Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review: Intuition: Its Powers and Perils

Intuition: Its Powers and Perils
by David G. Myers

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intuition: Its Powers and Perils is an extremely accessible read. Much like Malcolm Gladwell did with the book Blink, psychology professor David G. Myers presents a fascinating, introductory exploration of the human mind and its non-conscious, unreflective ability to pass instantaneous judgment (and, often, misjudgment) on the world. As the title of his work suggests, Myers showcases both the amazing feats and the seemingly inescapable drawbacks of human intuition, devoting the first half of his book to a general survey of telling psychological research that reveals, among other things, how our intuitive abilities influence our social interactions, how they enable us to answer questions correctly even when we think we’re just guessing, and how they fool us into thinking we’re much more virtuous and intelligent than average. The latter half of Myers’ book then turns to “practical intuition,” examining how intuition plays a role in everything from sports performance to stock investments to playing the lottery.

Those familiar with Gladwell’s popular title will find more of the same here, though arguably much more. While several of the experiments cited by Gladwell also appear in this work, Myers covers a much wider range of material, all to the benefit of the seriously interested reader. In fact, when compared to Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, Gladwell’s Blink is a mere CliffsNotes survey of intuition. Myers work is far superior, packing maximum substance into a book that remains wholly approachable and, admittedly, entertaining to read. Even when Myers threatens to become preachy, as he does in a chapter on gambling, his whimsical sense of humor adds a spark of personality to what otherwise may have been a drab regurgitation of statistical information. (And, in fairness to Myers, though he makes it clear that gambling is highly irrational—you’re often much more likely to die on your way to buy a lottery ticket than to actually win—he nevertheless offers advice on how to choose lottery numbers that are less likely to be chosen by others, thereby maximizing your potential winnings should those numbers happen to turn up.) Finally, Myers fosters a sense of interactivity between himself and his readers by continually testing the latter’s intuitions. Even though we know we’re being set up to fail, it’s fascinating to see just how readily we gravitate toward the wrong answers.

Bottom line: readers will walk away from Intuition: Its Powers and Perils feeling both humbled and enlightened—which is precisely what Myers would expect and want.


  1. Thanks for the review!

    I've been resisting reading Blink because so many reviewers seem to think it's a bit shallow and glib. I'll give this one a read instead.

  2. It sounds like fun and also like it is easily understandable. I'm putting it on my 'to read' list and hope to get to it really soon. You and some others...Mel for one...are getting a lot of reading done. I haven't done much at all for a few months. I agree with Brent...this sounds like the one I expected Blink to be.
    Thanks for a good review.