One Sentence Summary: We identify ourselves by our choices, but how well do we know the process we use when choosing or what outside influences can impact what we think we want?
One Sentence Review: Iyengar’s book is full of relevant examples and quirky humor exploring the personal impacts of choice, which makes it both informative and engaging.
If you didn’t have time to watch the trailer, the basic gist of The Art of Choosing is the exploration of how we go about making choices and what the consequences of those choices can be.
The examples in the book cover a huge range — the effect of choice on animals in the zoo, on the way colors are picked in fashion, on how the number of items we see influences how much we’ll buy, for starters. While the number of subjects might be overwhelming, I think it works because Iyengar always bring the examples back to life and what impact that study or example might have on how we as individuals make choices every day.
My favorite example was a study Iyengar did with some of her students about the overabundance of choice. They set up a booth in a grocery store with free samples of jam. For certain times, there were 24 choices of jams to sample; at other times, just six jams. Conventional wisdom suggested that when people had more choices they’d happier and therefore more likely to buy the jam when they saw it in an aisle. Turned out, that’s not true. People were more likely to purchase jam — and more likely to be happy with their choice — when there were fewer options to start with.
Iyengar goes on to connect this finding with some broader cultural implications about having almost unlimited choices in America when compared to societies like the one her parents grew up in where choices were much more limited. I think it’s a fascinating question — does the American fetish with choice make us ultimately unhappier?
I don’t think Iyengar answers that question, but the book certainly looks at it from a variety of perspectives and with the background of a variety of studies.
To keep things personal Iyengar often inserts herself and her experiences into the book, but does so in a very quiet way. For example, she includes a story about growing up in a religious family that believed life was dictated by God, while also living in the United States, a country where choice is the epitome of freedom. That conflict growing up led her to start studying choice and what it means.
Similarly, I appreciated Iyengar’s sense of humor — it’s a little dorky, quirky, and certainly relatable. I felt like she’d be a fun professor to have a class with, or a fun person to sit down and chat with over coffee. Not all academics are able to pull that off in their writing.
I found this book interesting, informative, and imaginative. Iyengar is an engaging author who really knows how to bring her subject to life without losing any of the academic rigor, and she covers a topic that I think everyone could find a way to relate to. I say, choose this book 🙂
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