here. I’m guessing there is even more in Predictably Irrational, which I still plan to read some day.

Thank you to Harper Perennial for sending me a copy to review!

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Posted by on June 16, 2011 in books, reviews


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