29 August 2016

Review: Kidding Ourselves by Joseph T. Hallinan

Hardcover, 260 pages
Published 2014

Acquired June 2014
Read August 2016
Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception
by Joseph T. Hallinan

This book is 260 pages long, but cut out the notes and index and you've got 210 pages of actual content. It's a light, breezy read: Hallinan writes in that style of modern nonfiction where he's essentially taken what would be a really good long-form essay and stretched it out a bit to make it into a book, putting together lots of examples in an accessible style. Which isn't a bad thing; I'm just saying this isn't a very deep or complicated book. I read it on the bus in one round trip, which means it took me something like 90-105 minutes to read the whole thing at most.

Hallinan covers a number of facets of self-deception: our belief in placebos in medicine, outbreaks of mass hysteria not based in facts, prejudice in observations of sports events, Stephen Jay Gould's refutation of nineteenth-century physiognomy (and contemporary refutation of Gould), people who think Romney deserved credit for the death of bin Laden, superstitions of baseball players, people who have unprotected sex because they think it can't happen to them. The best parts of the book are when Hallinan shows the positive effects of self-deception, how it confers advantages. Which isn't always the case (mass hysteria probably has few benefits, right?), but those forms of self-deception that convince us we have control over our own lives do some good for our emotional health and for our prospects of future success.

Some good anecdotes, not that hard of a read. I wouldn't rush out to buy this book, but if you have two hours, it's probably worth your time.

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