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Editorial Reviews

Editors Select, May 2015 - With the backing of two Nobel Prize winners in the field of Economics and a ringing endorsement from Malcolm Gladwell, who said, 'If I had to be trapped in an elevator with any contemporary intellectual, I'd pick Richard Thaler,' I knew Misbehaving would be an enlightening listen. But it was also entertaining in the way that a great college class can be, with the professor using real-life scenarios and his own biography to color his points. In Misbehaving, Thaler argues against the traditional economic thinking that humans are 'homo economicus' – rational decision makers programmed to act in their best interests – and asserts, instead, that our consistent deviation from these assumed standards reveals new ways to think about the world. —Doug, Audible Editor

Publisher's Summary

Get ready to change the way you think about economics.

Richard H. Thaler has spent his career studying the radical notion that the central agents in the economy are humans - predictable, error-prone individuals. Misbehaving is his arresting, frequently hilarious account of the struggle to bring an academic discipline back down to earth - and change the way we think about economics, ourselves, and our world.

Traditional economics assumes rational actors. Early in his research, Thaler realized these Spock-like automatons were nothing like real people. Whether buying a clock radio, selling basketball tickets, or applying for a mortgage, we all succumb to biases and make decisions that deviate from the standards of rationality assumed by economists. In other words we misbehave. More importantly, our misbehavior has serious consequences. Dismissed at first by economists as an amusing sideshow, the study of human miscalculations and their effects on markets now drives efforts to make better decisions in our lives, our businesses, and our governments.

Coupling recent discoveries in human psychology with a practical understanding of incentives and market behavior, Thaler enlightens listeners about how to make smarter decisions in an increasingly mystifying world. He reveals how behavioral economic analysis opens up new ways to look at everything from household finance to assigning faculty offices in a new building to TV game shows, the NFL draft, and businesses like Uber.

Laced with antic stories of Thaler's spirited battles with the bastions of traditional economic thinking, Misbehaving is a singular look into profound human foibles. When economics meets psychology, the implications for individuals, managers, and policy makers are both profound and entertaining.

©2015 Richard H. Thaler (P)2015 Audible, Inc.

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Great book if it's your first about Behav. Econ

This might be slightly unfair, but I couldn't get into this book because I've essentially heard/read all this before. If you're familiar with the Freakonomics series, Influence, or any of the many other B.E. books, you simply won't find anything new in here. On the other hand, if you're brand new to B.E., this would be a really great starter book. However, as comprehensive as it is, it's nowhere near as entertaining as the Freakonomics series or Influence. I even liked "secrets of the money lab" better.

65 of 71 people found this review helpful

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I'm a lot smarter than I was before

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I loved this book. I'm no economist. Didn't study it, don't really understand the technical detail to it, but I loved the interaction and story of what happens when human beings are considered in Economics instead of 'Econs'. This book was a great story of how the behavioural filter was introduced to Economics.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Misbehaving?

His story of speaking at a conference to 23 MD's about decision making. Such a powerful story of how people make decisions depending on where they're standing.

What about L. J. Ganser’s performance did you like?

He did a great job fitting into the book. He could have been the author. He felt / sounded like the author.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. I could never have. There was way too much for me to consider, ponder and process for one sitting.

Any additional comments?

Fab book. I found it after listening to 'Think like a Freak' Was a great choice to follow up on. I'm moving on to 'Influence' based on it's recommendation in this book.

