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Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear Hardcover – January 1, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Virgin Books (2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905264151
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905264155
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,019,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By David J. Aldous on September 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Journalist author writes in the contemporary brisk reader-friendly style of popular science. Though the message has been said before, it's one that bears repeating.

(1) As explained in e.g. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, human psychology is "predictably irrational" when it comes contemplating risk, which involves assessing a balance of probabilities and sizes of potential effects.
(2) We are constantly exposed to fear-mongering -- deliberate exaggeration of risks and appeal to emotion rather than reason. Sometimes with profit motive -- pharmaceutical companies and restless leg syndrome, home security outfits. Sometimes from politicians, competing to be seen as "tough on crime". And from ideological interest groups. All this is amplified by feedback between media and viewers -- ``the new danger YOU need to known about" is a typical teaser for the 11 o'clock news. As the author writes, "we overestimate the likelihood of being killed by the things that make the evening news and underestimate those that don't." Three chapters deal specifically with perceptions of risk from terrorism, crime, and environmental carcinogens.

Books that argue a case can become irritatingly hectoring, but this author manages to remain cheerful. After all, we do live in an age that is more peaceful, healthy and wealthy than any previous age.

Note: book also published as The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Posner on January 23, 2010
Format: Paperback
This astounding book leads the pack of the four most important factual books you're ever likely to read this decade. If you read and properly digest its contents your experience of the world will likely be changed significantly. You will never read a newspaper, listen to the radio or watch television news in the same way again. If enough people with influence and responsibility (they know who they are) spent the twelve or so hours required to absorb this quartet's contents the world would be a measureably better place and I would be walking around wearing a permenent smile of vndication.

And the other three? Tiger That Isn't, Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, and (of course) Bad Science (Paperback) (New Edition) (Import)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Braden Shepherdson on May 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book has confirmed a view I have held for several years, that "news" is poisonous. Being informed on issues of social or other import is important, but news, especially TV news, is a terrible way to become informed.

I have read a couple of books on this theme before, especially The Culture of Fear. But what sets this book apart is the detailed, admirably researched discussion of how human neurology, psychology and sociology are behind most of what goes on. Instead of depicting the media as a sinister force that corrupts our minds, as The Culture of Fear does, Gardner points out that the reporters are subject to the same effects of fear on the brain that influences the public. Many psychology studies, well-known and obscure, are described and discussed.

Part of this psychology research has been into how to defeat these biases and blind spots introduced by our "Gut". One of the best is to be aware of these subconscious biases and confident enough in our rational, "Head", judgments to override "Gut"'s mistaken snap judgments.

Gardner is an expert writer, and this book is a powerful page-turner.

Very highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Callisto on March 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
Fear of an event occurring is often disproportionate to the actual risk of the event happening. This means that for many, the things that they fear the most are much less likely to happen than other things that should be higher on their worry-list.

Dan Gardner talks through several scenarios, and explains from a psychological perspective the mechanisms that cause people to fear what may have little chance of harming them. This includes discussing how the human mind assesses risk, which can be split into two categories:

1. Unconscious thinking (gut)
2. Conscious thinking (head)

The gut often overreacts to risk, while the head has to correct for it. These two categories, combined with several psychological principles (anchoring rule, example rule, etc) is used throughout the book to explain several examples where the fear in populations of a particular risk is overblown compared to what the actual science and risk are. These examples include breast implants, crime, terrorism among others. There is also a discussion of groups who want to increase the perception of risk to support their own agendas.

Despite the people of today living longer, healthier, safer lives than ever, we worry more about the smaller things. Why is that? Read this book to find out.

The Bottom Line: A good introduction to risk perception and why we fear them, with examples and discussion pulled from various topics, including crime and breast implants.
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