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The Art of Choosing Hardcover – March 1, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 121 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Choice, perhaps the highest good in the American socioeconomic lexicon, is a very mixed blessing, according to this fascinating study of decision making and its discontents. Psychologist Iyengar cites evidence that a paucity of choice can damage the mental and physical health of dogs, rats, and British civil servants alike. But, she contends, choice can also mislead and burden us: advertising manipulates us through the illusion of choice; a surfeit of choices can paralyze decision making; and some choices, like the decision to withdraw life support from a loved one, are so terrible that we are happier if we delegate them to others. Iyengar draws on everything from the pensées of Albert Camus to The Matrix, but her focus is on the ingenious experiments that psychologists have concocted to explore the vagaries of choice. (In her own experiment, shoppers presented with an assortment of 24 jams were 1/10th as likely to buy some than those who were shown a mere six.) Iyengar writes in a lucid, catchy style, very much in the Malcolm Gladwell vein of pop psychology–cum–social commentary, but with more rigor. The result is a delightful, astonishing take on the pitfalls of making up one's mind. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Prominent social psychologist Iyengar begins her unique and invigorating study of choice by telling the story of a man who survived for 76 days stranded alone in the middle of the ocean. He chose to live, Iyengar tells us, just as she has chosen not to let her blindness keep her from conducting prodigious research and intrepid experiments. Iyengar exponentially expands our understanding of the central role choice plays in the lives of animals and humans in a rapid-fire, many-faceted, and original inquiry that is at once personable and commanding. She explains our “biological need for choice and control,” the decision process, and the myriad influences that dictate everything from purchasing choices to career moves, voting, medical decisions, and marriage. The daughter of Sikh immigrants from India, Iyengar is particularly astute in her globally significant analysis of the striking differences between how Americans and Asians make decisions. Much of this eye-opening anatomy of choice focuses on consumerism, a lively, revealing arena, but Iyengar’s high-voltage curiosity and penetrating insights are far more valuable when applied to deeper matters of existence. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; 1st edition (March 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446504106
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446504102
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #371,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

SHEENA IYENGAR is the S. T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia University and a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award. She holds an undergraduate degree from Wharton School of Business and a doctorate in social psychology from Stanford University. Her innovative research on choice has been funded by the Institute for Advanced Studies, the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Mental Health. Her work is regularly cited in periodicals such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and TIME magazines, and in books such as Blink and The Paradox of Choice.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I had high expectations for this book. Sheena Iyengar's research on choice is well known and often quoted, and I was looking forward to this exposition of her ideas. The book is OK, and will be a worthwhile read for those with a deep interest in choice theory and decision making; however, I personally found the book to be less valuable than other books on this subject.

More specifically:

On the positive side, the book is well researched and is particularly strong when discussing cultural differences regarding choice and decision making. It is loaded with a large number of anecdotes and research studies.

On the negative side, after having read the book, I had a hard time outlining the key points or recalling a handful of particularly powerful examples. Despite the author's frequent references to the importance of a "narrative," I struggled to find the narrative in the book.

In a nutshell, when reading this book I felt as though I would have learned a lot if I'd had the opportunity to spend a semester in one of the author's classes, benefitting from a rich give and take of ideas and arguing the interpretations of the various research findings and personal perspectives. However, not enough of that experience came through in the book -- the studies and examples were mostly ones I had read many times before, and the integrating "theory of the case" was not strongly presented.

For discussions of decision making as it relates to economic or business choices, I found "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely of Duke and "The Winner's Curse" by Richard Thaler of Princeton to be more valuable than "The Art of Choosing." For consumer choice research and issues, Barry Schwartz's "The Paradox of Choice" remains the standard.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ten years ago Malcolm Gladwell released "The Tipping Point" and ushered in a whole bunch of books on what new psychological research has told us about ourselves. Publishers are unwilling to take risks, so there have been many similar books since that time. Thankfully, most of them are as well-researched and written as Gladwell's book.

The latest, and definitely one of the best, is Sheena Iyenga's book, "The Art of Choosing." This book explodes the ideas we have about choice. Did you know that the U.S.A. is the place where choice is valued most highly? In Japan, for instance, people are far more likely to be told where to work and what to wear. Sheena's parents (both Sikhs) had an arranged marriage in India, and there are pictures of the wedding day. Sheena's mother seems to me to be the most beautiful woman in the world (no wonder her husband is laughing at his good fortune).

I knew two Indian programmers that had arranged marriages, but these days the men are in the U.S.A. Relatives back in India contact the parents of suitable women and, in the few weeks of the men's vacation, they go on dates with their "girlfriends," and if all goes well they date some more, until they finally find a compatible partner. This goes against the Western dream of finding a lifetime companion on your own. Apparently millions of people throughout the world manage to find someone, but the spouse is often a co-worker, a co-student, or just one of a circle of friends. We would be shocked if we weren't allowed to choose whoever we wanted to, yet in the current Indian version the women are already expecting to move abroad and to have a nerdy but well-paid husband.

Examples like this proliferate through the book.
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5 Comments 115 of 126 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book covers everything (culture, environment, politics, economy, psychology, religion, history etc) that affects choices. It covers all types of choices from big to small. Everything written in this book is supported by first hand research by the Author herself or someone else Author is able to quote clearly. Her knowledge of the subject is very deep and thorough. Its a hard to put down book. Most valuable message I got from the book - Having less/no choices is not always bad and having lots of choices is not always good. THIS BOOK DOES NOT LECTURE ON HOW TO MAKE CHOICES. It helps you understand and makes you aware of what affects choices.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I read a ton of books on personal choice. Having a job in sales, I find it critical to understand what influences a purchase decision. I eagerly requested this book from Amazon Vine to add to my knowledge of personal choice. I assumed it would be another pop book on behavioral finance, but the author's biography made it sound like it could also be a little deeper. Perhaps some sociological roots of choice?

In summary, the book itself is extremely hard to follow because it does not follow a coherent theme, does not go through some sort of dialectic to prove a point, and seems to meander from one idea to another. The author seems rather intelligent in many ways, so perhaps she needs a better editor. After I was done reading the book, I had a difficult time even remembering some of her examples or a coherent theme.

The first chapter discusses choice in general, and the drive for survival that is often led by choice (some interesting survival stories and lab tests). The next chapter discusses how sometimes lack of choice can make someone happier---arranged marriages tend to be happier long term than marriages of choice. She also found more fundamentalist religions (with more rules) tend to make people more optimistic and happy in general.

The author seems confused in many of her analyses of the modern world, and these serve to further befuddle the theme of her book. She interchangeably refers to collectivism in Europe and Asia, not understanding the Asian focus on family that led to their collectivist society versus the European focus on the state that de-emphasized the family (read Schlafly "Who Will Rock the Cradle"). Both are so amazingly different that her interchangeable use of these themes was incoherent.
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