24 of 26 people found this review helpful

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Tough to follow way without the grpahs

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

Tough to follow without the bar charts and graphs that are repeatedly referenced in the audio. <br/><br/>Not the best content for an audio book

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Pam
  • United States
  • 06-03-15

Entertaining story of the life of a scientist

I'd recommend this book to anyone who is curious about life as a scientist. The actual science of behavioral economics is interesting enough if you want to learn more about it, but the author really shines when he describes how he came up with some of his research projects, and how he was able to collaborate with good people and secure funding for his work (which isn't easy!). Thaler makes his life story both informative and funny. This book should be required reading for anyone who wants to be a scientist, regardless of discipline.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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A Wiinner: A Case for Misbehaving

This was fabulous. I couldn't put it down. The thread of an academic career will stimulate many students and young professors to find a passion and build on it. The practical sense of the behavioral problems discussed was fantastic. I will look for the problems in my own field to brainstorm solutions from a behavioral point of view. This was fun to read as well as inspiring. Dolores Pretorius, MD, Professor of Radiology, Univ of Calif, San Diego

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • Raglan, New Zealand
  • 06-19-17

I am not an Econ ...

I’m struggling lately to find good popular science books. It can’t be true, but it feels like I’ve read all the best ones and now I’m starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel. I chose this book not because I was fascinated by the subject, but because it had been well reviewed by listeners.

The book is a combination of the author’s life’s story and the parallel narrative of the evolution of behavioural economics. Please forgive me if you already know this, but before behavioural economics it was assumed that people (at least on average) behaved in predictable, rational ways when making economic choices. The name for these rational economic beings is ‘Econs’.

This author was one of the originators of the idea that, in fact, real people do not behave in this way. There are lots of situations where people make irrational choices, based on the fact that we are human beings with emotions, weaknesses and foibles. The traditional economists objected that these deviants were exceptions and that, overall, rational economic behaviour dominates, but as the field of behavioural economics has become more respectable, it is becoming more and more apparent that it is a key factor in explaining real economic behaviour.

This book provides numerous examples of this economic 'misbehaving': If you buy expensive shoes you keep on wearing them even though they give you blisters – this is called ‘sunk costs’ – a true Econ would just accept the loss and move on. It is this same theory which is often given to explain why the US persevered with the Vietnam War once it was obvious that it could not be won: too much money and too many lives had been expended to just walk away, and yet this would have been the rational thing to do.

In another example, people who win at the casino aren’t as careful as they would be with money out of their own pocket. This is because they are playing with ‘House money’ and it is called the ‘endowment effect’. A true Econ would be just as careful with this money.

The book looks at a wide range of situations where similar behaviours impact on economic choices. I got a bit lost on many occasions, either because it wasn’t particularly interesting, or because it was quite mathematical, or because it kept referring to a pdf which is hard to access when driving a car or riding a bicycle. But there was enough in it to make it enlightening – just, and the narrator was good.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Excellent, informative, and practical

Any additional comments?

Insightful, humorous, and eye-opening book on behavioral economics. In line with a handful of other books in a similar vein -- basically, that humans are not particularly rational and that some of the mental shortcuts we take that behooved us as we evolved do not necessarily assist us in modern decision-making -- that turn the mirror on human behavior and help a reader understand their own irrational decisions. Thaler has a wonderful sense of humor and a keen eye for human fallacies. His curiosity (like that of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky) about human behavior and his background in economics pair up nicely and allowed him to examine generally agreed upon economic and financial beliefs and question them. He points out a number of examples of irrationality, and various heuristics and biases, that might be familiar to readers who have read some other books in related fields (including Thinking, Fast and Slow; and Superforecasting), but Thaler's book is still an excellent read and much of his findings dovetail with those of Kahneman and Tversky (he worked with them both) and are all the more interesting as you understand that all of these findings were coming about contemporaneously and upending the economic world. <br/><br/>Definitely recommended, if for no other reason than to understand yourself and your decision making processes better, but also for the insight into how much framing an option can do to impact how people feel about it and consequently whether or not they take one action versus another.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Matthew
  • Mill Valley, CA, United States
  • 03-25-16

Fantastic book fantastic reader

I read nudge and thought that was awesome this was better. I think of myself as believing in "Chicago-style" economics but have always struggled with the notion that people ALWAYS behave rationally when it is so obviously not true. This book doesn't claim the theory is false but just that the formula for predicting results is missing key variables and he proposes variables that are likely to better predict outcomes. His style was easily going and humble yet not falsely so. It just sounds like he was wired to believe things were different than the convention al wisdom and he was fortunate enough (and smart enough) to be able to grow the idea and grow with the idea. Just a great book!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Ground-Breaking Science

This book provides the reader with a firm foundation in understanding the science of Behavioral Economics through a variety of case studies and research examples.

