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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
The main thesis of the book is that a lot of our actions are driven by our subconscious and the author claims that he will provide some insight into the latest research from a variety of areas such as Neuroscience and Psychology.

In terms of structure the book follows to imaginary people, Harold and Erika, following them from Harold’s birth to his death. Oddly the events always take place in the 21st century, which gives it a rather unusual feel. The characters are bright and generally lead successful upper middle class lives. Despite the title neither  character seem to lead especially social lives. Harold’s influences are his parents and a teacher. Erika is influenced more by a people she meets as she strives to climb the corporate greasy pole. Friends and family of the characters do not feature.

The author believes that:
1.       The unconscious mind is far more important in our decisions than we realize.
2.       Emotions are bound up in reason and motivate and influence even our most rational thought processes
3.       That we are learn from institution and relationships and these have a profound impact on us

The book therefore argues against the model of  human beings that are seen to be rational decision makers as in simple economic models. It aims to replace older models of human behavior with deeper, more subtle modesl. However the book suffers as the science is rather weak. There is nothing especially original, and  there are better books on aspects of behavioural economics, evolutionary economics and psychology.  The author attempts to bring lots of themes together, but it all lacks rigour. There probably is a gap in the market for a book that analyses how people make decisions and the science behind it, but this book falls somewhat short.

A big problem for me is that the main characters are rather dull and the stories of their lives are not especially compelling. If this were a novel it would be a rather tedious one. They don’t really help to draw out his key insights, rather they seem to pad out the word count. The continual setting of the book in the present day makes it hard to suspend disbelief. Finally the characters are not really embodied in any culture or social group and seem to live successful middle class lives, largely on the basis of the fact they are quite intelligent and make good decisions.