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Should we live by the quote, "Never judge a book by its cover?" Rationally speaking, no because if we are rational thinking humans, we would judge a person the moment we lay eyes on them, evaluating if we can benefit from becoming friends with him/her. But in Dan Ariely's book The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic, he shows us that we are not really rational human beings. We are, in fact, very irrational with the decisions that we make. This book dives into, as the title says, the lighter, upside of human irrationality. From emotional attachments to "The Ikea Effect" (Dan Ariely The Upside to Irrationality 83) to reasons why online dating does not work, this read will make you question yourself on daily decisions made throughout the day. But just like we would judge any other person, lets "judge" who Dan Ariely is.
Dan Ariely is "a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke" (Holmes). He "has long been fascinated with how emotional states, moral codes and peer pressure affect our ability to make rational and often extremely important decisions in our daily lives" (Ted). He writes The Upside of Irrationality, a lighter sequel to Predictable Irrational, to "emphasize that when it comes to choosing, 'irrational' doesn't have to be a dirty word" (Holmes). "Ariely wants to help us 'figure out how we can get the most good and least bad out of ourselves' when making choices about our money, our relationships and our happiness" (Dunn).
It seems like Ariely is pretty knowledgeable, and with the countless Ted Talks, a non-profit event in which speakers can talk to large audiences about current issues or new ideas, that can be found on the internet, he seems to fit the criteria of being a believable author. But does this transfer over to his book The Upside to Irrationality? How can we judge his book, or any non-fiction book that is, whether it is good or not? Through a checklist or criteria of some sort. Just like how a good fiction book is able to paint you a picture, stimulates the imaginative part of your mind, and immerse you into a world where the impossible is possible, a non-fiction book should meet a list of certain criteria. An effective nonfiction book should support and author's credibility, be clear, concise and to the point, and readers should be able to relate to the book in some way.
One important item non-fiction books should have is the ability to support the author's creditability because without it, the author could be feeding the readers false information or inaccurate information. Think of it as the reader being a patient at the hospital who needs surgery. They would want someone who has a credible and knowledgeable in the field. So they would not choose an elementary teacher to perform the surgery, they would have a surgeon perform it because the doctor has the medical training in that field unlike the teacher. This is comparable to having a food critic write a book that describes the vast space of the universe, it would not be as believable as say if an astronaut physicist wrote it. The author's credibility is everything in making a non-fiction book effective when being read.
The book, The Upside to Irrationality is successful in meeting the criteria that it is critical for an author to be credible in their field of study so that book is effective in persuading readers to believe information they are reading through a personal experience, outside sources acknowledging his credentials and the ability to gain resources to fund his experiments.
Dan Ariely starts his book by giving an anecdote about his experience with procrastination. He has an ugly accident from a magnesium flare explosion and ends up getting hepatitis C. Ariel accepts experimental treatment which would cause him to "experience flulike symptoms including fever, nausea, headaches, and vomiting" (Ariely The Upside of Irrationality 2) and he ends up being the only one out of the experimental group that does this for the next year and half. He had his own personal experience in "what psychologists call a 'negative immediate effect' for the sake of a 'positive long-term effect'" (Ariely The Upside of Irrationality 3). And then he states that this anecdote, "in a general sense, has almost everything" (Ariely The Upside of Irrationality 5) to do with the idea that humans are very irrational. If the other participants, who originally failed to stick the daily doses, were thinking rationally, they would have known that this short term effect would pay off; they would not have hepatitis C. Ariely is able to portray his information more effectively because the reader knows he has a firsthand experience with the idea.
To further support the books' ability to show credibility for Ariely, a book review done by Rodrigo Becerra from "Metapsychology Online Review", a well known website for psychology based books, Becerra acknowledges Ariely's profession of being a "behavioral economist and his prolific academic career" which helps "delivers" because Ariely "takes us behind the scenes of this experimentation rendering a more comprehensive and attractive description of the scientific endeavor." By having a credible online source acknowledging Ariel's professions, helps Ariel keep a high credibility to all his readers.
Another item that helps Ariely maintain an acceptable credibility in his field is through various experiments he has done that are described in his book. He is able to get money to travel to other places such as India to perform different experiments. A lot of these experiments also require Ariely to pay participants at the end of the experiments, which he gets money from his college that he teaches at. The fact that Ariely is able to get funds and performs so many experiments that are well known in throughout his community makes him achieve that sense of credibility and believability that the reader will take note of as they read about human irrationality.
Moving on, another critical criteria all good non-fiction books should meet is being clear, concise and to the point, and keeping the reader engaged because a non-fiction book in itself is filled with a lot of facts and research which, if not properly written, would not appeal to most readers. If the reader wanted to read straight facts of the topic, they would have gone off and read an encyclopedia which would make the reader very knowledgeable in the topic, if they made it to the end. They read a non-fiction book, not only to inform themselves, but to entertain themselves at the same time. Thus making the learning process a more pleasurable way of learning the topic.
This is where The Upside of Irrationality might fall short of meeting the criteria that a non-fiction book should be clear, concise, and to the point which is shown through multiple reviews from credible websites.
In a book review done by Rodrigo Becerra of "Metapsychology Online Reviews" he says that Ariely's book "does not deliver" because he "engages in illegitimate logical steps". This refutes the part of the criteria which states that the book should be clear. The "illegitimate logic" Ariely confuses his readers and makes the experiment's outcome he was conducting seems less plausible. This adds a hint of doubt in the reader's mind that lessens the success of Ariely's idea of our own irrationality.
