College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
with a very interesting turn on Darwinian psychology/sociology. Haidt does a deft and often humorous job of translating current neo-Darwinian science of the mind into lay terms (though he is not as deft or humorous as Steven Pinker--whose books are better), and his metaphors for how the mind works and for how the mind works in a complex society are well crafted. I did have a couple of reservations: the first is his breezy treatment of drugs like Prozac and Paxil as treatment for "everyday" anxiety and depression (that is, problems not bad enough to be labelled "disorder" in correlation with the DSM-IV description)--despite a vast amount of evidence regarding what sometimes amount to devastating side effects, especially in children and young adults, and the incredible over-medication of our society at large, Haidt encourages use of such drugs for NOS anxiety and depression without reservation. Also, if you have read Pinker, Wright, Dawkins, Dennett, or many of the other current Darwinian psychologists, you are going to have encountered A LOT of this stuff before. When explaining Darwinian psychology and sociology, Haidt doesn't bring a lot of new stuff to the table--unless this is the first book on the topic that you have read. The same old examples, ants, bats, etc... But these are relatively minor complaints... the application of the Darwinian style of seeing the human mind in regard to happiness and the use of ancient wisdom to back up his points make this book well worth reading.
At the end of a premiere of one of Steve Martin's early films, a hostile critic approached him afterward and snapped, "it's not exactly Doestoyevski, is it?!" Martin retorted, "no, it wasn't meant to be..." And so it would be just as unfair to accuse Gallagher's straightforward little book of basic ethical behavior and social interaction of not being Kant, Rousseau or Tolstoy. It simply isn't meant to be. What it is meant to be is a compact iteration of the simplest principles of morality which, ironically, remain some of the most difficult to put into practice. It is fine to ponder the complexities of Anna Karenina, The Critique Of Pure Reason or Morality As Natural Law, and we should be able to delve to those depths, but first and foremost, we must find our own central moral core, unmolested by worldly opinion and pressure, exploring the profoundly simple but remarkably difficult "do unto others" that alone has the power to transform ourselves and the world--if we ever find a way to truly lay hands on it.
because the points made are excellent, and individual free will rational decision making is certainly a vital aspect of morality--but it is certainly not the only factor, and it certainly cannot function alone. (Mackay's insinuation that we can just turn our backs on immoral institutions and society ignores a very vital part of us, what Jonathan Haidt calls "hiveishness," the need for the approval of society, and our often unconscious willingness to bend our morality to fit in.) In fact, after reading this book (or before--I would not go so far as to say "instead of"), read Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: it is a much more realistic take on human morality. For instance, Haidt insists that we are 90% chimp (self-interested) and 10% bee (concerned with group approval), and while Haidt does not throw self-determination out the window, he does make an unpleasant truth clear: that we most often "decide" what our morality is by intuition and then make up logical (or, often enough, illogical) reasons to support our intuitive/emotional moral choice (often guided by what WE want to do!) The two books are complementary, I suppose, but do read Haidt to fill in the holes this book leaves in moral theory.
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
A solid survey of behavioral economics literature related to the premise that the wide range of choices we have (what to read, how to read it, what rating to give it, where to post our review) actually ends up making us unhappier (tyranny of small decisions). Schwartz's summary is similar to a lot of those pop-economic books that seem to pop up regularly and sell quite well because they both tell us something we kinda already suspected, but also gently surprise us with counter-intuitive ideas at the same time. We are surprised, we are also a little validated: just little bit of supply with a very light touch demand.
This book belongs snug on the bookshelf next to: anything by Malcolm Gladwell, Freakonomics, Predictably Irrational, Nudge, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), etc. All interesting, all worth the time (as long as the time is < 5 hrs), but none of them are brilliant. They are all Gladwell-like in their reductionism (this is why they all sell so well to the business community and are pimped heavily by Forbes to TED). I am both attracted and repelled by the form. They seem to span the fissure between academic and pop, between economics and self-help. I read them and I end up feeling like I know a bit more about myself, and NOW I'm just disappointed in that bastard for a couple more rational reasons.