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The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics Hardcover – December 26, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Shermer (The Science of Good and Evil), columnist for Scientific American and publisher of Skeptic magazine, provides an in-depth examination of evolutionary economics. Using fascinating examples—from monkeys that balk at unfair distribution of rewards after completing a task to humans who feel cheated when offered $10 of free money if a partner is given $90—Shermer explores the evolutionary roots of our sense of fairness and justice, and shows how this rationale extends to the market. Drawing upon his expertise as a scientist and the works of noted economists, Shermer argues convincingly that human beings are not exclusively self-centered, the market itself is moral, and modern economies are founded on our virtuous nature. He explores how we mind our money, the value of virtue, why money can't buy happiness and whether we are really free to make choices. Though dense in places, this book offers much insight into human behavior and rationales regarding money and fairness and will be of interest to serious readers of science or business. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"[A] captivating raconteur of all the greatest hits of behavioral, evolutionary and neuropsychology, [and] provider of wonderful cocktail party material... Fascinating."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

"The book has no end of conversation starters, from capitalism as modern Darwinism to neuroeconomics that show that—biochemically, at least—a human brain is shockingly similar during smooth business deals and sex."—Boston Globe

"Have you ever wondered how people develop trust and live together peacefully? Michael Shermer’s new book uses psychology and evolution to examine the root of these human achievements… [He] has earned the right to our attention."—Washington Post

"Drawing from research, and injecting his own wit, Shermer explains why people make bad decisions about money, why wealth can’t buy you happiness, and why we love cooperating."—Psychology Today

"Compelling… Take[s] us on an intimate tour of the best of the last half-century’s work in behavioral economics and neuroscience."—New York Post

"Entertaining… a fascinating tour d’horizon of discoveries in several of today’s cutting-edge sciences."—The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"Well-written [and] highly entertaining…. Replete with thought-provoking examples and solid references, the book will start as many debates as it will end."—Choice

"[The Mind of the Market] provides a thorough account of what’s going on in a branch of psychology dedicated to understanding the natural origins of economic decisions."—Science News

"Pure entertainment… Some of the most interesting economic research being undertaken these days draws on the disciplines of cognitive science and psychology, and [The Mind of the Market is a] highly readable contribution."—The Business Economist

"Eye-opening … [The Mind of the Market] recounts truly fascinating experiments and discoveries regarding physiological components of our market decisions…. Filled with fun analogies and a smattering of funny lines."—Humanist

"Thoughtful and complete…You’re certain to learn something new when you read it."—WestWord

"[Shermer] does a bang-up job knitting together the complexities of science and the frail psychology of human beings to explain the unpredictable postmodern world of trade and finance…. An informative, inventive, broad-spectrum analysis of what makes modern man tick, starting with his wallet."—Kirkus Reviews

"Using fascinating examples… Shermer explores the evolutionary roots of our sense of fairness and justice, and shows how this rationale extends to the market…. Offers much insight into human behavior and rationales regarding money."—Publishers Weekly

"The Ripley’s Believe It or Not of behavioral economics, or why people act the way they do in a capitalistic marketplace…. Shermer applies his wide-ranging knowledge of science and its rigorous investigatory discipline to uncover the answers and make connections between trade and emotion—in essence, popularizing neuron-economics."—Booklist

"Extremely interesting… Shermer is a fantastic presenter."—Steven D. Levitt, The New York Times Freakonomics Blog

"Michael Shermer brilliantly shows that the real experts of Homo economicus are often found in psychology, biology, even primatology." —Frans de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape

"Written with his customary verve and flair, The Mind of the Market is Michael Shermer at his best."—Dinesh D’Souza, author of What’s So Great About America

"Economists who understand Charles Darwin are almost as rare as biologists who understand Adam Smith. Yet the two were essentially saying the same thing—that order emerges unordained from competition and innovation. Michael Shermer brilliantly brings the two insights together to explain how the human mind creates the human market."—Matt Ridley, author of The Origins of Virtue



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (December 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805078320
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805078329
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine ( and the Director of The Skeptics Society. He is a Visiting Associate at the California Institute of Technology, and hosts the Skeptics Lecture Series at Cal Tech. He has authored several popular books on science, scientific history, and the philosophy and history of science, including Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, and Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? (with Alex Grobman). Shermer is also a radio personality and the host of the Fox Family Channel's Exploring the Unknown. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Customer Reviews

