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The Real Story of Risk: Adventures in a Hazardous World [Paperback]

by Glenn Croston
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 16, 2012 1616146605 978-1616146603
We live in a world of risk. It waits for us in our refrigerator and surrounds us on the freeway. It's lurking in our arteries and sitting in our 401(k) accounts. Given that we deal with risk on a constant basis, we should be good at it; as it turns out, though, we're not. We're blind to common risks like heart disease (one in five deaths), but we shrink in fear from rare events like shark attacks (one in a million) and airplane crashes (one in twenty thousand). What accounts for our poor ability to perceive and react to the risks that really matter?

Starting from an evolutionary perspective, the author traces our distorted perception of risk back to our ancestors, reminding readers that we are all the culmination of a long line of survivors who fought life-and-death threats such as attacks from wild animals, starvation, and disease. The fact that we have covered Earth with seven billion people is a testament to our skill at overcoming these risks. But our spectacular success has also produced our contemporary artificial world with new threats like climate change, chili dogs, and online gambling. Our brains, which evolved to deal with the ancient world, are ill equipped to process the new threats we face.

Croston examines the many facets of our hazardous modern environment that we only dimly perceive. He explains why we let our guard down for a beautiful face, why slow-moving risks (like rising seas) are hard to stop, how a good story (though false) can be more persuasive than dry statistics (even alarming ones), what we fear even more than death, and many other intriguing quirks about our built-in incompetence to adequately handle present-day risks.

Offering a wealth of fascinating information about health, sex, money, safety, food, and the environment, this book illuminates an often-misunderstood but crucial aspect of daily life.  

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Almost everyone knows auto accidents kill far more people than airline crashes, yet the incidence of aerophobia (fear of flying) is disproportionately high. Likewise, fear of sharks still inspires the occasional toothsome Hollywood thriller decades after Jaws, despite the low number of attacks (only 25 Americans killed in 50 years). In dissecting risks such as the above, along with those associated with phenomena ranging from heart attacks to online gambling, Croston, a San Diego–based biotech research scientist, emphases that brute emotion usually trumps bare statistics when people weigh any given threat. Much of skewed risk perception dates back to our ancient ancestors and their adrenaline-fueled reactions to predators. Our brains simply haven’t caught up to such contemporary dangers as giving speeches and financial meltdowns. After examining our forebears’ influence, Croston analyzes why mankind is incongruously slow in addressing climate change and demonstrates how the pursuit of love and sex provoke extreme risk taking. Lucid and full of fascinating examples, Croston’s work sheds much-needed light on the psychological underpinnings of our contradictory attitudes toward danger. --Carl Hays


"A tour de force on the topic of why we take the chances we do and avoid the ones we don't. You'll never look at your life's risks the same way again."
- Aaron Klein, CEO of Riskalyze

"Beautifully researched and explained, The Real Story of Risk presents an understanding of why we do the things we do. Croston masterfully shows us why we choose short-term thinking over long-term, why we prefer willful ignorance over informed logic, and why we'd rather die than speak to a group of people. This fascinating book provides insight into our muddled human nature and answers how to overcome it and live more sustainably."
- Eric Corey Freed, Founding principal of organicARCHITECT and coauthor of Green$ense for the Home

"Risk taking is not to be idolized, nor should it be condemned. Risk in everyday life is like salt in our soup: the best amount is neither too much nor too little. That is what The Real Story of Risk shows in an entertaining and informative way with documented data and interesting anecdotes."
-Gerald J. S. Wilde, Author of Target Risk

"As Croston cleverly points out, although humans are well adapted, through our evolutionary history, to react to immediate risks, we are much less able to respond to slowly approaching, less obvious, future risks. We are able to anticipate and prepare for a possible tiger attack but unable to stop eating ourselves to a heart attack or to understand the dangers of massive world changes caused by global warming. Croston provides excellent advice as to how we might better respond to these future, long-term risks."
-Robert W. Sussman, Professor of anthropology at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

Product Details

  • Paperback: 294 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (October 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616146605
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616146603
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #564,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Glenn Croston is a PhD biologist and the author of multiple books exploring ourselves and our world. Humans are about the most interesting thing around, in his opinion, even if our actions are hard to understand. But by understanding our actions, and ourselves, we can better manage our actions and our role in the world around us.

