Sunday, July 26, 2009

Irrationality & Freaks: A Book Recommendation

A typical book in my Audible library focus on technical / geeky topics or science fiction of some sort. My past two selections have been outside of that realm, but firmly within my area of interest. They have focused on human behavior.
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It might be logical to conclude my fascination with the behavior of people is rooted in my lack of understanding. I'm not the most talkative person in a social situation; I often attribute this to my lack of interest in sports. However, I do enjoy looking at the world around me and analyzing everything. I can't help myself. It is the part of me that needs to understand, categorize, and model everything that drives the world around me.

The two books that I have recently read (listened to if you want to be technical) are:


While my favorite of the two is Predictably Irrational, I thoroughly enjoyed both. They both consist of a random collection of examples, studies, anecdotes, and conclusions. I am constantly trying to remind myself of the lessons about behavior that are found in both of books. Applying these models of the world to the actions we take every day and in understanding the actions other people take will subtlety change the way I look at the world.

I find the topics of "The true cost of Free" and the analysis of social norms vs. economic norms discussed in Predictably Irrational especially interesting and can find examples in my own life. These are especially appropriate when it comes to looking at my own shopping behaviors and the way people interact in the work place.

One example that I find very appropriate is the willingness for people to keep doors open even once they realize they are no longer beneficial to do so:


More video demonstrations from Predictably Irrational at their website


As for Freakonomics, I really enjoyed the topics of understanding how parenting affects a child's success. To sum it up in my own words, it isn't so much about how good of a parent you are, it is more about how good of a person you are. The following section on names was even more interesting especially when it comes to looking at your friends and family.

To confess something rather strange: whenever I see a parent with a young, often unruly or restless, child at the grocery store, I tend to analyze that person's parenting skills. I find the grocery store a particularly good place to do this because it is often stressful for the parent to have a child with them while they are attempting to accomplish a very specific task. At the same time, the grocery store offers a very teachable environment for basic economics, simple math, healthy diet, and even colors, shapes and textures for younger kids. Often I see parents who are not helping the situation by not giving their child the attention they want or ignoring a child behaving in a very public way. However, I occasionally see parents who are simply brilliant in keeping a child captivated and well behaved through subtle actions.

Both books have associated blogs which (while I do not frequent) have provided very interesting reading after having finished the books: Predictably Irrational Blog & Freakonomics Blog

Overall, I highly recommend to anyone interesting in better understanding the actions that you and the people around you take every day, these books are a great place to start.

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