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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 (David McRaney)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This book is probably fine for readers who have very little background in human psychology, but if you’ve ever read anything else on the topic, it’s likely to be repeated here.  The chapters, though numerous, are extremely short and give a very superficial treatment to common cognitive errors and logical fallacies.  If this is your first encounter with the subject material, you will likely find this to be an entertaining and interesting overview.  If, on the other hand, you already know anything at all about these topics, you will find this book to be a frustrating repetition of snippets you have seen or heard elsewhere.  There’s nothing new here, but McRaney has an engaging style and a great knack for humor, so this has the potential to be a great read for the right audience… that just wasn’t me.
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The Gift of Fear (Gavin de Becker)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Everyone should read this book, and not just because it might quite literally be life saving; it’s a fascinating read.  de Becker’s premise is that our intuition has evolved to send us signals which can keep us safe, and by listening to those signals, we can pay attention to fear when it is useful and be free from anxiety and worry when there is no true threat to safety.  The book is full of fascinating anecdotes from de Becker’s security firm and practical information about how to hone your intuition and keep yourself safe.
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The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves (Dan Ariely)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
I would say this is Ariely’s third book, except it doesn’t seem to really warrant being called that.  It’s more of an expansion of sections of his previous books, Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality — and not even the most interesting chapters, at that.  Those who have read Ariely’s other books will find little new here, and those looking for a book on lying and dishonesty in general may be disappointed to discover that this book focuses almost exclusively on cheating (on tests, not partners) with only brief mention of other kinds of deception.  While some of the information was interesting and accessible and Ariely’s tone is fun, Ariely seems to have taken the unfortunate turn of looking for the Smallest Publishable Unit.  I can’t really recommend this one, even to Ariely fans.
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The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Steven Pinker)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is somewhat of a departure for Pinker, whose earlier works have focused more on language, learning, and neurobiology.  His premise is optimistic: violence, in most, if not all, forms, has been decreasing for some time, and there is reason to believe that this trend may continue.  Pinker first walks us through the data to convince us that, despite what we see on the six o’clock news, violence is indeed on the decline.  He then discusses human motivations for violence, followed by motivations for non-violence, and concludes with a discussion of historical forces which have worked to reduce violence.  It’s a fascinating read, and Pinker keeps his terminology and explanations accessible, engaging, and readable — you don’t need a science background to enjoy this.  There are graphic descriptions of violence throughout the book, including detailed depictions of medieval torture, war, assault, and rape, and these sometimes come without warning, almost as an aside; this book is not for those who are easily triggered, prone to nightmares, or about to eat dinner.  Also, this book is LONG — I read it on my Kindle, but the text version weighs in at 832 pages — but don’t let that scare you off.  It’s by no means a quick read, but it moves along nicely and keeps you interested along the way.  I recommend it to those who are interested in this aspect of human behavior, or in books that eschew the typical “the world is going downhill fast” mentality.
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