cover image Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most

Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most

Steven Johnson. Riverhead, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-1-59448-821-4

Science writer Johnson (Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World) looks at decision-making, on both the individual and collective level, persuasively arguing that it should be approached not intuitively, but deliberately, rationally, and even scientifically. A wise decision-maker, he believes, should engage in “full-spectrum mapping” of the alternatives at hand. As an example of a collective decision, he returns repeatedly to the painstaking process by which the Obama administration concluded that Osama bin Laden was holed up in a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and chose to storm that house. Johnson is particularly interesting on some of the momentous collective decisions facing humanity today, such as whether to make superintelligent machines that might ultimately outsmart their creators. Regarding individual decisions, one should build mental models of the repercussions, both for oneself and for others. Johnson also observes how great literature, such as George Eliot’s Middlemarch, helps readers broaden their emotional frame of reference and develop understanding and empathy for the sensibilities of others. Johnson is a succinct, colorful, and skillful writer, and this book is one of those rare works that is highly relevant to the daily functioning of just about everybody. Agent: Lydia Wills, Lydia Wills. (Sept.)