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Review: The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

Review: The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar post image

Title: The Art of Choosing
Author: Sheena Iyengar
Genre: Nonfiction
Year: 2010
Acquired: I was sent an ARC for review from the author.
Rating: ★★★★☆

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.

Long Review: I’m not usually a big fan of book trailers, but as Eva (A Striped Armchair) said in her review of The Art of Choosing, this book has a really well-done trailer:

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 🙂

Other Reviews: A Striped Armchair |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Amy June 8, 2010, 6:26 am

    I loooove the sound of this book. It went on my wishlist after Eva’s review, can’t wait to find it! And you are right, that’s a great book trailer.

    • Kim June 8, 2010, 5:49 pm

      Amy: I like the trailer because it’s well-shot, but also does a really good job explaining what the book is about, which not all of them do well.

  • Jeanne June 8, 2010, 11:09 am

    So few academics are able to pull off a conversational tone–right there, that’s enough to make me take a look at this book.

    • Kim June 8, 2010, 5:50 pm

      Jeanne: It’s really hard to be conversational and academic — I was excited when this book did it well.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) June 8, 2010, 1:10 pm

    I heard an interview with the author on Blog Talk Radio and she talked about jam experiment – it was fascinating. When we lived in France, our choices were limited – at first it was difficult, but I got used to it. Then, when we returned to the States, I felt overwhelmed by my choices. Excellent review!

    • Kim June 8, 2010, 5:50 pm

      bermudaonion: Oh cool, I wish I’d heard that interview. I think the cultural differences of choice are pretty fascinating, and a big part of the discussion in this book.

  • softdrink June 8, 2010, 4:22 pm

    Dorky AND quirky?!? I’m going to have read this one now.

    • Kim June 8, 2010, 5:51 pm

      softdrink: Awesome! I hope you feel the same way as I did.

  • Miss Remmers June 8, 2010, 5:00 pm

    I read a book sort of like this recently called “The Paradox of Choice” that I really liked! I’m definitely adding this to my list. Thanks for the review.

    • Kim June 8, 2010, 5:51 pm

      Miss Remmers: I saw that review, and The Paradox of Choice went on my wish list too. It’d be interesting to compare them.

  • Jenny June 8, 2010, 6:44 pm

    I heard about this for the first time when Eva reviewed it, too, and I’m pleased to see another positive review of it! I’m really interested in why people do the things they do, so I know I’m going to like this! (unless I have just jinxed myself by saying that)

    • Kim June 9, 2010, 7:31 pm

      Jenny: Nah, I don’t think so. This does a good job exploring how choices get made, and some of the false assumptions we make when making choices.

  • Trisha June 8, 2010, 9:07 pm

    What a great review and interesting book! I’m always talking about a desire for limited choices. Recently, it was about window stain…too many dang choices. 😉

    • Kim June 9, 2010, 7:32 pm

      Trisha: I feel that way about all sorts of things. Right now, books!