Customer Review

82 of 97 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A little of everything, and therefore unfortunately not much of anything, November 3, 2010
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This review is from: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Kindle Edition)
This book covers a lot of ground, and none of it is covered with any rigour or depth.

There are occasional interesting pieces of insight - for example, if you want people to reduce their energy usage, it may be enough to tell above-average users that they are in that category - below-average users, not so much, they may then use more energy - but you can counter this by a nice smiley emoticon next to where that fact is displayed (implying they're doing a great thing by using less energy) and their usage will stay low.

The problem is, to gain these nice pieces of insight, I had to dig through much much more content that was not covered well.

Here are some of the the things you'll find in this book

- A superficial review of psychology research concerning a few factors on how people make choices (For example, too many choices lead to overwhelm and bad decisions. Another example - people can be influenced to make a bad decision if others around them are making bad decisions).
- A explanation of how people can be helped to make good choices, for example with food, by where food is placed on store shelves (e.g. at eye level vs not).
- Many many pages of excruciating detail on why choices of medical insurance plans can be a complex and painful process. Ditto for how the complexity of investing can lead to bad investment choices. None of this is original.
- A fairly basic solution proposed to complexity of choices - regulations to require providers to provide information on the implications of their choices - for example, lenders should provide documentation of the implications of a given choice of loan - what you'd end up paying over time (not just at the time of initial "special deals") and what the worst case scenario would imply in terms of costs for you. This information, the authors advise, should not be buried in the fine print. Very very obvious stuff.
- A chapter on making organ donation to be opt-out instead of opt-in. One of the better chapters, with some evidence given of it having worked in some countries. But could have been dealt with in a few paragraphs, did not need to be stretched to a chapter (admittedly a short chapter).
- Some attempts at philosophical argument for why governments should be allowed to "nudge" people to better choices, but not done to any depth or rigour.
- Several side comments that did not provide any new insights - for example, that the principle of what actions are being taken by those in authority should be transparent might have prevented the atrocities at Abu Ghraib. Again, nothing original here.
- Several trite pieces of advice about how publicising a commitment you've made (e.g. to lose weight) and setting up disincentives for failure (e.g. a certain amount of money to be donated to a cause you disapprove of) can help you achieve the goal. Again, nothing new here.
- A more reasonable chapter on privatizing marriage - the goal being to allow religious groups to endorse marriages based on their convictions, but for all partnerships to be granted equal legal status. Not really related to the concept of nudging though, and drawn out and padded with sociological thoughts on what function marriage has historically served, which does not seem to be the authors' field of expertise.
- Random pieces of advice such as permitting motorcycle riders to not wear helmets if they take extra training and show evidence of medical insurance. If I could be sure that they are also paying higher insurance premiums I might not be too annoyed at that one, but the authors don't venture into this area of discussion so again I felt their treatment of this topic was incomplete.
- A recommendation that the Social Security Administration assist those claiming benefits by making more clear at what age you should start collecting the benefits if you want to obtain the maximum amount of money by it (allowing for things like, maybe I'm ok with less money if I want it sooner). Having a payer assist a payee in taking maximum advantage is nice and altruistic, good luck with getting that happening.

Overall it felt like the authors had a collection of unrelated instances of advice that they were trying to force to fit the concept of a "nudge".

If you are interested in this kind of content from a psychology viewpoint, read Freakonomics (Dubner and Levitt), Predictably Irrational (Ariely), Influence (Cialdini), Tipping Point (Gladwell). For the investment advice and bits of self-help associated with that, David Bach does a better job in his various books.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 21, 2011 6:42:45 PM PST
J. Davis says:
Very good review, I expected a lot more from this book.

Posted on Apr 30, 2011 10:47:59 AM PDT
D. Sullivan says:
I really appreciate even-keeled, critical reviews. I also felt the book was much longer than it should have been, but's "this book is too long" is not nearly as useful as what you've done here. Well done.

Posted on Oct 5, 2012 11:22:29 AM PDT
JDG123 says:
Hmm, that's a lot of complaining! Most of your complaints actually sounded like interesting things to read about. I don't see that a book of this type needs to have "rigor" -- it's an opinion piece and introduction written for a lay public; if the subject matter interests you, and you desire greater rigor, the next step would be to look through the academic journal articles which I expect would be cited in the references. A one star rating seems like such an exaggerated negative, hard to take seriously!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 5, 2012 12:07:25 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Oct 5, 2012 12:07:57 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 5, 2012 12:08:10 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 5, 2012 12:08:59 PM PDT
I read this book as part of a book group, none of us were particularly thrilled by the book, but I think I was indeed the person most frustrated by what felt to me a lack of original material. Since the review is my own opinion, I do feel entitled to give a low rating if I feel a book wasted my time.
I don't see a review from you on this book? Assuming you are yet to post one, and you do like the book, by all means I expect you to give it a good rating, and then our respective ratings will average out :)
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