Another example is shown through different book review done by Kartik Upadhyay of "The Kings School Economics Business Blogsite" he "points to the book being too short" which, even though Ariely brought up "very interesting and thought-provoking ideas" that some ideas were only brushed upon and "warranted more attention and investigation". Although it seems like Ariely was concise and to the point, he was too concise and did not go in depth which failed to answer many questions that were brought up while he was conducting one of his experiments. This hurt his main purpose of trying to show the human irrationality because of over-achieving this part of the criteria.
Another book review done by Kyla Dunn of the New York Times Book Review says that Ariely "sometimes indulges too extensively in the minutiae of his autobiography". This shows that Ariely is sometimes not to the point and fills the reader with even more arbitrary knowledge that does not have much significance towards the books main purpose. This can cause the reader to be given an idea, but then lead off in a tangent, only to be put back into that idea, confused. This hinders the effectiveness of Ariely's underlining point that is found in each experiment.
Finally, the last requirement of a good non-fiction book is that it must be relatable to the reader in some way because this adds a level of sentiment and has a lasting impression on the reader. Reading an un-relatable book is like going on a bad date because it becomes dull; there won't be a connection between the two, you'd want it to just end. These traits of a bad date are the same towards a book. But in contrast, a good book would be entertaining, the reader could make an honest connection to the book and it would be a book they would not mind reading a second time. This is why relating to the readers is a must-have for any argument based non-fiction book.
This is The Upside to Irrationality highlighting criteria. The book effectively shows that all argument based nonfiction books should connect be relatable to the readers, in order to make their time reading the book sentimental and meaningful through practical examples of human habits and emotional feelings that people do on a daily basis.
A good example is when Ariely describes an experiment that he and his colleges performed in India which they would have people play 6 games such as Simon Says and would pay people depending on their performance; they could either get poor, good, or excellent performance. They showed that the higher pay, the worst the people would do from stress or pressure of winning so much money (Ariely The Upside of Irrationality 22-33). We are all bound to obtain jobs eventually in our lives. Those who have or had a job before know this experience because as one person gets the opportunity to get a very high raise, they are pressured to work harder than anyone else so they can get the raise. This in effect, could negatively impact their work. The fact the readers are able to relate to something as common as labor, makes the read even more personal.
Another part readers can relate to in the book, is what Ariely calls the "Ikea effect", which basically means that when building something ourselves, we get this sense of "attachment" for that item (Ariely The Upside of Irrationality 83-84). Ariely shows this through another experiment with the use of origami. He has someone build origami and makes that creator, auction it off. Ariely showed that to the bidders, it was just "amateurish crumples of paper" and the bidders did not want to spend much on it. But to the creator, he "imbued them with worth" because he built it and had sentimental value towards it (Ariely The Upside of Irrationality 93). This proves that, if we put time into building or making something, we have a personal connection to it. We feel like it's better than anyone else, even if they built or made the same exact thing. Readers can make a connection to any personal experience that involve them building, making, or even cooking and confirms that the book shows examples of human habits and meets the criteria.
The other thing we've all done is buy something that makes us happy for a short amount of time before we feel like we need to buy another thing again. Well according to Ariely, we get into this cycle that's called "The Hedonic Treadmill" (Ariely The Upside of Irrationality 175). This cycle consist of one buying something "new such as a new car" (Ariely The Upside of Irrationality 175), which makes us happy, "but sadly, the feeling last for only a few months" (Ariely The Upside of Irrationality175). He says "we get used to driving the car, and the buzz wears off" (Ariely The Upside of Irrationality 175). We then "look for things that makes us happy again" (Ariely The Upside of Irrationality 175) and this habit just goes in an endless cycle. This shows how we as humans require a feeling of happiness whether it'd be from origami or through buying things. This relates to the readers when they go out shopping on the weekend to buy new clothes, shoes, equipment, ect. They are susceptible to this "Hedonic Treadmill" (Ariely The Upside of Irrationality 175) because of bad spending habits. This example shows that the book meets the criteria of being able to relate to the readers and only further shows the irrational thought process of humans.
Examples do not just stop within the book. In the same book review done by Kayla Dunn of the New York Times, she follows up her negative review with a positive comment that says "deciding how to apply his insights is a pleasure that lingers long after the book finishes". This shows that the reader is able to take the information from the book and apply to their real life. This adds a sense of entertainment outside of the book, and readers see that it does apply to their everyday life, not just experiments done by psychologists.
What does this all show? Well let me refresh your mind on the whole reason why you were reading this in the first place. I had the mind set of answering two questions for you. First, how can we judge whether a non-fiction book is good or not, which I did by providing a checklist of things that the book must meet. Second, can we accurately assess whether Dan Ariely's book The Upside of Irrationality meets the items listed on the check list, which was done by providing examples from within the book, as well as from outside sources. As for the answer to that question, I can say that overall the book, for the most part, met the requirements. Although at times, there seems to be a lack of the second criteria, that does not hinder Ariely's over all successful attempt at showing that even though humans are very irrational when it comes to decision making, it is out of that irrationality that makes us who we are; it makes us human. As I personally read through the book, I found myself smiling at the many examples that Ariely brought up because it seemed like the book was almost reading my mind. The Upside to Irrationality might not be the perfect non-fiction book, but then again, has there ever been a perfect book? Reader's will have the fun of applying Ariely's ideas to their everyday lives and also will spark interest, making one smile as they read through the adventure of the perks of being an irrational individual.
"We all want explanations for why we behave as we do and for the ways the world around us functions. Even when our feeble explanations have little to do with reality. We're storytelling creatures by nature, and we tell ourselves story after story until we come up with an explanation that we like and that sounds reasonable enough to believe. And when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much the better."Â - Dan Ariely (Ariely, Dan.Â The (honest) Truth about Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--especially Ourselves)
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