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Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer Hardcover – March 29, 2011

112 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Mr. Watts, a former sociology professor and physicist who is now a researcher for Yahoo, has written a fascinating book that ranges through psychology, economics, marketing and the science of social networks.”

- The Wall Street Journal

“It’s about time a sociologist wrote an amazing and accessible book for a non-specialist audience. Everything Is Obvious*: Once You Know the Answer by Duncan J. Watts is that amazing book.”

- Inside Higher Ed

“In this bold thesis, renowned network scientist Duncan J. Watts exposes the complex mechanics of judgement and proposes a radical new way of thinking about human behaviour.”
— Scott Wilson, The Fringe Magazine

“Common sense is a kind of bespoke make-believe, and we can no more use it to scientifically explain the workings of the social world than we can use a hammer to understand mollusks.”

— Nicholas Christakis, The New York Times 

Everything is Obvious is engagingly written and sparkles with counter-intuitive insights. Its modesty about what can and cannot be known also compares favourably with other “big idea” books.”

— James Crabtree, comment editor Financial Times

"Every once in a while, a book comes along that forces us to re-examine what we know and how we know it. This is one of those books. And while it is not always pleasurable to realize the many ways in which we are wrong, it is useful to figure out the cases where our intuitions fail us."

- Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational

“A deep and insightful book that is a joy to read. There are new ideas on every page, and none of them is obvious!”
-Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of Stumbling on Happiness

"A brilliant account of why, for  every hard question, there’s a common sense answer that’s simple, seductive,  and spectacularly wrong. If you are suspicious of pop sociology, rogue  economics, and didactic history – or, more importantly, if you aren’t! –  Everything is Obvious is  necessary reading. It will literally change the way you think."

- Eric Klinenberg,  Professor of Sociology. New York University

"You have to take notice when common sense, the bedrock thing we’ve always counted on, is challenged brilliantly. Especially when something better than common sense is suggested. As we increasingly experience the world as a maddeningly complex blur, we need a new way of seeing. The fresh ideas in this book, like the invention of spectacles, help bring things into better focus."

- Alan Alda

Everything is Obvious is indicated for managers, scholars, or anyone else tired of oversimplified, faulty explanations about how business, government, society and even sports work. Temporary side effects of reading Duncan Watts' tour de force include: light-headedness, a tendency to question one's colleagues, temporary doubt in one's own strategies.  Long term effects include: Deeper insight into history, current events, corporate politics and any other human activity that involves more than one person at a time.  Everything is Obvious is available without a prescription.”

- Dalton Conley, Dean for the Social Sciences, New York University

"A truly important work that's bound to rattle the cages of pseudo- and self-proclaimed experts in every field. If this book doesn't force you to re-examine what you're doing, something is wrong with you."
- Guy Kawasaki, author of Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, and co-founder of

"Watts brings science to life. A complicated, global, interconnected world, one which often overwhelms, is tamed by wit, skepticism, and the power to challenge conventional wisdom. The book will help you see patterns, where you might have thought chaos ruled."

-Sudhir Venkatesh, William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology at Columbia University

About the Author

DUNCAN WATTS, a professor of sociology at Columbia University, is a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research. A former officer in the Royal Australian Navy, he holds a Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Cornell University. He is the author of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (Norton, 2003). He lives in New York City.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; First Edition edition (March 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385531680
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385531689
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #121,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

117 of 133 people found the following review helpful By L. King on June 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a personal review - if you haven't come across similar material I think it's a very recommendable read.

I'm a big fan of Duncan Watts' work on Small Worlds, but I did not get as much as I would have liked from his latest pop-sci offering. Some of the material I found new, such as Grannovetter's intriguing threshold hypothesis as to why some mobs gel into mass action and others do not, and he had a very good discussion on the use of online networked communities as social science laboratories, with some interesting results generated from twitter, Facebook and email. And, as is necessary for this kind of a book, there are a number of illustrative anecdotes, such as why BetaMax and Discman failed in the market, but iPod succeeded or Amazon's "Mechanical Turk" - which I just tried out after reading the book, or Zara's approach to marketing. If nothing else it makes for good entertainment and fodder for conversation.

However much of the book hinges around the nature of workable explanations, and I'm surprised that in his wanderings Watts did not come across Herbert Simon's well known The Sciences of the Artificial and his key notion of "satisficing" (we tend to stop at explanations that work sufficiently well, not those that are necessarily true); or the idea of "magical thinking" in allegedly primitive societies; or Donald Norman's
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103 of 124 people found the following review helpful By Malvin VINE VOICE on December 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Everything is Obvious" by Dr. Duncan J. Watts suggests that we are on the brink of a new age of social scientific discovery with profound implications for business, politics and culture. Dr. Watts brings an interesting and rare critical discipline to the soft science of sociology due to his PhD's in the hard sciences of theoretical and applied mechanics. Dr. Watts shares insights gained from his academic and professional experiences including his role as a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research. Accessibly written for general interest readers, Dr. Watts' enlightening book gives us many good reasons to get excited about sociology.

Although Dr. Watts rarely acknolwedges it, his book represents an implicit refutation of Malcolm Gladwell's pseudo-scientific The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Dr. Watts charges Mr. Gladwell with employing an obvious kind of circular logic where a particular social, cultural or artistic phenomenon is heralded simply due to the fact of its success (while ignoring how dozens of others that possessed the same attributes failed). In fact, Dr. Watts argues that answers to the riddles of history are usually not well understood in the moment; it is only with the benefit of hindsight that historians can piece together the relevant factors that might have produced noteworthy events. For example, Dr.
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29 of 37 people found the following review helpful By James East VINE VOICE on January 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Though I am not necessarily a René Descartes fan, reading `In Everything is Obvious' one surely comes away realizing that we really do not know much. That is only after something has become fact do we really know it. Of course this sounds very logical and even `Common Sense', but the author reminds us throughout the book that common sense has a remarkable knack for peppering over complexity. Complexity with respect to emergent conditions, or results, because the behavior of the whole can not be easily related to the behavior of the parts.

In the chapter `History Is Not Such a Good Teacher After All`, the author reminds us that history is actually just a one-off event. There could be many different historical facts but we only know of the one. This is pointed out in the discussion of creeping determinism where we pay less attention than we should to things that did not happen. For example, since we are mostly concerned with success, it seems pointless, or uninteresting, to worry about the absence of success.

To vividly point this creeping determinism, or `abstract blindness' I am reminded of the WWII bombers that returned from German bomb runs. The ones that returned were all shot-up and full of holes. The General asked, `what can we do to protect the bombers'? A smart mathmatican said put extra armor where there are "no" holes. Where There are No Holes! When looked thru the lens of abstract blindness, one realizes that the bombers that did not return were the ones with holes in them that no one could see.

All in a good book that starts out fast but tapers off about halfway thru to the end as it ventures into, though appropriate, government planning that results in unintended consequences of common sense ideas.
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