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The Wisdom of Crowds [Kindle Edition]

James Surowiecki
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (245 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

In this fascinating book, New Yorker business columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea: Large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant–better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.

With boundless erudition and in delightfully clear prose, Surowiecki ranges across fields as diverse as popular culture, psychology, ant biology, behavioral economics, artificial intelligence, military history, and politics to show how this simple idea offers important lessons for how we live our lives, select our leaders, run our companies, and think about our world.


From the Trade Paperback edition.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While our culture generally trusts experts and distrusts the wisdom of the masses, New Yorker business columnist Surowiecki argues that "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them." To support this almost counterintuitive proposition, Surowiecki explores problems involving cognition (we're all trying to identify a correct answer), coordination (we need to synchronize our individual activities with others) and cooperation (we have to act together despite our self-interest). His rubric, then, covers a range of problems, including driving in traffic, competing on TV game shows, maximizing stock market performance, voting for political candidates, navigating busy sidewalks, tracking SARS and designing Internet search engines like Google. If four basic conditions are met, a crowd's "collective intelligence" will produce better outcomes than a small group of experts, Surowiecki says, even if members of the crowd don't know all the facts or choose, individually, to act irrationally. "Wise crowds" need (1) diversity of opinion; (2) independence of members from one another; (3) decentralization; and (4) a good method for aggregating opinions. The diversity brings in different information; independence keeps people from being swayed by a single opinion leader; people's errors balance each other out; and including all opinions guarantees that the results are "smarter" than if a single expert had been in charge. Surowiecki's style is pleasantly informal, a tactical disguise for what might otherwise be rather dense material. He offers a great introduction to applied behavioral economics and game theory.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Surowiecki first developed his ideas for Wisdom of Crowds in his “Financial Page” column of The New Yorker. Many critics found his premise to be an interesting twist on the long held notion that Americans generally question the masses and eschew groupthink. “A socialist might draw some optimistic conclusions from all of this,” wrote The New York Times. “But Surowiecki’s framework is decidedly capitalist.” Some reviewers felt that the academic language and business speak decreased the impact of the argument. Still, it’s a thought-provoking, timely book: the TV studio audience of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire guesses correctly 91 percent of the time, compared to “experts” who guess only 65 percent correctly. Keep up the good work, comrades.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


