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Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things Hardcover – September 17, 2008

3.4 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

A plea for heightened awareness of our surroundings, and good reading for the how-things-work set. — Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Laurence Gonzales is the author of Surviving Survival, Flight 232 and the bestseller Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. He has won two National Magazine Awards and is a scholar at the Sante Fe Institute. He divides his time between Evanston, Illinois, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (September 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393058387
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393058383
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #615,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Pros: First six chapters are interesting and about the main reasons why folks do silly things with good examples provided.

Cons: Last 10 chapters are an odd mix of material on saving the Earth, physics, entropy, natural history, "look who I met when I went here" and biography of Gonzales and his father. Sources not cited, only selected bibliography provided. Poorly edited: Caption of picture on page 22 of the hardcover is incorrect, "dollars" is spelled "dolars" on page 210.
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Format: Hardcover
The first half of the book gives some solid vignettes about internal scripts and behavioral models that explain why our brains sometimes run on autopilot and get us into trouble. But the final half of the book really has nothing to do with the title. It's a meandering, free-association ramble about whatever the heck happened to be in the author's head the minute his fingers were striking the keys. Once I got to Page 254 where he tries to compare the curve of entropy of the universe since the big bang to the curve of a human emotional response in a crisis, I cut my losses and threw it on the "to sell" pile.

After the success of "Deep Survival", it's almost like this book is just a mechanical attempt to get his next paycheck while his name still has cachet.
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Format: Hardcover
Like other reviewers, I have a dog eared, underlined, heavily used copy of Deep Survival. So when I saw that Gonzales had a new book out, I couldn't wait to read it. What disappoints me about this book is not that it is not as good as Deep Survival, but that it starts with some interesting ideas and ends up getting side tracked and derailed.

The first six chapters are excellent. His link between how we make decisions and our impact on the environment are elegant and provocative. He talks about how we walk about in a "vacation state of mind," oblivious to the effects of our actions. I feel like I see this every day in the way people interact with each other. He then applies this "insulation from reality" to a macro view of the earth's systems and how humanity interacts with them.

After chapter six, the book unravels, jumping rapidly from issue to issue, supporting his statements with increasingly dubious science and venturing into New Age territory. One of the major themes of the later chapters is entropy, which is appropriate as there is a general decline into disorder in the later chapters.

I didn't pick up this book expecting a treatise on environmental responsibility and was not disappointed when Gonzales started down that path. I can, however, see how a "rugged individualist" would be shocked to find ideas about ecological stewardship in a book that looks like it is going to be about wilderness adventures. For those people, you've been warned; maybe you should look for a different book. For everyone else, find this book at your library, read the first six chapters and then return it.
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Format: Hardcover
I am surprised this book has received so many negative reviews, but I can also understand why some people may not like it. The reason, I believe, is that this book is multi-disciplinary. Gonzales attempts to blend a little information from a lot of fields with the intention of explaining why people make mistakes - this is extremely hard to do! That said, I think he does a fairly modest job of adding another perspective to the growing field of Complexity Theory/ General Systems Theory.

Here are a few sample quotes from the book and additional books that pertain to that quote:
"And one of the most frequently ignored factors in our behavior is the way we form models and scripts and use them rather than information from the world itself in most of what we do." - (Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average & Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things)
"As demonstrated in the Stanford prison experiment, anytime two groups are formed by whatever means, the likelihood is that the interactions between them will become hostile." - (
...Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Book Title Oversells & is Misleading

EVERYDAY SURVIVAL starts with an intriguing premise that modern man has become conditioned to a "vacation state of mind," exposing him to various environmental dangers. Author Laurence Gonzales offers as examples people who saw the tides recede just before the big tsunami of 2006 and tourists who flocked to Mt. St. Helens just before it blew a whopping volcano. As a risk management professional, I began the book with interest and optimism.

Sad to report that, not nearly halfway in, EVERYDAY SURVIVAL veers off track and - in my view - never completely regains its footing. Gonzales sprints down the rabbit trails of evolution, the universe's creation, cosmology, his hispanic heritage, mating habits of bonobo monkeys, archaeology and his relationship to his father. What these themes have to do with the book's avowed premise is unclear.

The title oversells and misrepresents the majority of the book's content, much of which seems out of place or holding at best a tenuous connection to the theme of "why smart people do stupid things."

On second thought, maybe such a thematic digression is one example of the book's subtitle.
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