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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error Paperback – January 4, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In the spirit of Blink and Predictably Irrational (but with a large helping of erudition), journalist Schulz casts a fresh and irreverent eye upon the profound meanings behind our most ordinary behaviors—in this instance, how we make mistakes, how we behave when we find we have been wrong, and how our errors change us. [I]t is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are, she asserts. Schulz writes with such lucidity and wit that her philosophical enquiry becomes a page-turner. She deftly incorporates Wittgenstein, Descartes, and Freud, along with an array of contemporary social scientists and even a spin with Shakespeare and Keats. There's heavy stuff here, but no heavy-handedness. Being wrong encompasses the cataclysmic (economic collapse) and the commonplace (leaving a laptop in front of the window before the storm). Being wrong may lead to fun (playing with and understanding optical illusions) or futility (the Millerite expectation of the Rapture in 1844). Being wrong can be transformative, and Schultz writes, I encourage us to see error as a gift in itself, a rich and irreplaceable source of humor, art, illumination, individuality, and change—an apt description of her engrossing study. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Here’s a fascinating counterpoint to the notion that making a mistake somehow diminishes you as a person. We shouldn’t fear error, the author says; rather, we should embrace it because it’s our capacity for making mistakes that makes us who we are. (“To err is human” isn’t just an empty cliché.) Schulz explores the nature of error: are big mistakes fundamentally different from small mistakes, or are they all essentially the same? How much does peer pressure, or crowd response, affect our capacity to blunder? How and why do we remember relatively insignificant mistakes for the rest of our lives, long after they have ceased to be relevant to anything? And what role does “error-blindness”—our inability to know when we are in the process of making a mistake—play in our daily lives? Schulz writes in a lively style, asks lots of compelling questions, and uses plenty of examples to illustrate her points. Put this one in the same general category as Gladwell’s Blink (2005), LeGault’s Think! (2006), and Shore’s Blunder (2008): user-friendly, entertaining looks at the way our minds work. --David Pitt --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (January 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061176052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061176050
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (187 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

KATHRYN SCHULZ is the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (Ecco / HarperCollins: Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the "Freakonomics" blog of the New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Nation, Foreign Policy, the Boston Globe and The Huffington Post, among other publications. She is also the person behind "The Wrong Stuff," a column on Slate where she interviews prominent people -- from Ira Glass and Anthony Bourdain to Alan Dershowitz and Chuck Colson -- about their relationship to being wrong. She is the former editor of the online environmental magazine Grist, and a former reporter and editor for The Santiago Times, of Santiago, Chile, where she covered environmental, labor, and human rights issues. In 2004, she was awarded a Pew International Journalism Fellowship (now known as the International Reporting Project Fellowships); she has reported from throughout Central and South America, Japan, and, most recently, the Middle East. A former Ohioan, Oregonian, and Brooklynite, she currently lives in New York's Hudson Valley. You can learn more about the author and the book at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

167 of 169 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on March 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
To err, we hear, is human. But if that is true, then why do we take erring so hard? This is the question Kathryn Schultz tries to get at in her book, Being Wrong. The first section analyzes error by recounting what philosophers, psychologists and others have thought about what it is and why it happens. Next, we examines the factors that lead us to err: senses deceive us, reason is easily influenced by extra-rational factors, we trust experts we like instead of those who may be telling the truth, etc. The third section explores what it feels like to be wrong: we may get embarrassed, defensive, heartbroken, mystified, angry. And lastly, the author reveals why it is she believes error should be seen not as a gaffe to be avoided, but a gaffe that should be embraced and accepted as an an inevitable part of being a finite and dynamic human.

First, I must say something I very rarely do about a book: I never once found this one repetitive or unnecessarily long. Each section, and chapter within it, is about a different aspect of error that was not discussed before, from how philosophers conceive of error, to the social factors that influence error, to our amazing capacity to deny even obvious error. And the real-world examples she chooses to illustrate all of these things are humorous, relateble, and sometimes a bit lamentable.

And what is the author's unique theory about erring? The author writes first that erring is an inevitable part of being human. We are finite animals for whom probability is as close as we can come to certainty (even though certainty is what we want). Since life demands that we make decisions based on what we think will happen in the future, it is simply inevitable that some of these will be wrong.
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217 of 236 people found the following review helpful By Paul Stuart VINE VOICE on April 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
One thing is for certain: Kathryn Schulz is a heckuva' writer. Her brilliant interchange between humor and articulation is the stuff of greatness. Moreover - and perhaps a by-product of Schulz' mastery in presentation - there are few (if any) wasted words in this text. While many books almost goad you into skimming every 2nd or 3rd word, 'Being Wrong' certainly makes every word count. For a guy with the attention span of a billy goat grazing grass, keeping me reading every word is no small feat.

There is a tradeoff in such density in value. 'Being Wrong' tends to see-saw between light analogy to heavy exploration almost without warning, making for a staccato transition between example and execution. The philosophical arguments emerge as bloated at times, the case studies a tad soft and looooong. Word economy clearly has its strengths and weaknesses.

Thus, I echo other reviewers in that this book might've been better served both shorter and as a potential essay. Amen.

Going deeper down the content rabbit hole, it's hard to ignore Schulz' near-frequent lapses into political examples dripping with sarcasm favoring a particular perspective only. Perhaps I'm a stickler, but there something grossly unfit about an advertised objective analysis of 'wrong' justified through political opinion. After the fifth instance of this justification, I admittedly began to question the overarching arguments contained in the book. (I could care less about who you vote/d for; just don't put square peg into round hole to get the point across, ad nauseum.
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54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Rob S. VINE VOICE on May 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book caught my eye immediately. Who hasn't been embarrassed to admit being wrong? How often have you witnessed (or been part of) senseless arguments because neither side, once they've become entrenched in their position, are willing to back down or find a middle ground to resolve things?

I originally got this book as I was hoping for answers on how to deal with what I admit to be sometimes irrational behaviour to avoid admitting wrongness. I thought perhaps I'd get some advice on how to approach this sensitive topic with others (particularly in a business setting.) If you're looking for advice on dos and don'ts, some sort of behavioural checklist to overcome this sensation, then that's not what this book is about. (and the author says as much in her introduction.)

In a way though, even without a list of to-dos, the book has helped me feel more at ease about being wrong. Through stories shared of human error, through the exploration of just how our senses work and how our belief systems can fail us, through an examination of how we make decisions and evaluation evidence (and why it makes sense to do it that way), and examples where it actually feels good to be wrong (optical illusions, magic tricks), I started to come to terms on just how being wrong is perfectly "normal" and a part of who we are, and started to move away from the belief that being wrong meant I was sloppy, or stupid, or ignorant. It makes sense that our brains would want to take shortcuts for efficiency sake, and it makes sense that sometimes those shortcuts will be off. Plus looking at how often decisions are being made at the subconscious level underscores how much being fallible is hardwired into our system.

I thought the book was a great read, if nothing else, for the journey it took me through.
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