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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error | [Kathryn Schulz]

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

To err is human. Yet most of us go through life assuming (and sometimes insisting) that we are right about nearly everything, from the origins of the universe to how to load the dishwasher. If being wrong is so natural, why are we all so bad at imagining that our beliefs could be mistaken, and why do we react to our errors with surprise, denial, defensiveness, and shame?
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Publisher's Summary

To err is human. Yet most of us go through life assuming (and sometimes insisting) that we are right about nearly everything, from the origins of the universe to how to load the dishwasher. If being wrong is so natural, why are we all so bad at imagining that our beliefs could be mistaken, and why do we react to our errors with surprise, denial, defensiveness, and shame?

In Being Wrong, journalist Kathryn Schulz explores why we find it so gratifying to be right and so maddening to be mistaken, and how this attitude toward error corrodes relationships—whether between family members, colleagues, neighbors, or nations. Along the way, she takes us on a fascinating tour of human fallibility, from wrongful convictions to no-fault divorce; medical mistakes to misadventures at sea; failed prophecies to false memories; "I told you so!" to "Mistakes were made."

Drawing on thinkers as varied as Augustine, Darwin, Freud, Gertrude Stein, Alan Greenspan, and Groucho Marx, she proposes a new way of looking at wrongness. In this view, error is both a given and a gift—one that can transform our worldviews, our relationships, and, most profoundly, ourselves.

In the end, Being Wrong is not just an account of human error but a tribute to human creativity—the way we generate and revise our beliefs about ourselves and the world. At a moment when economic, political, and religious dogmatism increasingly divide us, Schulz explores with uncommon humor and eloquence the seduction of certainty and the crises occasioned by error. A brilliant debut from a new voice in nonfiction, this book calls on us to ask one of life's most challenging questions: what if I'm wrong?

Download the accompanying reference guide.

©2010 Kathryn Schulz (P)2010 HarperCollins Publishers

What the Critics Say

“Engrossing.... In the spirit of Blink and Predictably Irrational (but with a large helping of erudition)... Schulz writes with such lucidity and wit that her philosophical enquiry becomes a page-turner.” (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Mike Superior, CO, United States 10-06-10
    Mike Superior, CO, United States 10-06-10 Member Since 2001
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    "A good read"

    I must start out by saying that I was prompted to write this review because the two reviews on the Audible website were quite negative. I am nearly halfway through this book and I am thoroughly enjoying it. For an audio book, though, it is a bit of a difficult “read” because of the depth that the author goes to in her discussion of the subject matter.

    As mentioned by one of the other reviewers, the author cites numerous experts, authors, and studies in the book. When listening to a study that the author is describing to present a point, one must focus carefully on the details to fully understand and appreciate the implications of the study and how that fits into the larger argument that the author is presenting. I must admit that with this book I find myself rewinding and reviewing the material far more often than I have with other audio books to fully understand the ideas presented. In some respects, this book might be better read than listened to in order to easily comprehend the material. But, I find it difficult to read a book while I am doing aerobic exercises, walking the dog, or cleaning the house.

    Despite the difficulties cited above, this is a book that I would certainly recommend to others. I find the organization of it to be logical and the author’s presentation to be coherent and interesting. If you are curious about how we think and come to what we believe is the truth and how we deal with errors, it is certainly worth a few minutes of your time. I should also note that the author is currently writing articles on matters related to the materials in the book in Slate (on the web) which I also enjoy.

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dave Staats Brentwood, tn United States 07-08-11
    Dave Staats Brentwood, tn United States 07-08-11 Member Since 2004
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    "Anyone who doesn't like this book is, well...wrong"

    I'd argue that people who downgrade this book just don't really want or need to know that much about the subject. I usually do fiction because I usually find this kind of thing boring but I had just told someone about Moonwalking with Einstein and he said I'd like this. He was right. It is thorough and well read and is very good at being what it is. I only do 5 stars for books I want to hear again right away.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12 Member Since 2005

    mostly nonfiction listener

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    "Awesome"

    My mantra since reading Being Wrong is "I may be wrong about this". Schulz is helping me embrace my inner mistake maker. Who knew that I'd learn more and be more effective if I simply said "I was wrong" - without trying to come up with reasons or explanations. This is a book with good ideas and a wonderful writer. The writing may be more revelatory than the ideas (and the narration of the audiobook is simply divine), but the ideas are pretty good. Making mistakes defines our humanity, and a tolerance for mistakes (in ourselves and others) is synonymous with maturity.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    sonofjohn 09-02-11
    sonofjohn 09-02-11 Member Since 2009
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    "Very Thought Provoking"

    i had absolutely no complaints about the narration, it doesn't detract from the book or message at all.
    The rest of the book, the actual content, was pretty insightful as well. A decent mix of anecdotal evidence, common sense, and research. i found the author to be occasionally a little wordy, but maybe she would have been repetitive if she hadn't been wordy (or maybe i'm just stupid and don't like new words). The organization and progression of the book was pretty good although there were a few times i found myself tuning out what seemed like random tangents. There were also a few sections that really struck me powerfully - stories that i could relate to very personally. i thought the author provided a great deal of interesting information and also implied encouragement to accept and recognize how often and easily we can be wrong. This could be me, but there were just a couple of places where it seemed like the author was taking a condescending attitude toward religion. i was puzzled by this, but it could've just been me reading that into it. All in all it didn't really detract from the many other excellent points that were addressed. Overall a pretty good book, i'd recommend it.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William Cheswick, PA, United States 09-25-10
    William Cheswick, PA, United States 09-25-10 Member Since 2008
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    "Good Topic Disappointing Presentation"

    My expectations were high. This is a topic that I could sink my teeth (or ears) into. Why is everyone so committed to being wrong? People seem to become so happy with a position, an idea, an answer, that it no longer matters to them that the answer is wrong. Ayn Rand used the term "blank out" to describe the way people stop responding when they would have to concede a point or when they break a chain of reasoning to get to the answer they prefer.

