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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read as a history book, but not a good guide to making decisions
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...
Published on December 3, 2008 by Edward Durney

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I Think I've Blundered This Before
This book is a great "beach book." And I mean that literally. I read this work over two afternoons on the beach this past summer.

Zachary Shore reviews what he considers to be seven major foibles of human nature that contribute to our poor decision-making, our blundering. He labels these personality flaws as: exposure anxiety, "causefusion," flat view,...
Published 24 months ago by Richard Telofski


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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read as a history book, but not a good guide to making decisions, December 3, 2008
By 
This review is from: Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions (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. I suspect many people do, since almost all books do include some author information.

But I do not like books (other than autobiographies of course) that talk too much about the author, their family, or their own personal experiences. Even a little of that seems too much. Too narcissistic. It bothers me.

Shore did a great job of telling just enough about himself in the book to make me happy, without telling too much. He mentions toward the end of the book that he is blind. That was something that I was interested to know. I'm glad he mentioned it. But he mentioned it artfully, with a light touch, and did not mention it again. That may not matter to other readers. But it did to me.

(The story in Blunder about the man blind since three years old who had sight restored in one eye at 50 is very interesting. He could see, but at the same time he could not see. Sight needs the brain as well as the eye.)

To sum up, if you like to read history, you will probably like Blunder. I do, and I did. Shore ranges over the centuries and the continents to pick his stories. He does a good job at picking them and telling them. Blunder is well worth reading as a history.

But is the book a good guide to making decisions? For me, not really. For others, I of course cannot say. I'd be interested to see what other readers think on that question.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Seven Blunders of the (Cognitive/Historical) World, November 6, 2008
This review is from: Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions (Hardcover)
The seven blunders Zachary Shore writes about are these:

(1) Exposure Anxiety - Your need to appear strong and your fear of appearing weak makes you overcompensate and become aggressive unnecessarily; (2) Causefusion -- you confuse one cause with another or look for only one cause where there may be many; (3) Flatview - you look at life or a problem with only one lense, one dimensionality; you look at life reductively; (4) Cure-allism -- you think one size fits all, you think one solution can be applied to many different problems; (5) Infomania -- either you hold onto information or knowledge like a miser, thinking it makes you more powerful and stronger in the competition, or you avoid new information or new knowledge altogether, thinking your own information and knowledge is superior; (6) Mirror Imaging -- you think everybody thinks, feels, and behaves as you do; you don't try to see things as others may see them; and (7) Static Cling -- you refuse to accept and work with change.

What's unique about the explanation of these seven cognitive traps is that the author discusses them remarkably clearly and well and from the perspective of a historian, not from that of a self-help psychologist. All of the author's examples and illustrations of these cognitive traps come straight out of history, both ancient as well as current. While I found the historical examples always usefully illustrative and informative, I did not always find them written rivetingly. The "Infomania" chapter could have withstood shortened, less repetitive illustrations from Asian history, yet the opening chapters involving Eric Blair (George Orwell), Cleon in 427 B.C.E. Athens, Thomas Edison and Nicholas Tesla in the 20th century were fascinating and fun.

The penultimate chapter, entitled "Cognition-Trapped in Iraq" is the author's own wrap-up, critique, and final illustration of all seven cognitive traps in one stark and sad situation with Rumsfeld, Bush, Rice and Powell, et al. in Iraq.

On the back inside cover there is a handsome color photo of the author, an associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey (not Berkeley, as the inside jacket blurb implies). His eyes are open; his young face is smiling. Over his right shoulder and threaded through the arms folded over his chest is a long, metallic walking stick. I wondered why the author was willing to pose with such a prop. On page 224, in "Working Toward Wisdom," the last chapter, the author admits he's blind and was impressed by Mike May, a blind man who recovered his sight by making great mental efforts (with the help of surgery as well) and whose story is wonderfully told there, the kind of efforts that underscore the avoidance of the cognitive traps already discussed.

The book is meant to serve as a timely plea for smart people, i.e., leaders, and not-so-smart people, to embrace uncertainty, employ empathy and imagination, and be less caught up in reductive, monocausal thinking. One distinct weakness I found with the book was about the blunder known as "Infomania." While Mr. Shore's description and analysis of this blunder is clear and practical, realistically, it is no different from what we know of as lying and scheming.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars " 'Blunder' is a book about judgment calls.", November 30, 2008
This review is from: Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions (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.

Shore entertains us with a host of anecdoes: He discusses the rivalry between Thomas Alva Edison and Nikola Tesla to bring electricity to the world; George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant," in which he killed a beast unnecessarily in order to prove his strength and decisiveness; and the king of Siam made famous in the musical, "The King and I" who studied Western ways in order to bring his country into the modern era without surrendering Thailand's independence. In addition, the author examines a wide range of international confrontations, including the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Iraq War, all of which, he believes, can teach individuals and governments important life lessons.

