Book Review: The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

The Art Of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar - Header

There is probably something ironic and researchable about choosing to read psychology book based upon a blog post by someone you’ve never met. That because they say “here are the books I like” you accept them as gospel and read them without question. You may have noticed that over the past few months, as a side effect of starting a psychology degree, I have been reading more books about the mind and, confession time, the way I have chosen those books has been exactly the scenario I just described. I’ve essentially stolen recommendations from a blog. I’ve let somebody else choose for me.

One of those entries was The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar and, as is beginning to happen more and more, it overlapped massively with many of the other psychology books I’ve read, especially: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and The Compass Of Pleasure by David J. Linden. This meant that a lot of the studies and examples it cites I’ve come across before and while great for reinforcing their ideas also meant in total the book lost a pinch of interest due to its lack of originality.

Student Falling Asleep (Books) - The Art Of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

That isn’t to say I was bored, or that it is a difficult or heavy read. It’s light and humorous and easily kept both my attention and interest. Iyengar’s writing style being such that it feels composed yet friendly. It doesn’t feel like you are listening to dictation of a subject within academic confines, but rather, somebody keeping the rhythm of science in key with the pace of reader. This meant that the subjects were consistently clear and, more importantly, making constant sense.

That sensation, of being for you rather than against, is aided by the fact that the book doesn’t feel overly scientific even though it is. It cites studies and backs up claims with properly reviewed studies to create a trust in what it has to say. Throughout though, Iyengar knows she has to take you by the hand and, as a result, keeps the tone and language light regarding how she disseminates scientific fact into understandable prose. The book is an enjoyable translation of stuffy methodologies, statistics and conclusions into that real world expressions that create clearer explanations. Iyengar pitches the book exactly where the audience wants. It communicates directly to you and plays to these strengths to keep you interesting.

Mr Burns Choosing (The Simpsons) - The Art Of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

Being welcomed so easily into the book meant I became engrossed by what it had to say. I found it hugely fascinating and thought provoking throughout as it works through how our minds evolve to balance everyday choice in given situations; from the small and insignificant to the large and evolutionary. Within my University degree I have an essay to write regarding consumer perception. Again and again, I kept finding myself drifting off as I read into thought and query as to how choice and perception overlap and effect each other as a result of examples and explanations within the book. For instance, how we sway towards options that allow us to feel inclusive and how we overbalance and rely on the opinions of others to make even basic everyday decisions.

After all, why else would the advice of stranger, whether as a book review, film critique or anything else, carry so much weight if we didn’t create an artifical bond through shared mutual interests?

The book did suffer as I got further into it by a lingering sensation of going, repetitively, round in circles. Studies were overlapping other books (a problem that only arises with wider reading – read it alone or first and you’d, obviously, be fine) but I felt the actual underlying reason and points being made started to blend together. The mind isn’t binary, external factors influence it more than I’m sure we fully understand, but simplified, every decision is just yes or no, do or don’t. This meant that while the reasons for the choice we make were interesting, the conclusion as ended up always being the same. There are only so many ways to wrap up the same outcome and keep it from becoming stale.

Sheena Iyengar (Author) - The Art Of Choosing

The book is also a little self-aggrandising in places. It doesn’t feel as though Iyengar is trying to inflate her own ego but it is noticeable that the book is littered with citations and examples borrowed from her own studies, or her own involvement in breaking new ground. It didn’t destroy the trust I had in the book, but it self me questioning how much the book was based on robust fact rather than peddled opinion.

Don’t get me wrong, the friendly tone and inviting style are married to a light and sensible structure that create a book that is engaging and interesting. It’s kept my mind constantly ticking over and I really did look forward to getting back within its pages. It’s just that ultimately, it tries to say to much and ends up just going over old ground as a result. It’s not the best psychology book I have read, that distinction goes to Children’s Mind by Margaret Donaldson, but doesn’t languish too far from the top.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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