From Publishers Weekly
Like Thoreau and the band Devo, psychology professor Schwartz provides ample evidence that we are faced with far too many choices on a daily basis, providing an illusion of a multitude of options when few honestly different ones actually exist. The conclusions Schwartz draws will be familiar to anyone who has flipped through 900 eerily similar channels of cable television only to find that nothing good is on. Whether choosing a health-care plan, choosing a college class or even buying a pair of jeans, Schwartz, drawing extensively on his own work in the social sciences, shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us. We normally assume in America that more options ("easy fit" or "relaxed fit"?) will make us happier, but Schwartz shows the opposite is true, arguing that having all these choices actually goes so far as to erode our psychological well-being. Part research summary, part introductory social sciences tutorial, part self-help guide, this book offers concrete steps on how to reduce stress in decision making. Some will find Schwartz's conclusions too obvious, and others may disagree with his points or find them too repetitive, but to the average lay reader, Schwartz's accessible style and helpful tone is likely to aid the quietly desperate.
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Who woulda thunk it? Here we are, in the early years of the twenty-first century, being driven bonkers by the staggering array of consumer goods from which we must choose. Choosing something as (seemingly) simple as shampoo can force us to wade through dozens, even hundreds, of brands. We are, the author suggests, overwhelmed by choice, and that's not such a good thing. Schwartz tells us that constantly being asked to make choices, even about the simplest things, forces us to "invest time, energy, and no small amount of self-doubt, and dread." There comes a point, he contends, at which choice becomes debilitating rather than liberating. Did I make the right choice? Can I ever make the right choice? It would be easy to write off this book as merely an extended riff on that well-worn phrase "too much of a good thing," but that would be a mistake. Despite a tendency toward highfalutin language ("the counterfactuals we construct can be tilted upward"), Schwartz has plenty of insightful things to say here about the perils of everyday life. David PittCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved