You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself (Review)

February 5, 2013

Book cover for "You Are Not So Smart" by David McRaney.Title: You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself

Author: David McRaney

Narrator: Don Hagen

Publication Year: 2011

Pages: 320 (audio length: 8 hours 24 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

An entertaining illumination of the stupid beliefs that make us feel wise.

You believe you are a rational, logical being who sees the world as it really is, but journalist David McRaney is here to tell you that you’re as deluded as the rest of us. But that’s OK- delusions keep us sane. You Are Not So Smart is a celebration of self-delusion. It’s like a psychology class, with all the boring parts taken out, and with no homework.

Based on the popular blog of the same name, You Are Not So Smart collects more than 46 of the lies we tell ourselves everyday, including:

  • Dunbar’s Number – Humans evolved to live in bands of roughly 150 individuals, the brain cannot handle more than that number. If you have more than 150 Facebook friends, they are surely not all real friends.
  • Hindsight bias – When we learn something new, we reassure ourselves that we knew it all along.
  • Confirmation bias – Our brains resist new ideas, instead paying attention only to findings that reinforce our preconceived notions
  • Brand loyalty – We reach for the same brand not because we trust its quality but because we want to reassure ourselves that we made a smart choice the last time we bought it.

Packed with interesting sidebars and quick guides on cognition and common fallacies, You Are Not So Smart is a fascinating synthesis of cutting-edge psychology research to turn our minds inside out.

I went into reading this book thinking that it’d be fun and silly and I’d laugh at all the things that “some people” believe are true but that really aren’t. Urban legends abound these days, especially in the days of easily-shareable “knowledge” on the internet, and people’s inability to critically think about what they believe, read, or are told.

I finished reading this book knowing that I was included in “some people”.

You Are Not So Smart basically tackles a bunch of widely-believed “facts” that really aren’t true at all. Or are partly true. Or are habits we have that are rooted in something other than what we think they are. Quite a few of them were things that I had already heard about or understood, some were things I had inklings about based on things I’ve read or been told in the past, or that were common sense … but some of them were downright things that I was wrong about. And am probably still Thinking/Doing Wrong about.

At the same time, the author approached all of these topics in a way that is accessible to anybody, which is good, since I’m not really a science person. The research to back up each argument was simplified enough so that it was understandable to anyone who can read English, but isn’t “dumbed down” to the point where the details are obscured or where you feel like you’re being spoken down to. I also liked the pseudo-ironic tone of voice the narrator used, because it helped me to see just how amusing it is that we think we know all sorts of things, and yet we really don’t.

You’ll definitely have a great time reading You Are Not So Smart, especially if you like to learn more about why we do or think the things we do or believe. Give it a go, in audio or in print. I’m sure you’ll like it.

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