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Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics Hardcover – May 11, 2015

4.4 out of 5 stars 189 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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“A sly and somewhat subversive history of [the economics] profession…engrossing and highly relevant.” (Jonathan A. Knee - The New York Times)

“Highly enjoyable…dense with fascinating examples…. It is long past time to replace Econs with Humans, both in theory and in the practice of prediction.” (Carol Tavris - Wall Street Journal)

“In Misbehaving, [Thaler] offers a dryly humorous history of the revolution he helped ignite, as well as a useful (if sometimes challenging) primer on its key concepts.” (Julia M. Klein - Chicago Tribune)

“[A] masterful, readable account of behavioral economics. Very well done.” (David Wessel, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author of Red Ink and Ben Bernanke’s War on the Great Panic)

“[Misbehaving] is bound to become a classic. Now established as one of the great figures in the history of economic thought, Thaler has no predecessors. A rebel with a cause…[w]here he wins Olympic gold is in keen observation; his greatest insights come from actually looking.” (Cass Sunstein - New Rambler)

“Odd and interesting…. It's odd because it's funnier and more personal than books by professors tend to be. It's interesting because it tells the story not just of Thaler's career but also of the field of behavioral economics―the study of actual human beings rather than the rational optimizers of classical economic theory.” (Michael Lewis - Bloomberg View)

“Entertaining…. An excellent read on the shortcomings of classical economic and finance theory.” (Ronald L. Moy, CFA Institute)

“The creative genius who invented the field of behavioral economics is also a master storyteller and a very funny man. All these talents are on display in this wonderful book.” (Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow)

Misbehaving gives us the story behind some of the most important insights in modern economics. If I had to be trapped in an elevator with any contemporary intellectual, I’d pick Richard Thaler.” (Malcolm Gladwell)

“Richard Thaler has been at the center of the most important revolution to happen in economics in the last thirty years. In this captivating book, he lays out the evidence for behavioral economics and explains why there was so much resistance to it. Read Misbehaving. There is no better guide to this new and exciting economics.” (Robert J. Shiller, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and author of Finance and the Good Society)

About the Author

Richard H. Thaler is the coauthor of the best-selling book Nudge with Cass R. Sunstein, and the author of Quasi Rational Economics and The Winner’s Curse. He is a professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and, in 2015, the president of the American Economic Association.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First edition (May 11, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393080943
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393080940
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
He’s taken his time and he’s waited his turn, but Richard Thaler has delivered the definitive book on Behavioral Economics, the one you can’t afford to miss. It’s a summary of the main findings, a history of how they came about and a preview of coming attractions, with due care taken to pay tribute to those who came before Thaler and apportion credit to those who worked with him.

The field is not as new as Thaler would have you think. There’s bias in this account and it is a bias against those among his predecessors who tried to explain human behavior in a way that was consistent with mainstream economic theory. I’m thinking Gary Becker here (who tried to explain long lines outside empty clubs and packed cheap restaurants alike using an “upward sloping demand curve” and famously sat down to write a paper on suicide when his wife took her own life); I’m thinking the very same Robert Barro that Thaler makes fun of when he describes him as the smartest man ever, but who nonetheless made me understand in his book “Getting it Right” why superstars could get paid so much in a zero-sum game and got confirmation to his theory when Maradona was paid more than the rest of his team, Napoli, put together, and justifiably so because he not only took them to the Campionato, but also thwarted much more fancied teams from winning it.

Thaler’s predecessors operated in a world where most Economics books had to start with a chapter explaining why Economics is a science. Of course they had to stick to the utility-maximizing / profit-maximizing orthodoxy! Besides, orthodox economic theory was not all that shabby when it came to predicting human behavior.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The foundation of political economy and, in general of every social science, is evidently psychology. A day may come when we shall be able to deduce the laws of social science from the principles of psychology." Vilfredo Pareto, 1906

Misbehaving is a thoroughly enjoyable read, both comprehensive and replete with historical context, but "neither a treatise nor a polemic" as prefaced by Thaler. Instead, it is a memoir and a chronological history on the rise of behavioral economics as a legitimate discipline, making it an excellent introduction to the field. The book is lengthy, an un-lazy 358 pages, but an easy read because of Thaler's self-deprecating style and numerous examples that are both funny and informative (like oenophile mental accounting). My favorite illustrative anecdote, however, was the kerfuffle that ensued among the "efficient market" professors at the University of Chicago when it came time to hold a lottery on allocating offices in their new academic building - hilarious.
I got hooked on behavioral economics almost 20 years ago at a conference held on the topic at Harvard's Kennedy School, featuring Richard Thaler, Richard Zeckhauser, Arnie Wood and others. The seeds planted from that fascinating seminar led me to be a lifelong student of this emerging, multi-disciplinary field and the importance of metacognition - quite literally, thinking about thinking. For an alcoholic, admitting you have a problem is the first step towards recovery. Analogously, it is impossible to temper evolutionarily prewired heuristics and biases unless you have studied them - and even then, it is too easy to 'fall off the wagon.
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Richard Thaler's, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, is easily the best introduction to the subject available--for economists as well as for the general reader. Definitely so, despite a few omissions (noted below), largely because of the author's facility of explaining, in easy-to-grasp terms, the contribution that behavioral economics is making to problem solving (as well as to understanding recent economic decisions). This may be due, in part, to his personal involvement in so many phases of the development of the approach (such as in the successful effort to increase employee savings).

As for the omissions, perhaps the most significant relates to what Thaler considers the most important aim of behavioral economics, the gathering of evidence about actual human behavior. There is a relative inattention to field or natural exercises compared to laboratory economics--though the importance of the latter is acknowledged briefly towards the end of the book. A second, and more important shortcoming, is the failure to note the potential of asking decision makers to explain why they made certain decisions; this is being undertaken successfully by Truman Bewley, and is now being given more attention by several of the empirically oriented economists cited in the book. A third is that the "libertarian paternalistic" nudging which has led employees to increase their rate of saving, may not be the best that they could do, which is now being emphasized by others that Thaler also cites. Perhaps a second edition of The Making of Behavioral Economics will take note of these points.

These are minor problems, however. We have a major debt to Richard Thaler for all that he has contributed to the field and for his ability to explain everything in a manner that is really a pleasure to read.

Hugh Schwartz (a behavioral economist)
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