cover image The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes

The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes

David Robson. Norton, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-65142-3

Science journalist and debut author Robson builds his entertaining and highly readable pop-psychology study on the perhaps dubious expectation that readers will still assume “intelligence is synonymous with good thinking” and associate good decision-making with prestigious jobs and education. Despite this relatively weak foundation, Robson exceeds expectations in his look at the pitfalls of individual and institutional intelligence, collecting a number of fascinating case studies, among them how Arthur Conan Doyle fell prey to spiritualist hoaxers and how a dysfunctional corporate culture prevented Nokia from taking the edge in the early days of smartphone development. Persuasively arguing that “general intelligence is a crucial ingredient to good thinking—but it needs many other complementary traits to truly flourish,” Robson effectively summarizes the established and emerging bodies of research that support his argument, starting with the pioneering IQ research of Lewis Terman in the early 20th century, and going on to the more recent field of “evidence-based wisdom,” dating back to the 1970s. Occasionally, the writing veers into self-help territory, with briefs for the benefit of traits such as intellectual humility, which feels discordant with Robson’s otherwise narrative work. However, he strikes the right balance between illustrative vignettes and accessible translations of complex research, delivering a smart look at intellect and its shortcomings. (Aug.)