Monday, November 15, 2010

The Art of Choosing

Book Club... And Then Some!

The Art of Choosing            

by Sheena Iyengar

Book Review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

Sheena Iyengar is the S.T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia University.  This is important to know because, at the outset, it reveals the degree of research, citations, and qualifications you will get throughout the book.  Ivengar does not disappoint.

In this 329-page book, there is a 12-page index, 16-page bibliography, 22-page section of notes, and 7 pages of acknowledgments—leaving 268 pages of content.  There are seven chapters plus an epilogue, with chapters averaging about 36 pages in length.  I mention this simply to call to your attention the denseness of this book.  It is full of substance, to say the least, but it is readable and full of interesting stories.

To give you an example of Ivengar’s writing style, I offer this from the, “Past Is Prologue,” opening section of the book:

        “In 1971, my parents emigrated from India to America by way of Canada.  Like so many before them, when they landed on the shores of this new country and a new life, they sought the American Dream.  They soon found out that pursuing it entailed many hardships, but they persevered.  I was born into the dream, and I think I understood it better than my parents did, for I was more fluent in American culture.  In particular, I realized that the shining thing at its center—so bright you could see it even if you, like me, were blind—was choice.
        “My parents had chosen to come to this country, but they had also chosen to hold on to as much of India as possible.  They lived among other Sikhs, followed closely the tenets of their religion, and taught me the value of obedience.  What to eat, wear, study, and later on, where to work and whom to marry—I was to allow these to be determined by the rules of Sikhism and by my family’s wishes. . . “ (p. xi).

And, as useful as her background is when considering how she decided to pursue her study of “choice,” is her description of her book:

        “Each of the following seven chapters will look at choice from a different vantage point and tackle various questions about the way choice affects our lives.  Why is choice powerful, and where does its power come from?  Do we all choose in the same way?  What is the relationship between how we choose and who we are?  Why are we so often disappointed by our choices, and how do we make the most effective use of the tool of choice?  How much control do we really have over our everyday choices?  How do we choose when our options are practically unlimited?  Should we ever let others choose for us, and if yes, who and why?  Whether or not you agfree with my opinions, suggestions, and conclusions—and I’m sure we won’t always see eye to eye—just the process of exploring these questions can help you make more informed decisions” (p. xiii).

I found the book insightful, informative, interesting, and valuable—but it is also very long.  You really must want to know the answers to the questions Iyengar raises and have an overpowering interest in the subject, “choice” because, whether you like it or not, and despite the many wonderful stories she shares, Iyengar is an academic, and she writes like one.

J. Powell, of Brooklyn, New York, writes this as his review of Iyengar’s book at   “This is a very good book that really requires a lot of introspection, and a high level of reading comprehension.

For myself anyway, this is not light beach reading that you can blow through, but an interesting, deeply reflective tool that will help you understand yourself and others just a little bit better.

The author uses numerous scientific studies from industry and her own studies and observations to bolster her work.

The book helps the reader take a more global perspective on how various cultures and our upbringing help to influence how and why we make certain choices.

Very good book.”

John Laughlin, of Frederick, Maryland, writes, “I came across this book while doing extensive reading in Behavioral Economics. It is truly excellent. Not only does it fill in some holes on the "business" side of choice, but -- more importantly -- it adds considerable depth to the area of "personal" choice, which is lacking in most economics-focused books.

The power of the author's insights become even more apparent when the book is read in conjunction with books like Blink, Outliers and The Long Tail (all of which the author refers to).

The book is especially helpful for those of us in the US who have limited experience with the cultures of other countries in which choice is less valued and more curtailed. Finally, anyone who is coping with end-of-life decisions will appreciate the final chapter on choosing your own end of life.”

I think these two reviews will help you make your decision as to whether or not this is the right book for you.  I agree with both of these reviews.  

This book is available from The Art of Choosing. 

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