    Ms. Schultz certainly appreciates the many ways we humans arrive at the incorrect. She is well researched and of broad perspective. Her book includes psychological, biological, and neurological aspects of self deception. From a philosophical perspective, she points out that it is impossible to say truthfully that "I am wrong", because we can only realize that we were wrong by adopting a new idea different from the old, wrong idea. She quotes many great and some terrible thinkers on the subject of being wrong. The quotes are the best part of this book.

    The frustrating aspect of this book is Ms. Schultz' organization of ideas. Just as a concept is being developed just to insert a distracting non sequitur. It gives the effect that she wants to make a point that has nothing to do with the concept that was being developed. I wait and listen patiently for the digression to end and the thoughts to be completed. Unfortunately, she doesn't return to the original thought - ever. Apparently, she feels obligated to begin her chapters on the topic, but feels no such obligation to conclude the chapter on the same topic.

    In a paper book, we might be able to deal with the author's meandering by turning pages until we find the topic or a new topic to bridge the continuity on our own. In an audio book, we lack the resources to compensate for her inconsistencies. It becomes maddening to encounter the unclosed loops, unjustified digressions, repeatedly.

    I listen to approximately ten audio books per month.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Laura The Woodlands, TX, United States 09-28-10
    Laura The Woodlands, TX, United States 09-28-10 Member Since 2010
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    "Unorganized rambling mess w no illustrations"

    The good part of the book, the one star, was that that there were fun examples of being wrong and the subject got me excited.

    Why do we act the way we do about being wrong. It's thought provoking and makes for great conversation.

    However, the presentation was mostly dry and rambling and the most frustrating part was the presentation of Exhibit 3.1 that I could not see, even though I downloaded the enhanced version of the book.
    I won't make it past chapter 3.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Juan New Orleans, LA, United States 04-30-13
    Juan New Orleans, LA, United States 04-30-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Amazing philosphy course? Great mind expander"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Being Wrong to be better than the print version?

    Not because I wanted to, but because I went to a liberal arts school, I had to take theology and philosophy. In the end, I found epistemology, and the other ones I took interesting looking back.

    HOWEVER, this book about wrongness makes me feel more "right" than all of those professors together. It just adds a different perspective on knowledge and our every day life. Although a book about wrongness and being wrong, it is amazingly uplifting. Read it. you will enjoy.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Without giving away the ending (yes it has an ending) it is a mind expanding perspective on reality.


    What does Mia Barron bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    She has a voice similar to the author (who I have seen on a TED talk) and the way she dryly reads the humorous portions and references makes the book so much better than if I had read it.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Left me amazed. It is the point of the book


    Any additional comments?

    Nope.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steve Houston HOUSTON, TX, United States 01-09-13
    Steve Houston HOUSTON, TX, United States 01-09-13 Member Since 2012

    SteveG

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    "Fun, Thorough, Insightful, Great Narration"

    What an incredible combination of content and narration! As a psychologist who is heavily involved in this subject I never found the author diluting the material or 'talking down' to the reader. Even though she is a non-scientist, Ms. Schulz knows her stuff as well or better than any 'expert' I have read or listened to. I love the humor integrated with the depth of this book. The narration was a pleasure to listen to. This is a book for anyone, lay person or professional who would like to spend a number of hours being entertained, challenged and enlightened about a crucial subject that impacts us on both personal and societal levels.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott Guelph, ON, Canada 04-27-12
    Scott Guelph, ON, Canada 04-27-12
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    "How human perception affects truth"

    Human perception has always been a fascination of mine. This book is particularly interesting in showing us how misperception happens. What we think is true and real is generally a flawed opinion based on imperfect sensory perception and fallible brain functions. Even when we are totally convinced we are right, we really may be wrong. This book explains how that happens.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alex United States 03-09-11
    Alex United States 03-09-11 Member Since 2010
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    "Interesting but too long and too abstract"

    The book is an interesting treatment of a subject that doesn't get enough attention. Schulz's research skills and erudition are formidable -- a quotable nugget can be found on almost every page. But the book drags in places, and the last couple of chapters were tough going. Schulz is best when she's telling stories, such as the incredible tale of the Millerite doomsday cult in 19th century America.

    Another problem with the book is that it's too abstract and philosophical to be of much practical use. (To be fair, Schulz admits up front that she did not set out to write a self-help book on how to avoid error). Overall, I would recommend two other books over "Being Wrong". Check out, "Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us--and How to Know When not to Trust Them", by David Friedman; and "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Either of these (or both!) would be a better choice over Schulz's book.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
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