Risk: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't - and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger

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9780771032592: Risk: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't - and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger

In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell, Gardner explores a new way of thinking about the decisions we make.

We are the safest and healthiest human beings who ever lived, and yet irrational fear is growing, with deadly consequences — such as the 1,595 Americans killed when they made the mistake of switching from planes to cars after September 11. In part, this irrationality is caused by those — politicians, activists, and the media — who promote fear for their own gain. Culture also matters. But a more fundamental cause is human psychology.

Working with risk science pioneer Paul Slovic, author Dan Gardner sets out to explain in a compulsively readable fashion just what that statement above means as to how we make decisions and run our lives. We learn that the brain has not one but two systems to analyze risk. One is primitive, unconscious, and intuitive. The other is conscious and rational. The two systems often agree, but occasionally they come to very different conclusions. When that happens, we can find ourselves worrying about what the statistics tell us is a trivial threat — terrorism, child abduction, cancer caused by chemical pollution — or shrugging off serious risks like obesity and smoking.

Gladwell told us about “the black box” of our brains; Gardner takes us inside, helping us to understand how to deconstruct the information we’re bombarded with and respond more logically and adaptively to our world. Risk is cutting-edge reading.

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From the Inside Flap:

Every day, we suffer a barrage of warnings about the threat of terrorism, war and apocalypse. The news is a parade of horrors. Anxiety is the stuff of daily life. And yet the statistics say we are the safest and healthiest humans who ever lived. How is this possible?

In this ground-breaking new book, Dan Gardner explains how we perceive risk, and examines the psychology that drives our fears. Analysing our risk perception as the combination of the brain's two simultaneous responses -- the intuitive feeling and the rational, considered response -- he throws light on our paranoia about paedophiles, chemical contamination, and suicide bombs, and explains why the significant threats to our lives are actually the mundane risks we pay little attention to.

Speaking to psychologists, economists, and scientists, Gardner reveals not only how we make judgments but how those judgments are influenced by corporations, politicians, activists and the media -- all of which have an interest in promoting irrational fear. In doing so, he explains one of the central puzzles of our time: Why are the safest and healthiest people in history living in a culture of fear?

From the Back Cover:

You Have Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself. In the year following September 11th 1,595 people died on America’s roads, as a direct result of having fled the airports to be safe from terrorism. The homicide rate in England was fourteen times higher in the Middle Ages than it is now. Worldwide, there are fewer than eighty unprovoked shark attacks per year. Poorly wired Christmas tree lights claim more victims than sharks.

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