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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (July 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199576203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199576203
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author


Baruch Fischhoff is Howard Heinz University Professor in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences and the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

John Kadvany is a consultant whose clients include the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Doctor Moss on July 10, 2011
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Oxford doesn't publish books for "dummies" -- they publish "very short introductions". And this one isn't for dummies. It's an informed overview of the elements of understanding risks and making decisions with respect to them.

For most of us, risk is something we address in an informal, rule-of-thumb manner. I think this goes for everything from the risks we run in leaving our homes every day (or even staying in them), to how we invest our 401ks, to our willingness or unwillingness to participate in dangerous sports like rock-climbing or ocean swimming, and even to business risks arising in our professional lives. We trust in our own decision-making, often with little information to go on.

We certainly pay a price. For example, if we rely on the flow of information we simply happen to receive, we over-estimate our vulnerability to violent crime, natural disasters, traffic accidents, and the like. Our information flow isn't designed as an unbiased source for risk assessment.

The authors have made careers of understanding risk. The most interesting point they make, I think, is that "societies reveal themselves by how they handle dangers." How we measure risks, including what it is that we consider risks to be risks to reveal, in action, what we value, what really matters to us. Is it life, simply put? Is it a life of a particular kind? Is it long life? Is it healthy life?

"Very short introductions" are not for professionals -- they are for the majority of us who can benefit from an explicit, reflective framework for something we don't really have an informed way of thinking about. Maybe the most valuable thing we can learn is that there are, in fact, informed ways to think about and make decisions with respect to the risks that are ubiquitous in everyday life.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 23, 2011
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Risk is an inevitable fact of human life. Dealing with risk is an integral part of our psychological makeup, and for the most of recorded history there have been attempts to minimize the risk as much as possible. It could be argued that many of the social, cultural, religious, and political institutions that we know today have evolved as an attempt to find some kind of stability and security in this risky world. "Risk - A very short Introduction" is a thoughtful, modern, and up-to-date account of risk, what we mean by it and how we deal with it.

One of the main aims of this short book is to force us to rethink the way we perceive and deal with risk. Our innate risk-assessment abilities are fairly good - up to a point. We are not very good at assessing risks associated with events that are vastly outside of the scope of our experiences, and especially those that are at odds with most of the historical human experiences. Thus for instance we are not very good at handling infinitesimally small or enormously large quantities, oftentimes overestimating or underestimating corresponding risks.

The book also drives home one important point: the concept of risk is inexorably value-laden. It is impossible to talk about risks in absolute terms without specifying the reference frame from within which we operate. There are certainly individual preferences that determine which risks are acceptable and which ones are outside the realm of consideration. There are certainly certain risks that are perceived more or less universally, but this too will be contingent on the cultural factors.

In addition to being hard to define and measure, risk can be very hard to communicate effectively. Over the years there have been many cases of unintentional misrepresentation of various risks.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David J. Aldous on June 23, 2013
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This is not about data and specific advice regarding the risks that you as an individual face in everyday life (for which see How Risky Is It, Really?: Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts or The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers About Danger). Instead it is a masterful overview of how many disciplines inside academia, and professions outside academia, think about Risk nowadays. Of books I have read (on any subject), it is one of the most successful at combining abstract high-level concepts with a set of substantial real-world examples. In style it is somewhat like a well-written concise textbook rather than a "popular science" book, so it requires some concentration rather than being easy bedtime reading. In the examples it presents data but does not seek to engage any details of statistical analysis.

Regarding content, I cannot do better than compress the author's own summary: thinking about risk in the context of decisions where risk matters; creating measures of risk; understanding probabilities of risks by combining historical records, science and expert judgement; how individuals move from understanding risks to making choices; risk perception and judgmental biases; risk communication; cultural aspects of risk.

Rather than plugging one author's view, the book emphasizes the many different aspects of risk and the complexity of real-world decision making. It strikes me as ideal for the reader who already has some familiarity with some aspect of the study of risk, but who is puzzled why other people view risk differently. Because many ideas are touched upon in a single paragraph (or sentence or phrase) it might be a bit overwhelming for a complete novice, but this is a book one could reread every few years and find something newly insightful.
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