At times, Shore is a bit repetitious and he relies too much on irritating catch-phrases, such as "causefusion," "infomania," and "cure-allism." In addition, some of his arguments are murky and unhelpful. He writes a chapter on mental illness in which he questions the use of medication for depression and states that schizophrenia may stem from root causes other than a genetic predisposition and/or chemical imbalance. First of all, it is common knowledge that the causes of mental illnesses are far from being definitively established. In addition, arguing that medication may not be the way to go is irresponsible, especially when discussing such a debilitating and potentially treatable condition as depression. Shore is on firmer ground when discussing geopolitical themes and few would argue with his conclusions about the Vietnam War, a debacle that cost many lives and weakened the United States both at home and abroad. In spite of its flaws, "Blunder" does alert us to some of the mistaken assumptions that can often lead us astray.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A different point of view, January 24, 2009
This review is from: Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book, February 11, 2013
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This review is from: Blunder (Kindle Edition)
I was able to relate to this book in a personal way and really enjoyed reading it. However, the author's point of view does not cover the full spectrum of how bad decisions are made. People can make bad decisions even when everything is taken into consideration and sometimes the best decisions come from quick decisions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I Think I've Blundered This Before, September 6, 2012
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This book is a great "beach book." And I mean that literally. I read this work over two afternoons on the beach this past summer.

Zachary Shore reviews what he considers to be seven major foibles of human nature that contribute to our poor decision-making, our blundering. He labels these personality flaws as: exposure anxiety, "causefusion," flat view, "cure-allism," "infomania," mirror imagining, and static cling. Each of the seven receive just explanations and examples from the lives of Shore and others.

Although I found his insights amusing, I can't say that I found them to be original. In many ways the concepts he highlights are a rehashing of quirky problems that many of us have identified in the personalities of others. Here he gives them cute names. Reading this book is a bit like poring over a sociology text. Both discuss and give names to concepts with which you've long been familiar.

However, the book is entertaining in that he brings to the fore some human eccentricities in reason for which we can all be on the alert, either in others or in ourselves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blunder - not a bad decision to read this book, September 7, 2009
This review is from: Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions (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

Cognition

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. The King of Siam used his skills as a statesmen to keep his country from falling to imperialist pressures that swallowed up most of the southeast asian empires of his day. Ho Chi Min lead the Vietnamese people in resistance and ultimate victory over two countries with vastly superior technologies and armies, namely those of the French and Americans, surely there are lessons to be learned in that feat.

Overall, a thoughtful and brisk read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest blunder ever told, April 18, 2009
This review is from: Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions (Hardcover)
One way in which I judge book is how well it stays with me. This book has come to mind on multiple instances since my having read it a few weeks ago. What it does well is clearly identify several causes which lead to the making of bad decisions. These causes are not defined in deep psychological terms but rather in layman's terms. The author makes his point by providing well-told examples in history. At the same time, these same examples can readily be applied to everyday life. This pragmatic approach makes the book both interesting and quite informative.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Analysis of Decision Making Mistakes, February 7, 2009
By 
Learner "Yiasou" (Knoxville, TN USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions (Hardcover)
What I took away from this book was encouragement to not only use a critical thought process when thinking through complex issues, but to siff through those processes to make certain that not-so-obvious cognitive "traps" are being avoided. What to use for sifting - try creativity, imagination, and empathy - and the avoidance of Group Think.

I particularly enjoyed learning about Eisenhower's ability to avoid traps with respect to Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh's role as a freedom fighter instead of Coummunist hardliner. I came away with a desire to learn more about each of them.

I certainly recommend this book for those interested in the subject of decision making and believe that you will enjoy the author's style and detailed knowledge of historical figures.

Good reading.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and shallow, October 25, 2011
Blunder purports to explore fallacies in reasoning that lead to poor decisions - clearly an important topic not only for our individual lives but for societies and nations. In the last few years there have been a number of good books that explore insights into decision-making, e.g., Blink, Drive, How We Decide, The Wisdom of Crowds, etc. Unfortunately Blunder will not join this group. The book suffers from four major problems. First is that there are no new insights. Among the reasons for bad decisions are ignoring facts, focusing on irrelevant facts, extending reasonings from one situation to another without regard to relevance, and either withholding information or becoming obsessed with irrelevant information. Well...duh! If you do not already recognize such causes of bad decisions you have limited exposure or attentiveness to the real world. The second problem is bad editing. Did the author, or the editors, actually read the final version? A couple of examples. On page 196 author Shore relates a story about a Canadian wheat farmer who was growing canola - a plant grown for its seed oil. The text informs us that canola seed is also known as "grape" seed. What was actually originally known as is "rape" seed - the now more common canola was introduced to avoid the obvious negative connotations with "rape." Evidently what passes for final editing is spell-check, and since "grape" is a recognized word, everything was OK. Another example is the beginning of Chapter 7, where Shore relates the discovery by a Michael Leahy of a previously unknown, and large population of indigenous peoples in the interior of New Guinea. After telling us something of Leahy's stumbling on them, and his narrow view of their level of civilization, a new paragraph starts with the following sentence: "In his published account of the New Guinea explorations, The Land That Time Forgot, Michael Leahy sanitized the killings." Killings? What killings? Nothing previous related to any killings. I had to stop and reread the first part of the chapter to see what I missed - the answer was nothing. Obviously an earlier version of the text had such a sequence, but not the final version. A third problem is logic of anecdotes used to support Shore's points. Often the anecdote has little if any obvious connection to the topic being discussed. I must say that many of the large number of these short anecdotes were quite interesting, as long as you did not linger too long wondering what they had to do with the current topic. Fourth, and finally, I really do not want to read such books and come away with a firm opinion on where the author stands on the political and political-correctness spectrum. For example, I come away from the book believing Shore is a very liberal Democrat and is strongly against GMOs (genetically modified organisms). The latter would not be too bad if, for example, he connected arguments against GMOs to his theses - which he does not. In summary, the book is recommended for liberal democrats wanting reinforcement, foes of GMOs, and as a source of bathroom reading of the interesting anecdotes.
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Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions
Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions by Zachary Shore (Hardcover - October 28, 2008)
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