cover image Why We’re Wrong about Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding

Why We’re Wrong about Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding

Bobby Duffy. Basic, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5416-1808-4

Duffy, Policy Institute director at King’s College London, puts his 20 years of research into opinion formation to good use in this illuminating first book. Through cogent analysis, made accessible through charts and anecdotes, he thoroughly examines “general and widespread delusions about individual, social, and political realities.” The book divides misperceptions into two categories: mistakes people make in their own thinking, and mistakes originating in what they are told by others, both by authority figures and the media, and by friends, family, and colleagues. Within these categories, Duffy’s examples of things people often get wrong range from the trivial, such as whether the Great Wall of China is visible from space (it isn’t), to the consequential, such as whether violent crime is on the rise (a single high-profile case can make people think it is, even when crime rates are actually declining). While addressing such well-known conceptual pitfalls as the inherent “bias toward information that confirms what we already believe,” Duffy avoids pessimism. He focuses on the things everyone can do to change how they process information, such as learning not to focus on extreme examples, or improving critical reading abilities. The result is a well-informed breath of intellectual fresh air about how best to avoid misunderstanding the world. (Dec.)