Saturday, August 19, 2017

Book Review: 'Irrationally Yours' by Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely is a best-selling author and widely known speaker. Everything he does is entertaining and informative. Stress, however, the entertaining part.

This is advice from an astute student of human nature, a modern "Dear Abby." It is a collection of short essays, more than 60 of them in a book that takes only a couple of hours to read. Each of them is in response to a question, usually posed in the form of a letter from a reader. The material is taken from the "Ask Ariely" column of the Wall Street Journal. Here is a typical question to kick off an essay:

Dear Dan, Why do young people on dates go to loud, crowded places? The noise in these places must prevent the potential couple from talking to each other and it virtually eliminates any possibility that they will get to know each other. So what’s the point AMANDA

His answer is succinct and witty. (1) lots of people don't have much to say in the first place, and noise masks the problem (2) it forces people to sit close together, be more intimate, and (3) whispering in somebody's ear may get them aroused.

The answer is common sense. So is a lot of life. Ariely's talent is in expressing it well, in just a few words, usually in a wry, amusing way.

Ariely's advice is often quite traditional, for this secular age. He takes marriage seriously. He writes touchingly about his own marriage and family, and offers the opinion that yes, marriage is different than mere cohabitation. He and his co-author fully appreciate the secular times in which we live, and yet see value in that which transcends the purely pragmatic.

One of the delights of this book is the cartoons. It is liberally illustrated by William Haefeli, whose work usually appears in the New Yorker. The cartoons are funny and to the point. Ariely is a well-enough established figure that he can draw on contacts to get this kind of thing done.

In summary, this is light reading, a pleasure, but nonetheless rich enough that you will come away enlightened in a few ways, and equally important, with a handful of anecdotes to illustrate points you want to make in conversation or writing.

He offers opinions on just about all of life's issues: marriage, kids, investing, in-laws, dog poop, finding parking, contending with traffic. I include a list of the essay titles to offer the reader an idea of the breadth of his interests.

On Escalation of Commitments
On the Art and Joy of Saying No
On Netflix Dissatisfaction
On Dieting
On Forgotten and Forgiven Loans
On Marriage and Economic Models
On Social Networks and Social Norms
On Kopi Luwak Coffee
On Wedding Ring Woes
On Social Violations and Tattle-Telling
On Variety as a Memory Enhancement
On the Benefits of a Crowded Space
On Hiring a Good (and Free) Advisor
On the Garlic Effect
On Giving to the Poor
On Grandparents and Agendas
On Outsmarting Bathroom Goers
On Gossip as a Social Coordination Me...
On Friends with Benefits
On Ruminating While Running
On the Joy of Getting Things Done
On the Art of Multitasking
On Calling Home
On Toasts and the Ideal Superstition
On Pickup Lines and Compliments
On the Illusion of Labor
On Misery and Shared Humanity
On Flashy Cars
On Dressing Down
On Exploring the Unknown
On Trying Out Relationships
On Divorce and Good Decisions
On Investing in Financial Advisors
On Justice and Sharing Food with Squir...
On Social Life and the Internet
On Expectations in Dating and Hiring

On Learning to Be Better Decision Make...
On the Power of Expectations
On Communicating Safety
On the Perfect Gift
On Eating Lessons and Kids
On Useful Complaining
On Prices and Bidding Frenzy
On Transmission of Stress, and Caring ...
On Luck as a Multiple-Stage Number G...
On Socks and the Psychology of the Su...
On Tithing
On Midlife Clich├ęs
On Cheaters and Alibis
On Breakfast Regrets
On Nighttime Activities
On Playing Parents
On Joint Accounts
On the Bordeaux Battlefield
On Traffic Jam Altruism
On Idle Waiting
On Forcing Decisions with Coins
On Trashy Norms
On Making Smoking Feel Dangerous
On Adventures as Investments
On the Quality and Not the Quantity of I...
On "Helping" People Retire
On the Morality of Correcting Mistakes
On Who We Are and Who We Want to
On the Value of Splitting Checks
On Staplers and Quarters
On Taking Time for Exercise
On Memory
On Books and Audiobooks
On Souls and Pascal's Wager
On Showing Off the Price
On Topics and Teachers
On (the Lack of) Self-Control
On Three Building Blocks of a Balancing...
On Wasting Time Deciding
On Buffet ROI
On Asking the Right Questions
On Doughnuts and the Locus of Free Will
On the Most Optimistic Day of the Year
On Emotional Investing in the Stock Ma...
On Commuting and Adaptation
On Riding Your Dryer to Tucson
On Promotions and the Illusion of Progr...
On Distance from Emotion and Caring
On Predicting Happiness
New Questions and Advice
On the Curse of Knowledge
On Bad Sex
On Mice and Markets
On Letting Loose
On Shrinking and Honesty
On High Heels
On Rules as a Way to Overcome Negati...
On Taxes and Mitzvahs
On Bull Service
On Loss Aversion and Sports Acknowledgments

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Graham H. Seibert. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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