Product Details

  • File Size: 416 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0385503865
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (August 16, 2005)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FCKC3I
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,205 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
290 of 318 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Counter-Intuitive Notion June 14, 2004
Format:Hardcover
In 1906, Francis Galton, known for his work on statistics and heredity, came across a weight-judging contest at the West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition. This encounter was to challenge the foundations of his life's study.
An ox was on display and for six-pence fair-goers could buy a stamped and numbered ticket, fill in their names and their guesses of the animal's weight after it had been slaughtered and dressed. The best guess received a prize.
Eight hundred people tried their luck. They were diverse. Many had no knowledge of livestock; others were butchers and farmers. In Galton's mind this was a perfect analogy for democracy. He wanted to prove the average voter was capable of very little. Yet to his surprise, when he averaged the guesses, the total came to 1197 pounds. After the ox had been slaughtered, it weighted 1198.
James Surowiecki takes Galton's counterintuitive notion and explores its ramification for business, government, science and the economy. It is a book about the world as it is. At the same time, it is a book about the world as it might be. Most of us believe that valuable nuggets of knowledge are concentrated in few minds. We believe the solution to our complex problems lies in finding the right person. When all we have to do, Surowiecki demonstrates over and over, is ask the gathered crowd.
The well-written book is divided into two parts. The first deals with theory; the second offers case studies. Believe it or not, I found it to be a page-turner. The author has that precious ability to render the complex in simple, understandable and interesting prose.
I have long been an admirer of H. L. Mencken who once wrote, "No one is this world, so far as I know, has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."
By the time I finished this book, I believed Mencken was wrong.
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418 of 462 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
The Wisdom of Crowds : Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business,Economies, Societies and Nations by James Surowiecki is, essentially, a thoroughly accessible and readable tome on applied behavioral economics and game theory.
I know that doesn't sound too exciting, but this actually is a fascinating book that is something of a page turner if you have even the most vestigial interest in the topic.
The premise isn't new-those who are denizens of Wall Street and know Robert Prechter's oft cited work with Elliott Wave Theory will know something of the underlying premises of the book. However, Surowiecki takes this notion and moves well beyond the confined world if inventing (though he covers that as well) to apply the principles he delineates to life in general-behavior in traffic, tracking and responding to disease, navigating the internet and so on.
The strength of the boom is Surowiecki's ability to render the underpinnings of his theoretical paradigm in easily understandable terms and examples. Additionally, the book features an excellent opening that provides a wonderful foundation as regards applied behavioral economics and game theory in general.
On the other hand, Surowiecki tends to play both sides of the street. He uses his "expert" position on the subject to configure his arguments and analysis to tilt the weight of evidence behind his theory in many cases. In other words, his familiarity with where he wants this to go influences his choices of examples. Moreover, he relies on too few examples in too many cases. For example, the world of wall Street should have provided a wealth of examples as to the validity-and the errors-inherent in his theory.
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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading June 28, 2004
Format:Hardcover
This is one of the most entertaining and intellectually engaging books I've come across in a long while. Surowiecki has a gift for making complex ideas accessible, and he has a wonderful eye for the telling anecdote. His thesis about the intelligence of groups made up of diverse, independent decision-makers seems initially counterintuitive, but by the end of the book it seems almost obvious, because of all the evidence Surowiecki piles up on its behalf.
The book does cover a lot of ground in not very much space, and the pace of the argument is at times too fast. But the throughline of the argument is almost always clear, and the stories Surowiecki tells are often memorable. The chapter on NASA's mismanagement of the Columbia mission and the tale of how a man named John Craven relied on collective wisdom to find a lost submarine are especially striking.
This is one of those books that I expect people will still be talking about and referring to years or even decades from now. It's also a book that I hope will have a concrete impact on the way that people make decisions, since the implications of Surowiecki's argument are radical in the best way.
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187 of 216 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Upon hearing about a book on "the wisdom of crowds", I expected it to answer three qeustions: Are crowds wise?, When are they wise?, and Why are they wise? Sadly, this book answers none of them.
Are crowds wise? Surowiecki fills his pages with unconvincing anecdotes. He has only a handful of real studies and he buries them randomly throughout the book. Worse, Surowiecki sometimes describes a study that would be easy to conduct, but instead of doing it he simply tells us what he expects the results would be. And despite the book's constant championing of dissent, Surowiecki offers no evidence that cuts against his argument. Instead, every failure of a crowd simply helps prove his thesis, since he claims it failed because it violated one of his vaugely-stated rules.
When are crowds wise? Surowiecki offers only untested speculation. He claims they need "diversity, independence, and a particular kind of decentralization" (oddly, by decentralization Surowiecki appears to mean aggregation). Surowiecki never defines any of these particularly clearly but instead gives lots of examples. This makes them useless as predictors of a crowd's intelligence which is probably why Surowiecki makes no attempt to test them.
Why are crowds wise? Surowiecki doesn't even bother to answer this one, even though it's the first half of the books subtitle. He considers the question briefly on page 10, only to spout some empty sayings (crowds are "information minus error") and wonder in amazement ("who knew ... we can collectively make so much sense") before finally concluding "You could say it's as if we've been programmed to be collectively smart."
Perhaps noticing these weaknesses, Surowiecki gets all this out of the way in the first 40% of the book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating discussion of crowd behavior
This wide-ranging description of studies of crowds in controlled academic settings, in markets, in communities helps us understand how to use the woks dome of crowds to better... Read more
Published 13 days ago by Lynn Lowinger
5.0 out of 5 stars Wisdom that made the Reader think
The Wisdom of Crowds is an Eye Opener, as to how we make decisions, book held my interest to the last page!
Published 2 months ago by Mary Anne Frances
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, Entertaining and Well-Written Treatment on the Subject
My review is for the Audiobook format, read by accomplished actor Erik Singer who really brings the text alive with his skillful reading. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jill Clardy
5.0 out of 5 stars I like it
It is a very good read. I like how he talked about what so called "experts". It was worth for me reading it.
Published 2 months ago by Ninos
5.0 out of 5 stars This is essential reading...
This is a fascinating look at why educated crowds' guesses in the aggregate are better than one super-smart person as long as the conditions are met which the author... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Dr. Oceanfront
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and easy reading
The Wisdom of Crowds makes the intriguing point that a group is quite often more accurate than an individual in decision making, even when that individual is an expert. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Dawn Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Read
Fascinating look at why educated crowds' guesses in the aggregate are better than one super-smart person as long as the conditions are met which the author outlines. Read more
Published 4 months ago by L. M. Keefer
5.0 out of 5 stars Its The Wisdom of Open-Mindedness
Many times individuals do not give themselves the change to investigate a group, difference from their own, before making a judgment; this book provides the platform to investigate... Read more
Published 4 months ago by EW
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!!
This is a great book! It delves into the thought process of why the aggregate crowd comes up with a better answer than an individual most of the time.
Published 4 months ago by HAPPY CUST
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
This was a very interesting read that opened my eyes to many things. I never thought that crowds could have any wisdom--I was proved wrong.
Published 4 months ago by Joseph78
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More About the Author

SUROWIECKI is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he writes the popular business column, 'The Financial Page.' His work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Artforum, Wired, and Slate. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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I realise that this is a very narrow criticism, but it pertains to my area of professional expertise. Surowiecki writes highly critically of medical pathologists but he is citing a paper that cites a third paper out of context and perversely. If Surowiecki is so unsound on something that I know... Read More
Apr 24, 2007 by Mr. P. W. Bishop |  See all 3 posts
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