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Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life Paperback – January 26, 2021
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“Alchemy, as Rory Sutherland’s title promised, turns words into gold. Veins of wisdom emerge regularly and brilliantly from these pages. Don’t miss this book.” (Robert B. Cialdini, author of the million-copy bestseller Influence)
"Sutherland, the legendary Vice Chairman of Ogilvy, uses his decades of experience to dissect human spending behavior in an insanely entertaining way. Alchemy combines scientific research with hilarious stories and case studies of campaigns for AmEx, Microsoft and the like. This is a must-read." (Entrepreneur, "Best Books of the Year for Entrepreneurs")
"So many of us are trained to focus on data and the logical, and Alchemy makes a great argument for the irrational. I think everyone could use a reminder that asking dumb questions, reframing old ideas, and, in turn, trying to create a bit of magic, can lead to unexpected solutions for some of our most difficult problems. Alchemy was a reminder of that and then some." (Inc., "Great Books for Anyone Who Wants to Get Ahead in Life")
"The most recent, and the funniest book on the subject is by Ogilvy Vice Chair Rory Sutherland. Alchemy is both a book on human behavior and a rallying cry to stand up against the spreadsheet mafia dominating most government and corporate policies today. ... Alchemy is full of examples of how human behavior runs contrary to the laws of economics from Sutherland’s work at Ogilvy." (Forbes, "Best Books on Consumer Behavior to Help You in Business and in Life")
“Buy this book. I loved it. It’s full of great insights.” (MATT RIDLEY, bestselling author of The Rational Optimist and Genome)
“BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT: wonderfully heretical, naughty, funny, and wise. Alchemy has furnished me with enough good stories and sage aphorisms to keep my lecturers to tired students going for another ten years.” (JULES GODDARD, London Business School)
“The don of modern advertising.” (The Times (London))
“Rory Sutherland’s Alchemy is a deeply original book.” (ROBERT TRIVERS)
"Sutherland is revelatory — and entertaining — in his anatomy of apparently paradoxical consumer choice in action. " (The Times (London))
From the Inside Flap
How does magic happen?
Why is Red Bull so popular, though everyone--everyone!--hates the taste? Humans are, in a word, irrational, basing decisions as much on subtle external signals (that little blue can) as on objective qualities (flavor, price, quality). The surrounding world, meanwhile, is irreducibly complex and random. This means future success can't be projected on any accounting spreadsheet. To strike gold, you must master the dark art and curious science of conjuring irresistible ideas: alchemy.
Based on thirty years of fieldwork inside the largest experiment in human behavior ever conceived--the forever-unfolding pageant of consumer capitalism--Alchemy, the revolutionary book by Ogilvy advertising legend Rory Sutherland, whose TED Talks have been viewed nearly seven million times, decodes human behavior, blending leading-edge scientific research, absurdly entertaining storytelling, deep psychological insight, and practical case studies from his storied career working on campaigns for AmEx, Microsoft, and others.
Heralded as "one of the leading minds in the world of branding" by NPR, Sutherland is a unique thought leader, as comfortable exchanging ideas with Nobel Prize winners Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler (both interviewed in these pages) as he is crafting the next product launch. His unconventional and relentlessly curious approach has led him to discover that the most compelling secrets to human decision making can be found in surprising places:
- What can honeybees teach us about creating a sustainable business?
- How could budget airlines show us how to market a health-care system?
- Why is it better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong?
- What might soccer penalty kicks teach us about the dangers of risk aversion?
Better "branding," Sutherland reveals, can also be employed not just to sell products but to promote a variety of social aims, like getting people to pay taxes, improving public health outcomes, or encouraging more women to pursue careers in tech.
Equally startling and profound, Sutherland's journey through the strange world of decision making is filled with astonishing lessons for all aspects of life and business.--JULES GODDARD, London Business School
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* Anyone who makes any kinds of product — software products, physical products, experiences, processes, workplaces, cultures, etc
* Any entrepreneur seeking to create valuable businesses
* Anyone who wants to understand what is True in the world
* Any Charlie Munger fans
* Any Slate Star Codex fans
* If people would describe you as highly rational, highly logical, etc, you’ll like this book
* Anyone seeking ways to find undervalued ideas will like this book
* Anyone who wants to maximize people’s subjective well-being
The benefits you’ll get from this book
* You’ll be able to see the world, and in particular people, more accurately
* You’ll be able to make more valuable, more loved products (software product, advertising as a product, process as a product, etc) and experiences
* It makes the valuable task of independent thinking slightly easier
* This book is a critical reminder that the world isn’t what it seems to be.
* It feels like a lesson, or a reminder, about what’s true in the world. A reminder that many of the beliefs you’ve been holding in your brain aren’t accurate, and therefore are leading you to misperceive the world. And it’s much easier to create value and valuable things if you accurately perceive the world!
* I’ve read somewhere between 500 and 1000 non-fiction books, and Alchemy is in my top 10 all-time.
After you read it
* If you like this book, other books that you’ll like include: “Elephant in the Brain” by Simler/Hanson and any books by Geoffrey Miller on signaling and the hidden reasons we do things, “The Righteous Mind” by Haidt on understanding the truth behind people’s stated beliefs and reasoning, “Talking to Humans” on understanding the things we really want rather than the things we say we want, “The Secret of Our Success” on the ways things that seem irrational can be highly valuable.
P.S. It’s great as an audiobook. I have the Kindle and the Audible versions and prefer the Audible version. The author reads it himself, and he has a very relaxed and conversational style reading of it. I normally like audiobooks, and this style was even easier and more enjoyable to listen to than most audiobooks, so I hope other audiobook producers copy his style!
I suspect that most readers will want to read this several times, both for pleasure (it's really a fun read) but also because it will be hard to wrap your head around the information. An entrepreneur will want to think through the cases (there are dozens) and see how they apply to their business.
I would rank this book up there with Taleb's Incerto series. Important information from a man with a lifetime of frontline experience.
Not useless; thus three stars. It also does have some insights, to be fair.
Nothing in human life is exactly as it seems and Rory Sutherland faces that fact with something between relish and verve. Even if you avoid crass economic thinking you must see that most human interactions involve marketing of some kind, because ultimately, marketing comes down to communication.
The book is wide-ranging and practical. More importantly, it should get you thinking more and more about all this. The book is no cookbook, but it is inspiring in encouraging us to think differently and move past superficial analysis. There are more than a few books like this one from a surface view, but I can't recommend this book enough if you are willing to really consider the implications of what Sutherland is saying.
I bought the Kindle and the Audible version because the book will be reread and its entertainment value makes it a joy to listen to in the car. Rory Sutherland should never have to pay for a meal in his life. There a too many people who would not pass up the opportunity to provide him with that free lunch, breakfast or dinner in exchange for a few hours (or days) of conversation. They'd be amply rewarded for the experience. He can call me up anytime and I'd make an evening of it with a few friends.
Top international reviews
P.S. I read this book because I had watched Rory Sutherland's Ted Talk, some time back, which was fairly impressive. You may want to look him up on YouTube.
This book reminds us why they are important, and how by ignoring them we severely limit our impact.