2016 Runner-up, Non-fiction. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Runner-up, Non-fiction.  Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.  The author is a Nobel Prize winner for his research on judgement and decision making and its applications in economics, psychology and public policy.  If 400 pages on this topic seems too dry and academic for you, then you’ll be surprised by how readable is this book, which expands upon his two major articles and examines current, related research on several topics such as biases, intuition, memory and rational thinking.  Further, each chapter is a quite manageable ten to fifteen pages, so you can take tiny bites at a time.

Kahneman uses three distinct pairs in the course of the book.  First, there are the internal characters of System 1 and System 2.  The former is our brain’s gatekeeper; constantly monitoring our environment for threats, thinking fast and sometimes jumping to conclusions.  When complex problems arise, System 1 engages System 2, which thinks slower, identifies relationships and conducts deep searches of memory.  System 2 attempts to control the impulsive nature of System 1, but it is also lazy and frequently defers to System 1 if the latter can offer an available, coherent answer to a question, even if that answer is later proved to be wrong.  Next, Kahneman compares Econs, the rational beings living in the models of conventional economic theory, to their irrational brethren, the Humans, who are the heroes of behavioral economics.  Econs act consistently and predictably, but Humans are susceptible to priming and framing illusions and a number other factors and may need help to keep them from making illogical decisions.  Finally, he examines our experiencing self, who exists only in the moment of our actually experiencing events, and our remembering self, who exists from the moment the event ends on in to perpetuity, and dominates the former.  This dominate relationship, supported by duration neglect and the peak-end rule, can lead us to choose to experience longer periods of pain and shorter periods of pleasure as long as our memories of the events are better.

What Kahneman does best is make all this theory relatable with applications to events in everyday life, such as making investments, attending concerts or buying a bottle of wine or a can of soup.

For all my previous “books of the year” lists, see my dedicated page for these titles.

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