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Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide Hardcover – May 13, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195378016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195378016
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,083,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Harvard law professor Sunstein (Radicals in Robes) explores the nature of group decision making, largely expounding on his contention that homogenous groups of like-minded people tend to adopt more extreme positions than groups with a diversity of opinions. As in his previous, coauthored book, Nudge, in which he argued that small incentives can subtly push people toward making better decisions, Sunstein marshals empirical evidence in aid of his argument, which largely focuses on politics and public policy. As President Obama's nominee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Sunstein's ideas about such matters have now attained a level of national importance, but with the exception of a few notable potshots at the decision making in George W. Bush's White House, the book is not ideological and displays a keen interest in diverse areas ranging from the mindset that leads to genocide to how conspiracy theories form and are propagated. Interestingly, and most helpfully, Sunstein returns repeatedly to the recruitment and decision-making processes of Islamic terrorists, finding in these groups the purest example of the radicalizing echo chamber effect that the book warns against. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review


"Cass Sunstein has written Going to Extremes for those confounded by a country that remains stubbornly polarized. In clear, precise language, he explains that extremism is a consequence of the company we keep. He challenges not only what we think, but how we come to our beliefs, and he demonstrates that diversity of thought is the one ingredient necessary for both a healthy state and a working democracy." --Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort


"A path-breaking exploration of the perils and possibilities created by polarization among the like-minded."--Kathleen Hall Jamieson, co-author of unSpun and Echo Chamber


"Sunstein's book poses a powerful challenge to anyone concerned with the future of our democracy. He reveals the dark side to our cherished freedoms of thought, expression and participation. New strategies and new designs are required to make political discussion the constructive force our ideals prescribe. His book initiates an urgent dialogue which any thoughtful citizen should be interested in." --James S. Fishkin, author of When the People Speak


"Harvard law professor Sunstein (Radicals in Robes) explores the nature of group decision making, largely expounding on his contention that homogenous groups of like-minded people tend to adopt more extreme positions than groups with a diversity of opinions.... As President Obama's nominee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Sunstein's ideas...[have] attained a level of national importance."--Publishers Weekly


"Cass Sunstein's work and theories have never been more important."--Seed


"meant to unsettle us in the way his earlier work did"--Slate


"An excellent study of the conditions that drive events like the financial crisis...a valuable survey of research pertinent to managers in various areas of finance, and it suggests a range of practical, utilizable approaches to improving decision-making processes."--The Investment Professional


"A fun book to read...Sunstein is a brilliant writer, learned and clever."--Contemporary Sociology



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Customer Reviews

Finally the book gets off to a slow start but towards the end it becomes exciting to read.
laurens van den muyzenberg
Corroboration can also move individuals in extreme directions even if the group members begin a discussion unsure of their beliefs.
G.X. Larson
He is also an excellent writer as his books are very easy to read despite covering rather dry topics.
Gaetan Lion

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By laurens van den muyzenberg on June 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The book starts with something we all know, that it is more pleasant to talk with people that agree with you than with those that disagree with you. What we do not realize is that by acting this way we become "polarized". As all agree with what we think we start to believe that what we think is true. The author Cass Sunstein does an excellent job to make you aware of this happening and the consequences.

An extreme example is terrorists that form groups with extreme polarization. Most of these terrorists have experienced moral outrage, personal experience of discrimination, economic exclusion, even though many are well educated and come from middle-class families.

Polarization can be bad but also good like overthrowing the Lenin Communist system in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, or abolishing slavery in the United States.

The author presents his view as to what can be done to avoid bad polarization and tolerate good polarization. He believes the only answer is free speech and tolerance; acceptance and respect for diverse views, for diversity. He points out that dictatorships are breeding grounds for terrorism. Polarized groups objecting to dictatorships do not trust what the dictatorships claim to be the truth. Discrimination and outrage do the rest.

It is also relevant for business. Leaders that act like dictators will before or after their death ruin the company. A board of directors must contain members with different perspectives that forcefully argue with each other and management. Also at the level of management vigorous arguments about different perspectives are essential.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Gaetan Lion on May 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Sunstein will soon run the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). This Agency conducts cost benefit analysis of regulations. So, it is interesting to know Sunstein mindset. Sunstein is also the coauthor of the excellent Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness where he fleshes out his political philosophy of Liberal Paternalism. After reading those two books, you get a feeling that the OIRA will be in extremely capable hands. Sunstein has a powerful and inquisitive intellect. He is also an excellent writer as his books are very easy to read despite covering rather dry topics.

Homogeneous groups polarize as they cause like-minded people to strengthen their positions by eliminating the balancing safeguard from diverging opinions. Sunstein demonstrates that no category individuals is exempt from this behavior. Even Federal judges were victim of it as their verdict were politically more polarized when they belonged to an homogeneous political panel (all three Judges from same political party) vs when they were not.

Regarding risk taking endeavors, if individuals are moderate risk avoiders after deliberating they will become more so. If they are moderate risk takers, the group will render them more extreme risk takers.

Group polarization occurs because individuals only exchange information that reinforces their initial views and exclude info that does not. Group polarization is stealthy. You join a group of like-minded people. You approve of what they say. Before you know it they turned you into an extremist.

The Bush Administration was an insular polarizing group.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Dobelli HALL OF FAME on July 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This fascinating tour of the sociology of extremism provides a general description of its impact on society and describes specific tactics for leaders and managers who want to foster open discussion while promoting a democratic workplace. Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein addresses polarization by presenting results from numerous studies. Polarization affects every group interaction, including those of lawyers, judges, doctors, elected officials and the military. getAbstract recommends this book to those interested in promoting open discussions or in preventing pathologies that create mob behaviors and even genocide.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By L. Drutman on January 31, 2014
Format: Paperback
Back in 2005, a trio of researchers conducted a little experiment on deliberative democracy. They assembled groups of six citizens and asked them to get together to talk about a few politically charged issues (civil unions, affirmative action, global warming). Half the groups were made up exclusively of political conservatives, and half were made up exclusively of political liberals. The result: in almost every group, the individuals took on more extreme positions after talking with the folks who already agreed with them.

Similarly, a study of judicial decision-making found three-judge panels that were all Republican rendered more conservative decisions and three-judge panels that were all Democrat rendered more liberal decisions.

The above experiment and study form the take-off point for Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide, by Cass R. Sunstein, a smart book (now available in paperback!) that sets forth a pithy summary of how group polarization happens. It’s an especially useful guide to the obstacles to open-minded thinking for those of us who are trying to chart a course toward a more moderate politics, and so worth understanding.

The quick takeaway point is that what matters most is information. If you only hear one side of the argument, you are likely to strengthen your convictions that the one side you hear is the correct side. And the more your convictions are strengthened, the more you are likely to seek out only that one side and disregard anyone who comes to you with alternatives. In short, a powerful reinforcing feedback loop.

“A great deal of what we believe, like, and dislike,” writes Sunstein, “is influenced by the exchange of information and by corroboration.
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