Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland

Rating: ** (2 out of 5)

Background: I was given this book by a friend on Christmas, and I started reading it soon afterwards, but unfortunately had to stop for a couple of months and just recently finished it. This is unfortunate, since I recall a lot of things I thought about the book while I was reading it, but didn’t mark any of the pages for quoting. Oh well.

Review: This book in a nutshell: humans can be very irrational at times.

I know. Common knowledge, right? However, the book goes on to try to explore, explain and offer solutions to the various forms of human irrationality, always relying on studies to back up the conclusions. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it just fell short of what it was trying to do.

Be warned. This book was written in 1992, and it shows. I noticed right away some very strange factual errors that, at times, by light of new evidence that has since been gathered, completely defeat the points being given by the author. I noticed this particularly with medical studies – having been in medical school myself I spotted the, at times, glaring mistakes, which didn’t impress me at all. I guess I was using one of the irrational thought processes he described – the “halo effect”, which when applied to this, means that when I saw that he was completely wrong in some thing he vehemently defended, it made me look at the rest of his book in a negative light. It probably means this review is tainted by irrationality as well. I’ll take my chances.

I wish I had marked the exact quotes to back up what I’m saying. I recall at least that at some point in the book he goes on and on about how doctors were wrong to think that blood cholesterol levels had anything to do with what you eat, because a study had proven they had no correlation. Yeah. This reminded me of all the smokers who will quote one study that says that smoking is not bad for you at all and has nothing to do with lung cancer. Let’s ignore the rest of the studies who say otherwise, then.

I also had a problem with the tone of this book. It was way too patronizing, and the author seemed to have personal vendettas against some members of society, namely feminists, members of the medical profession, and psychologists who do social experiments.

There were some positive aspects to it, and I found a few pearls of wisdom, but overall, the book was simply not worth it.

What’s Next: If anything, reading this book made me wish there was a better one on the subject that I could read.

Like I said in my last post, fiction is next on my list. I haven’t decided which book to read yet, but I definitely need a break from all the non-fiction. And after this book, if it’s irrational and the people in it don’t use statistics obsessively, even better.