I think Michael Sherman should stop writing books unless he has something new to say.
Ahmed Moustafa
That is why I recommend this book as something to read after brushing up on the basics of economics, evolution, political philosophy and general psychology.
Amazon Customer
Shermer makes his arguments primarily from biology and psychology, without relying much on economics, and yet they are quite convincing.
John Kwok

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

101 of 112 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Longbrow on January 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who knows who Michael Shermer is knows that he is anything but a neoconservative. He created The Skeptics Society, a non-profit, focused on replacing pseudoscience with good science. He's written extensively on the problems with Intelligent Design, and he acknowledges the existence of man-made global warming. Needless to say, he's no Rush Limbaugh.

Bearing these facts in mind, Shermer's book may come as a surprise to some. The primary points I've seen in his latest work are: 1.) Natrual Selection and The Invisible Hand describe essentially the same phenomena. 2.) Evolution and Economics are both Complex Adaptive Systems that rose from simpler systems. 3.) Too much government intervention into the economy is inefficient, misguided, and immoral. 4.) Adam Smith's and Charles Darwin's ideas weren't so different. 5.) It's ok to be a libertarian.

With all of these comparisons between Capitalism and Evolution, one might think Shermer supports the idea of Social Darwinism. This, of course, would be wrong. Shermer denounces Social Darwinism. He says that "survival of the fittest" is a misleading term that most biologists don't believe in. Later on, he says that corporate culture is overall a good thing. Enron's corrupt model is the exception, and Google's "Don't be Evil" model is the rule. He doesn't rely on many mainstream economists to support his thesis. Instead he turns to psychologists, biologists, etc.

Overall, this book was a GREAT read. Anyone who likes any of Shermer's previous books will probably enjoy this one. You will get to see more of Shermer's political side and the evidence he used to arrive at his ideas. If a fraction of the ideas presented in this book are incorporated into mainstream economics, it will probably change the field forever.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Gaetan Lion on March 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Michael Shermer has focused his career on differentiating between myths and science. His related books I have read are excellent, including: Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, and The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense. In this book, he advances a unifying theory of evolutionary biology and modern economics that leads to a new discipline: evolutionary economics.

Evolutionary economists knew that Charles Darwin had studied Adam Smith as he modeled his theory of natural selection after Smith invisible hand. Quoting one such evolutionary economist, Thomas Sowell: "Life, like the economy, is about the efficient allocation of scarce resources."

This unifying theory entails that nature and the marketplace evolve over time following similar mechanisms. He calls nature and the market place complex adaptative systems (CAS). Those CAS learn as they evolve from simple to complex. They are autocatalytic, meaning they contain self-driving feedback loops. For nature, the driving feedback loop is natural selection underlying evolution. For the marketplace, the equivalent driving feedback loop is the "invisible hand" or the law of supply and demand.
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52 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Edward Durney VINE VOICE on January 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I liked this book. Michael Shermer argues that ideas from biology, particularly Darwinian evolution, apply to the financial markets. It's an interesting idea.

Shermer makes his living as a self-proclaimed skeptic. And he does have one of the marks of the skeptic -- careful analysis. Shermer rarely takes things at face value. Instead, he challenges ideas that others take for granted. That trademark Shermer approach makes this book interesting and thought-provoking. Few authors do that as well as Shermer.

One example -- the evolution of the QWERTY keyboard. How often do we hear that the QWERTY keyboard shows a pitfall of standards? People moan that the QWERTY keyboard is terribly inefficient. But it became locked in early on as a standard. So we are stuck with it. Right?

No. Shermer looks back at the history of the QWERTY keyboard. Turns out that the QWERTY keyboard is not so bad after all. In fact, it's actually pretty good. There may be a more efficient arrangement of a keyboard. But it is hard to say -- tests show there is not much difference in typing speed between QWERTY and its top competitors.

That's just an example of the way Shermer approaches his topic. He uses the QWERTY example to show that evolution in the product market tends to produce an optimum. According to Shermer, standards like the QWERTY keyboard and a Windows-like operating system become standards for a reason. They survive evolutionary forces because they work, and work well.

In this book, Shermer pulls together ideas from biology, psychology and neuroscience. He then uses them to analyze the modern capitalist economy. That gets him to some interesting conclusions. Thoughtful conclusions that make a lot of sense.
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