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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2010
The emotionally charged polarized reviews on Amazon for this book are quite entertaining and surprising, and corroborate his section on "The Importance of Prior Conviction" (p 16-21). This book is definitely worth an hour of your time and it shouldn't require much more than that. I'd encourage anyone to read the first half of the book (just over 40 pages) and skip or skim read the rest. Whether that is worth $10 is debatable.

Pros:
* The information in this book can be covered by the reader in 1-2 hours
* Clearly and succinctly covers common problems of group decision making
1. Information Cascades (p 21-8)
2. Conformity Cascades (p 28-32)
3. Group Polarization (p 32-42)

Cons:
* This book is only 88 pages; the second half is largely forgettable
* His coverage of Biases (p 42-57) is disappointing
* His tentatively proposed solutions are insightful, but still very much a work in progress

I think Nudge is a better book - if for nothing else because you also get Thaler's input - but similarly Nudge is largely worthy of skim reading after the first half (actually after 100 pages). I think Sunstein is a very bright guy with tremendous insight. I just wish that instead of putting out so many different books he would put out fewer books that are more comprehensive.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 5, 2012
This slim little volume purports to explain how rumors disseminate, the reasons why people are inclined to believe them, and what can be done to stop the spread of false rumors. The author succeeds on the first two objectives, using a combination of results of psychology experiments, legal decisions, and real world examples to make his points. On the third objective he falters. He acknowledges that there needs to be a balance between the elusive "chilling factor" that would cause people to think twice before initiating or propagating false rumors and the right to free speech, but in the end seems to conclude that in the age of the internet the victims of falsehoods are screwed. Perhaps he is right, but I was hoping for more concrete ideas in the "what can be done" sections.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2013
A light read and essentially an abridged version of Sunstein's Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide with the same basic arguments and examples. The goal is to explain why people accept false and destructive rumors and if we can protect ourselves against them. The key concepts presented are "social cascades" and "group polarization". The former is about whether or not one's peer group already holds a particular pov towards the subject. Casstein suggests that there is a tipping point level of external endorsement, different for each of us, where notions previously thought foolish or marginals suddenly become not only acceptable but consequential.

Once a rumour becomes entrenched there is a tendency to seek confirmation and filter out contradictory data... and people, either by forming cliques or other associations. This is especially easy to do on the Internet where simple search will lead one to communities of like minded people that can act as an echo chamber.

Rumour propagators may in some cases be malicious, in other cases they are simply interested in drawing a crowd to present their case where damage to others is collateral and unintended. Propagators may also believe themselves to be sincere and altruistic in bringing the rumour to the world's attention; listeners may latch onto the sincerity and reputation of the speaker, enhanced by the size, membership or credentials of other members of the community as justification for accepting false or misleading information. Solidarity leads to conformity and more tightly held views. In extreme case cases individuals become progressively radicalized to the point where aggressive action becomes a real possibility, and dominates personal behaviour.

As a model of how we accept, process and internalize information the theory is not bad, but while we would hope for some insight as to whether a particular rumour is true or false Sunstein admits to not having an answer. In my parent's generation there were voices of authority that people would respect in order to ascertain which beliefs were normalative and acceptable - a chilling effect on fringe ideas which Sunstein cautions is not always bad. And where one might place hope in Justice Brandeis's dictum that sunlight and a free society is the best disinfectant for falsehood, Sunstein worries that this is no guarantee as people do assimilate argumentation incompletely with an emotional bias.

Compared to Extremes what the book lacks is an index, footnotes pointing to Sunstein's sources and the latter chapters on social movements. If all you are interested in are the ideas or if you are a teacher and your target audience is middle or high school students, pick this one, which IMV is easy, accessible and brief. Otherwise get Extremes. Both would be unnecessary.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2013
This had GREAT potential. Then the author threw it away by droning on in suppositions and hypotheticals. Really? Like there aren't enough real people believing completely ridiculous rumors that he could have used to make this interesting and engaging? It's hard to believe a book about rumors could be this boring.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2014
This is an interesting little book and also humorous. A good quick read. I understand it was reviewed in the Atlantic Monthly magazine.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2013
Interesting, would recommend this book for anyone wanting to follow politics and business, much less gossip passing as news and other issues.
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7 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Weighing in at only 88 pages, this book is an excellent distillation of group decision making, from assimilation bias(a person who holds a strong belief will, upon hearing contrary facts, waver for a moment ,and then believe even more strongly in their original belief) to how we are influenced in our decision making by the decisions of others and how ,in a group that agrees with us, we betray our personal beliefs and gravitate towards more strident and polarized views. A worthwhile if pricey book.
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6 of 15 people found the following review helpful
It's difficult to face it, but here's the truth: Most of us prefer to have our ideas confirmed over having them challenged. That's the crux of Sunstein's case against the Internet. He's not the first to point this out, but he illustrates it very well. And points out a legitimate danger posed by new communications technologies.

For me, this was a useful book because I haven't quite been able to figure out for myself what has gone so wrong with our national discourse these days. I was inclined, frankly, to blame it on malevolent forces--especially forces I disagree with. But Sunstein shows that the stakes are much higher than that. It isn't just that some people are deluded and some people lie; it's that we find ourselves in a situation in which all of us are permitted to gravitate to messages that reinforce our assumptions. To some degree, we could always do that. But it's become very easy to do these days. A difference in degree has become a difference in kind.

It doesn't help matters, either, that the least reasonable among us are the most drawn to our new ways of communicating. If you doubt that, read the comments that newspapers post after many news stories. So many of the posts are contemptuous remarks aimed more at cutting off dialogue than genuine contributions to a conversation.

That problem is magnified in ways that Sunstein traces very well in this book. I'm still horrified by liars and rumor mongers. But it helps (a little) to know what has given them such influence nowadays.
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15 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2009
Nice try, but Sunstein operates so much within the realm of logic and fact that he's incapable of understanding the idiocy and delusions of those who launch and firmly believe in the wildest of rumours.

"The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of a nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to the big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell big ones."

So wrote an unknown inmate of Landsberg Prison in 1923, subsequently included in a book called 'Mein Kampf' by Adolf Hitler. Many of the ideas and language are from Rudolph Hess, Hermann Rauschning and others. Thus, 'Mein Kampf' is itself a lie, it is largely the "struggle" of many others.

In recent times, consider "weapons of mass destruction." This rumour was "the big lie" spread by Saddam Hussein who did use poison gas to quell a Kurdish revolt. George Bush believed him and went to war on that basis; those who still believe such weapons exist simply cannot accept the fact that Bush was duped by Hussein's lies.

Rumours confirm what we want to believe. It's like telling a child whose puppy has just died that, "He went to a better place, he'll be happy there." It's a lie, but it comforts the child and it's precisely what the child wants to believe. Rumours and lies are emotional issues, not fact.

Sunstein misses the point, and stumbles around in the realm of logic, hope, reason and fact. He needs to emotionalize the question, not rationalize it. Rumours live to express unrealistic hopes and illogical fears. The gut response is, "If it seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true."

Keep in mind the old saying of good journalists about the need to check facts, "If your Mother tells you she loves you, check it out." Remember the old saying of many Americans, "Sez who?" Let's revive the adage, "That and $5 will buy you a Starbux coffee." Does anyone remember the typical Missouri response, "Show me."

Americans have long been skeptical. The Internet is teaching them to be even more skeptical, thanks to sites such as: [...] That and a reading of 'The True Believer' by Eric Hoffer will better explain the origin and reason of rumours.
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3 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2010
.. in this list illustrate Sunstein's point very clearly. Sunstein hits on the truth and they can't handle it.
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