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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451683405
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451683400
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 3.4 x 0.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (342 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,147 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"In this elegant and provocative book, Sam Harris demonstrates—with great intellectual ferocity and panache—that free will is an inherently flawed and incoherent concept, even in subjective terms. If he is right, the book will radically change the way we view ourselves as human beings."
—V. S. Ramachandran, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, UCSD, and author of The Tell-Tale Brain

"Brilliant and witty—and never less than incisive—Free Will shows that Sam Harris can say more in 13,000 words than most people do in 100,000."
—Oliver Sacks

"Free will is an illusion so convincing that people simply refuse to believe that we don’t have it. In Free Will, Sam Harris combines neuroscience and psychology to lay this illusion to rest at last. Like all of Harris’s books, this one will not only unsettle you but make you think deeply. Read it: you have no choice."—Jerry A. Coyne, Professor of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, and author of Why Evolution Is True

"Many say that believing that there is no free will is impossible—or, if possible, will cause nihilism and despair. In this feisty and personal essay, Harris offers himself as an example of a heart made less self-absorbed, and more morally sensitive and creative, because this particular wicked witch is dead."
—Owen Flanagan, Professor of Philosophy, Duke University, and author of The Really Hard Problem

"If you believe in free will, or know someone who does, here is the perfect antidote. In this smart, engaging, and extremely readable little book, Sam Harris argues that free will doesn’t exist, that we’re better off knowing that it doesn’t exist, and that—once we think about it in the right way—we can appreciate from our own experience that it doesn’t exist. This is a delightful discussion by one of the sharpest scholars around.”
—Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology, Yale University, and author of How Pleasure Works

About the Author

Sam Harris’s diversified career has run the gamut from singer and songwriter to actor on Broadway, film, and television to writer, director, and producer. His now legendary performances on TV’s Star Search led to a multi-million selling recording career. Sam has nine studio CDs to his credit and has toured the world in concert, played The White House, Carnegie Hall, with the Boston Pops and with Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors tour. He is also a Tony nominated Broadway star, (The Life, Grease, The Producers) and starred in numerous off-Broadway productions including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream CoatHair, Pippin, Jesus Christ Superstar, Cabaret, The Jazz Singer and The First Wives Club. Sam was a series regular on the CBS series, The Class, and has appeared on numerous television shows as an actor and also a popular talk show guest on everything from Leno to Oprah to Fallon. Behind the scenes, he created and co-wrote the TBS television series, Down to Earth, the musical Hurry! Hurry! Hollywood!, and Liza’s Back at the Palace, (which won the Tony Award), co-produced the television special Love Letter to New York, and wrote and directed the concert event New York's Finest. He now adds author to his long list of accomplishments with the release of his first book: Ham: Slices of a Life, a collection of essays and stories published by Simon & Schuster. Sam lives in Los Angeles with his husband, Danny, and their child, Cooper. For more information, please visit: SamHarris.com and Facebook.com/SamFans.

More About the Author

Sam Harris is the author of the bestselling books, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, and Lying. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. His latest book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, will be published 9/9/14.

Mr. Harris's writing has been published in more than 15 languages. His work has been discussed in The New York Times, Time, Scientific American, Nature, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and many other journals. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Economist, Newsweek, The Times (London), The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The Annals of Neurology, and elsewhere.

Mr. Harris is a cofounder and the CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. He received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA.

Customer Reviews

Sam Harris is so right about the illusion of Free Will.
David N. Pearl
In summary: Harris simply makes his unoriginal point over and over again, which makes even this notably short book too long.
Gerard P.
Makes you look at things differently and gives you a new appreciation to life.
John Grove

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

228 of 271 people found the following review helpful By Greg VINE VOICE on March 6, 2012
Format: Paperback
It was a Reformed theologian who disabused me of the concept of free will several years ago, and I've found it a fascinating topic ever since. Sam Harris has produced a brief monograph on the issue that manages to distill the key issues without creating an impenetrable density for the reader to slog through.

For those who think value is found in a dollars-to-words ratio, the thinness and focus of this volume might not seem like a bargain, but I loved having a book with something important to say that I actually READ. I'm not saying that all subject matter must be reduced to tweets, but I know that, for example, as fascinated as I am by the topic of moral improvement that Stephen Pinker covers in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, I am never going to read more than 600 pages just on that subject. There are simply too many other things I also care about. So Harris has done people like me a real favor by thinking about free will and pulling together the relevant evidence for his position, and expressing his ideas with his trademark wit and clarity in a work that can be digested in an hour or less.

For those who read about free will in other books and publications, there's nothing very new here. In fact, given the choice between recommending this book and something else, depending on the person I was talking with, I might instead suggest Cris Evatt's The Myth of Free Will, Revised & Expanded Edition.
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86 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 6, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Free Will by Sam Harris

"Free Will" is the persuasive essay that makes the compelling case that free will is an illusion. Free will is intuitively understood but a difficult concept to master. Dr. Harris systematically, and with few precise words destroys the notion of the concept of free will. With a degree in philosophy and a doctorate degree in neuroscience and the innate ability to convey difficult concepts to the layperson, Dr. Harris is best suited to enlighten us on such a challenging topic. This 96-page book is composed of the following eight chapters: 1. The Unconscious Origins of the Will, 2. Changing the Subject, 3. Cause and Effect, 4. Choices, Efforts, Intentions, 5. Might the Truth Be Bad for Us?, 6. Moral Responsibility, 7. Politics, and 8. Conclusion.

Positives:
1. Fascinating topic in the hands of a great thinker.
2. Profound without being unintelligible. Elegant and accessible prose.
3. Does a great job of dissecting free will. The author systematically beaks down the concept of free will by attacking it from various angles.
4. More so than his previous great essay "Lying" he makes more use of his scientific background. He relays studies that support his arguments.
5. The illusion of being in control is a concept that Dr. Harris masterfully destroys.
6. The author differentiates voluntary and involuntary actions.
7. Great quotes, "Our sense of free will results from a failure to understand this: We do not know what we intend to do until the intention itself arises".
8. A discussion on the three main philosophical approaches: determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism.
9. Great examples that help the reader comprehend the challenging concept of free will.
10.
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Norman Bearrentine on March 11, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's great to have Sam on board the no-free-will train, but for those of us who have been riding it for a while, the scenery may seem largely familiar. Still, the idea of not having free will is so difficult to grasp, even for those who have been struggling with it for some time, that Sam's arguments, analogies, and the recent research he presents are likely to be helpful. It's a short book for such a big topic, but its brevity and clarity may make it more accessible to some than a work of more depth might be.

On the other hand, it would have been fairly easy to give his arguments a broader perspective. For example, he says:

"People feel that they are the authors of their thoughts and actions, and this is the only reason why there seems to be a problem of free will worth talking about."(pp. 31-32, all references are to the Kindle Edition.)

In fact, people of all cultures and all times have not necessarily had this feeling. The Greeks seem to have laid the foundation for the idea, and it primarily evolved as a topic of Western thought. Seeing free will as a cultural, historical phenomenon can undermine the sense of inevitability that accompanies it in Western discourse.

Free will is part of a complex of misconceptions about how our brains work, and while Sam scratches the surface of some of these in a scattered way, these misconceptions reinforce each other, making it difficult to root one out unless all of them are exposed.
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