Looking around, it's not hard to find examples of the strange ways we respond to the risks of our world large and small. Curious about this, Croston talked with people in all walks of life, from risk experts to skydivers, from anthropologists to entrepreneurs. And what he found lead him to write "The Real Story of Risk: Adventures in a Hazardous World" ( looks at our strange responses to risks we face every day in our work and our lives. Our responses evolved over millions of years and we are well suited to the risks of the ancient world, but we no longer live in this world. Instead we live in a new world of our own creation, and one we struggle to deal with. We're still worried about snakes but seem clueless about the risks of financial bubbles and white collar crime. Going all the way back to our roots as humans, and back again, Croston arrived with fresh insight into how we got here and where we might be going.

Croston is also the author of "Gifts from the Train Station: the Healing Power of Helping Others" ( Talking to a friend recovering from leukemia, he started looking into people around the world who had run into great challenges in their lives but found that by working for the greater good, connecting with a higher purpose, they healed themselves and built fresh rich new lives for the future.

As a father, Croston has also worried at times about the direction our world is headed, particularly with our stewardship of the environment of planet Earth. Deciding to do his part and to focus on solutions rather than problems, Croston wrote "75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference", outlining a slew of opportunities to get involved in delivering solutions, and build a great business in the process.

"Starting Green: An Ecopreneur's Guide to Starting a Green Business from Business Plan to Profits" picks up where "75 Green Businesses" leaves off, providing a nuts and bolts guide to the steps and strategies to start and grow a successful green business.

Croston is also the founder of Starting Up Green, giving green entrepreneurs the strategies, communications, and consulting they need to start and grow a successful venture.

A Ph.D. biologist, Croston lives in San Diego. As a father, it's important to him to not just be an observer, but someone who lives the change we want to see in the world.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The author, a biologist, contends that people perceive and respond to risk in a variety of ways because of evolutionary and biological reasons that influence and sometimes interfere with their thinking about risks, benefits, and the tradeoffs between them. The author draws on a combination of scientific studies, government data, books, articles, news stories, interviews, and anecdotes to support his observations, contentions, and arguments about how people perceive and assess risks and benefits, and make choices in the face of their conclusions about them.

This book provides an interesting perspective on how people think about risks and respond to them. It is written in a style that does not require readers to have technical training or knowledge about risk analysis or human psychology. This book provides a decent introduction to the subject, but it is too brief and cursory to be relied on as a definitive source or reference. Readers interested in a technical, in-depth discussion of risk perception and risk-benefit analysis should look at other books. Some of the material in this book might be of interest to people who want to read about human error and decision-making.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible! November 29, 2012
This book is truly an eye-opener. Using entertaining anecdotes and immutable logic, the author makes it quite clear that we constantly overestimate certain risks that aren't anywhere near as dangerous as many other risks that we underestimate or completely ignore.

In addition to being an entertaining and thought-provoking read, this book actually might save your life. The first chapter will grab you and have you riveted to your seat.
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5.0 out of 5 stars People are not rational February 19, 2014
Face it, we aren't. This book is a fascinating explanation of why. We have a mechanism that constantly balances reward versus risk which has been a valuable tool for survival. Unfortunately this mechanism is not well tuned to the risks we face in modern society so we need to be especially careful of its blind spots.

Subjects covered as we explore this mechanism is denial, optimism, superstitions and why we are afraid of speaking in public. Also important are tactics you can use to combat our misperceptions of risk.

Easily in my top 10 list of non-fiction books for good writing and an interesting subject. Recommended.
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