The stories are entertaining while still being grounded in economic theory and the narration is solid and well-produced. A great effort all-around.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Not just for 'econs'

If you have often looked askance at the views of economists, you should give this book a listen. Economics is the social science that seems most often populated by idealists. Normally this breaks into two camps – roughly along the competing views of Friedrich Hyek and John Maynard Keynes. You can think of them as founding fathers of modern economic thought. They, as did most of their followers, used optimized models and assumptions. Assumptions such as that all people make rational economic decisions. You know like anyone possessing a PhD in Economics would. This is called “rational market theory” and as with almost all economic theory it is chock-full of assumptions. This is something that even traditional economists are aware of. Nearly all of their jokes revolve around the premise that “economists make a lot of assumptions.” Kept that in mind the next time an economist tells you a joke. You might even “get it” enough to laugh.

In the past several decades a growing group of econs (as Thaler likes to call them) have challenged many of those assumptions and begun to study and perform experiments in a field that melds their work with that of another social science – psychologists. It as come to be called “behavioral economics”, but one could just as easily think of it as “more-real-world” economics. Thaler, who modestly and effectively deflects credit, was an early adherent of this approach. The book contains solid economic thought explained in a way that is very helpful to the rest of us – those that find scholastic economics both boring and unrealistic.

Thaler proclaims that “Econs use optimized models” and then tells us that “One can learn a lot about the world without imposing optimizing models.” Through a series of (often humorous) stories he leads us though his world and the history of behavioral economics, explaining concepts that have been the foundation of economic thought in the simplest possible way. As an example, when explaining the concept of the “efficient market hypothesis”, he helpfully includes the definition of “hypothesis” as “a theory that can't really be tested” and explains how tempting it is to use such things. A dictionary might not define the word that way, but it is certainly appropriate here.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in economics or economic policy – even die-hard traditional economists. It may not convert you but it will give you much to ponder. For myself, I will now order Thaler's earlier book “Nudge” which I somehow missed.

Don M - Queen Creek, AZ

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Judy Corstjens
  • 01-27-16

Behavioural Economics in Perspective

I've read a lot of behavioural economics books, but this one has a genuinely different perspective. Although it does present many of the standard ideas of behavioural economics, (how we contradict ourselves by wanting inconsistent things, or make systematic errors in our perceptions and decisions etc. and it does this very well) the book's overall theme is behavioural economics itself. It explains how BE impacts on classical economics, and how difficult and challenging it is for classically trained economists to adjust to what is genuinely a paradigm shift. Thaler draws out the importance of these shifts - before I had seen BE as a set of quirky anomalies and wrinkles but Thaler argues that humans, not 'econs', have to be put at the heart of economics, and that this calls for a fundamental reassessment of the subject. Thaler's style is personal (the book is written largely as a memoir) and sometimes it gets a touch self indulgent (the reorganisation of the economics department's offices), but Thaler's humorous tone and wit often carry this off. I loved the concept of the 'invisible hand wave'.

Narration: perfect, Ganser sounds like a sympathetic American economics professor.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Tim W
  • 05-03-16

Excellent

I thoroughly enjoyed Misbehaving.

As other reviewers suggest it is quite autobiographical in tone so expect plenty of personal anecdotes from the author's life, rather than a straight-up discussion of the subject matter.

For me, this works really well. It allows you to get a real insight into the difficulties of trying to push a new way of thinking (behavioral economics) into an established field (traditional economics).

Misbehaving is, as the subtitle states, about the story of how this new field, behavioral economics came about, rather than just a direct explanation of what behavioral economics is. Although it does a fine job of explaining this too.

As a sidenote: I found one of the later chapters about the author's work for the UK government especially interesting, as a Brit myself.

Plus the naration was excellent.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • MWood
  • 09-16-15

Interesting but long

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Yes I would, if it was a friend with a dedicated interest in economics and psychology. However, at 13 hours, its quite long for an audio book. Making it hard to digest in places, especially as, at times it felt like an autobiography rather than a book about behavioural economics. Too much time telling us about his life. Maybe there's an abridged version. Having said that some of the points were fascinating, and I think I took quite a lot from it,

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

Ideas and theories were good

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

Performance was ok.

If this book were a film would you go see it?

n/a

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Eoin
  • 06-26-15

makes sense to me

Interesting history of the discipline with great stories backed up by sound science. A great read.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Ross
  • 06-01-17

A fantastic book that everyone should hear

Any additional comments?

I came to this book after reading "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely and "What you need to know about Economics" by George Buckley and Sumeet Desai, and I found this book to take me into a whole new level of understanding of both economics, psychology and the interplay that is behavioural economics. <br/><br/>The book covers all elements of behavioural economics from its inception up to modern day application, with the underlying theories extensively discussed through case studies and research. Richard Thaler writes in an honest and interesting way that is easy to grasp whilst maintaining a high level of detail. I do feel that the 2 books I read prior to this were helpful in my understanding of the themes of this book (Ariely's is "softer" and more psychology oriented, whilst Buckley and Desai's covers the basics of economics well enough to understand common terminology) but I wouldn't say it is entirely necessary to have that understanding, and I would DEFINITELY recommend this book regardless!! Easily 5 stars.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • phil chadwick
  • 05-29-16

Brilliant explanation of behavioural economics

Richard Thaler makes a complex academic discipline easy to understand - the mark of true intelligence. Very informative

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr. R. D. Cox
  • 04-09-16

the way things really are

what I like most about this book is the provocative title, which I will use
since my introduction to behavioural economics working on pensions policy in 2007, my fascination with the subject continues to grow
will read again

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-23-16

Don't sit next to this author at a dinner party...

Glad I read this solid history of behavioral economics but the author's waffly anecdotes about academic life and cheesy cornball humour really start grate after four hundred pages

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-14-16

A bit disappointing.

This book is interesting and insightful. However I'm not sure if it's the narration or the author but it starts to get very long winded at times. It is as though once the point has been made it has to be remade again and again just to make sure you get it. The topics are interesting and each chapter starts off well and makes you eager to listen. Unfortunately it doesn't keep the momentum. I stopped listening at the 78% mark as I was just becoming too frustrated. I might try reading this book as I suspect it may be the narration.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Georgi Vladkov Petkov
  • 10-23-15

Overall good but very annoying language .

A lot of the book is "what we did with Dani and how we spend the crazy budjet we were given " . Focus is lost every second chapter.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • 05-20-16

Loved it

Great writing, great performing. Definitely has me more interested in economics as it addresses a lot of problems I intuitively had with the field

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Rhetta
  • 05-17-16

interesting and entertaining

great use of anecdotes to illustrate key themes and theories. entertaining and interesting an easy read/listen

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-28-16

great book

I have a lot if interest in behavioural economics so many if the examples and stories were already known to me from other reading. However, Richard Thaler is a great writer who makes the stories and anecdotes quite engaging. Also, as an economist, hearing all the very well known economists referred to so casually was a bit of a treat.
Loved the narration too. I could easily listen to the narrator at a high speed without any distortion.

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  • Joseph Di Stefano
  • 01-25-16

Wow, humans are strange

A wonderful view of how we decide and select items in everyday life. Actually makes Economics interesting. More interesting than you could ever imagine.

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  • Jeremy Collins
  • 02-23-17

Huge waste of time

99% personal reflections, name dropping and big noting of author's genius. Occasional actual subject matter imparted. May as well have been titled "Dear Diary, ...,"

1 of 3 people found this review helpful