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Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions Hardcover – October 28, 2008

31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Shore (Breeding Bin Ladens), a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, explains why smart people do dumb things in this glib guidebook that is more pop psychology than serious inquiry. According to the author, people blunder because they fall into inflexible mind-sets formed from faulty reasoning—or cognition traps. Using examples drawn from history, wars, medicine, business and literature, Shore identifies seven common cognition traps such as causefusion (confusing the causes of complex events), flatview (black and white thinking) and static cling (an inability to accept change). Shore cites examples of various actors (individuals, corporations and even nations) stumbling into one trap or another with unfortunate results (e.g., a person will compound a blunder through different kinds of faulty reasoning). Shore points to America's Iraq debacle as a kind of perfect storm where all of the cognition traps... combined to sabotage America's success. But Shore remains optimistic that society can learn to avoid cognition traps and inevitable blunders by following his prescription of cultivating mental flexibility, empathy, imagination, contrarianism and an open mind. Despite the clever wordplay, neat categories and accessible examples, Shore mostly recycles common sense in a fancy package. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Blunder is a shrewd, smart book, full of entertaining stories and wise insights. Drawing his examples from history, literature, and current events, Zachary Shore shows how smart, well-meaning people are often trapped into making the wrong decisions. Every policy-maker should have a copy of Blunder near at hand. (James Sheehan, Dickason Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University, author Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?)

Engaging…[Shore] teases out the cause and effect of seven [cognition] traps (from 'infomania' to 'exposure anxiety') with witty stories of famous blunders…Beyond shining a light on our propensity to apply an old solution to a new situation, Shore's goal is to teach the basis of good judgment. Like all good historians he's hoping we can avoid making the same mistake twice. (O magazine)

Zachary Shore explains why smart people Blunder into bad decisions. (Vanity Fair)

Well-chosen case studies, all of which lead to a resounding climax…Eye-opening. (Kirkus)

Shore explains why smart people do dumb things in [Blunder]… clever wordplay, neat categories and accessible examples. (Publishers Weekly)

Blunder is a book that will make you think about how you think. With the deft touch of a master storyteller, Zachary Shore ranges across the centuries and around the world in this eye-opening account of how our minds so often fall into cognition traps. Think Malcolm Gladwell meets David McCullough. NOT reading this book would be a blunder of historic proportions. (Eric Weiner, author of New York Times bestseller, The Geography of Bliss)

Though most of us often make irrational choices, Zachary Shore shows that history can teach us much about our judgment. Blunder is a clever, engaging, and thought-provoking book that can help us better understand irrationality and wisdom. (Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (October 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596912421
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596912427
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #696,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Edward Durney VINE VOICE on December 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In Blunder, Zachary Shore takes a look at some big blunders in history. He finds a lot of them, including a few related to the recent invasion of Iraq. Those Iraq blunders have gotten a lot of press in recent years. The other stories Shore tells, though, have not. With all that new material, Shore's talent for telling stories makes the book a fascinating read.

Just a couple of comments. First, I like Shore's style. His academic credentials as a historian seem top notch. And his research seems good. Still, to me his best qualification is that he can tell a story. He must be a great teacher.

But Shore did not convince me that the lessons we can learn from his stories will help us avoid blunders. His subtitle says that Blunder will tell us "Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions." I'm not sure that the book does that.

Shore does present some theories on that score. He talks about "causefusion," his coined word for confusion about causation. He talks about "infomisering" and "infoavoiding," two more coined words for keeping too much secret and for ignoring inconvenient truths. He talks about exposure anxiety, cure-allism, flatview, mirror imaging and static cling. All these labels do tie his stories together and give the book some structure.

But for me at least, the conclusions Shore draws from his stories are a little too pat, and the categories and labels a little too gimmicky. Like parables, Shore's stories teach. But I'm not sure that, for me at least, the stories taught me the lessons that Shore meant to teach. In fact, in many cases, I'm sure they did not.

Second, when I read a book like this, I'm always curious about the author. I look at the author's picture, if there is one, and read the biography and acknowledgements.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"Blunder," by Zachary Shore, is one of many books that have been written in the last few years (among them "The Tipping Point," "Blink," "Predictably Irrational," "Freakonomics") that attempt to explain why human beings behave the way they do. In Shore's case, the focus is on "why smart people make bad decisions." Shore, who is a professor of national security affairs with impressive academic credentials, uses a host of anecdotes, many of which relate to military conflicts and economic matters, to illustrate his points. The book's basic premise is that even intelligent people get caught in "cognition traps" that blind them to the complexity of certain situations, leading them to act in ways that are ultimately self-defeating.

By revealing "the destructive mental patterns that we all employ," Shore hopes to help the average person to identify rigid thinking and irrational thought-patterns. If we better understand the mental traps that can ensnare the unwary, perhaps we will try to be more flexible, imaginative, and open-minded when confronting the predicaments that we all face. Instead of relying on often incorrect assumptions, we will make the necessary mental leaps that enable us to perceive an issue from another perspective, to share and use information wisely instead of hoarding it, to embrace or at least understand the changing world that we live in, and to have the self-confidence to do the right thing as we see it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By William R. Welter on January 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I expected to find a rehash of the usual cognitive traps that decision-makers fall into. I was pleasantly surprised to find an historian's take on blunders and I really like his "everyman's" approach to naming the blunders. ("Static cling" is my favorite.) Good writing and good story telling.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tod Christianson on September 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The author is a historian who seems to specialize in military history from the point of view of strategic studies. He begins by defining a blunder as a cognitive act, that is, one that involves conscious decision making, and which has made matters worse. This would be in contrast to an error, which may or may not have involved any conscious thought and could just as well have made matters better as making them worse.

He then goes on to analyze seven major causes of blunders-

Exposure Anxiety: The fear of being seen as weak,

Flatview: Seeing the world in one dimension,

Cure-allism: Believing that one size really fits all,

Infomania: The obsessive relationship to information,

Mirror Imaging: Thinking the other side thinks like us

Static Cling: Refusal to accept a changing world, and


These are illustrated by various examples. Usually one would expect a lot of military examples from such an author, and there are some, but on the whole these are fairly balanced with examples outside of the strict military domain. Many American authors also tend to spend a great deal of time analyzing 9/11 from the point of view of their thesis, and once again, although 9/11 is mentioned, it is used in a balanced way. The author is also refreshingly frank about criticizing American decisions and policies in various international involvements such as Viet Nam and Iraq.

I found the examples of King Mongkut of Siam and Ho Chi Min of Viet Nam to be the most interesting because the analysis was new to me and these examples will certainly lead to some additional reading on my part.
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