2011, Books, Non-Fiction

You Are Not So Smart (2011) by David McRaney

I got this book years ago, when I still listened to this podcast. And the problem is that, due to this very podcast, I started reading a lot more pop psychology and psychology than I already was. And so, in the interim between this book coming into my possession and reading it, I learned a lot of what is covered in this very book. That is not McRaney’s fault, of course but it’s relevant. (You could say it’s his fault since it was his podcast that turned me from a casual reader of psychology to a ravenous reader of psychology.)

The strength of this book is that it is a tour through many different cognitive biases and heuristics. McRaney doesn’t really go in-depth but he goes for breadth and the result is that the vast majority of our mental frailties get a little attention. The downside of this approach is that it’s a bit of a greatest hits of social psychology and behavioural economics. The upside is that it is a very good introduction to these subjects. I’d likely recommend it over many other books of its type, simply because of its breadth and relatively brevity.

McRaney is definitely funnier on his podcast, at least for me. Here the jokes are a little too dry most of the time, whereas on the show his intonation helps.

A bigger issue is that some of the studies McRaney cites have since been debunked. That happens in this world and maybe’s he’s corrected it in newer editions but it is a problem, especially if you don’t know enough to know about the debunking.

But, as accessible introduction to how bad human beings are at thinking, I do feel like you could do a lot worse. Each chapter is so short that nobody is likely to be bored. And even though I prefer McRaney’s sense of humour in audio form, I still think he’s a compelling enough writer to make this “48 fallacies” format work.


Oh, by the way: I didn’t stop listening to You Are Not So Smart due to anything McRaney did. I just found too many other podcasts I wanted to listen to and a brief sabbatical from this one turned into forgetting to listen to it for (more than) a few years.

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