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The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics

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Bestselling author Michael Shermer explains how evolution shaped the modern economy--and why people are so irrational about money How did we make the leap from ancient hunter-gatherers to modern consumers and traders? Why do people get so emotional and irrational about bottom-line financial and business decisions? Is the capitalist marketplace a sort of Darwinian organism, Bestselling author Michael Shermer explains how evolution shaped the modern economy--and why people are so irrational about money How did we make the leap from ancient hunter-gatherers to modern consumers and traders? Why do people get so emotional and irrational about bottom-line financial and business decisions? Is the capitalist marketplace a sort of Darwinian organism, evolved through natural selection as the fittest way to satisfy our needs? In this eye-opening exploration, author and psychologist Michael Shermer uncovers the evolutionary roots of our economic behavior. Drawing on the new field of neuroeconomics, Shermer investigates what brain scans reveal about bargaining, snap purchases, and establishing trust in business. He scrutinizes experiments in behavioral economics to understand why people hang on to losing stocks, why negotiations disintegrate into tit-for-tat disputes, and why money does not make us happy. He brings together astonishing findings from psychology, biology, and other sciences to describe how our tribal ancestry makes us suckers for brands, why researchers believe cooperation unleashes biochemicals similar to those released during sex, why free trade promises to build alliances between nations, and how even capuchin monkeys get indignant if they don't get a fair reward for their work.


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Bestselling author Michael Shermer explains how evolution shaped the modern economy--and why people are so irrational about money How did we make the leap from ancient hunter-gatherers to modern consumers and traders? Why do people get so emotional and irrational about bottom-line financial and business decisions? Is the capitalist marketplace a sort of Darwinian organism, Bestselling author Michael Shermer explains how evolution shaped the modern economy--and why people are so irrational about money How did we make the leap from ancient hunter-gatherers to modern consumers and traders? Why do people get so emotional and irrational about bottom-line financial and business decisions? Is the capitalist marketplace a sort of Darwinian organism, evolved through natural selection as the fittest way to satisfy our needs? In this eye-opening exploration, author and psychologist Michael Shermer uncovers the evolutionary roots of our economic behavior. Drawing on the new field of neuroeconomics, Shermer investigates what brain scans reveal about bargaining, snap purchases, and establishing trust in business. He scrutinizes experiments in behavioral economics to understand why people hang on to losing stocks, why negotiations disintegrate into tit-for-tat disputes, and why money does not make us happy. He brings together astonishing findings from psychology, biology, and other sciences to describe how our tribal ancestry makes us suckers for brands, why researchers believe cooperation unleashes biochemicals similar to those released during sex, why free trade promises to build alliances between nations, and how even capuchin monkeys get indignant if they don't get a fair reward for their work.

30 review for The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics

  1. 4 out of 5

    Erika RS

    I do not regret reading this book, but I did not like it. It did not meet my expectations. I expected a discussion of, well, how our economic lives are shaped by biology and psychology. What I found was a standard (and compared to other books, less engaging) presentation of many common ideas from experimental psychology. Rather than a general discussion of economics and psychology, Shermer focused on a narrow point: human beings are not the rational creatures that economists assume we are. This I do not regret reading this book, but I did not like it. It did not meet my expectations. I expected a discussion of, well, how our economic lives are shaped by biology and psychology. What I found was a standard (and compared to other books, less engaging) presentation of many common ideas from experimental psychology. Rather than a general discussion of economics and psychology, Shermer focused on a narrow point: human beings are not the rational creatures that economists assume we are. This is an excellent point, but others have made it better (such as Sunstein and Thaler in Nudge). The book has a couple other limitations. The author mixes experimental psychology and evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology has its place; it is certainly interesting to think about why different psychological states evolved. However, it tends to be highly speculative, at least in popular presentations, and I tend to be wary of arguments which depend on it. The other limitation is that Shermer is a bit too eager to support his libertarian ideology. He makes statements which imply that the psychological tendencies he discusses support this economic ideology. However, the points he makes are so general that to claim them in favor of a particular ideology weakens the whole book. For example, Shermer shows that trade has a psychological purpose (establishing trust and bonding) as well as an economic one (providing goods not otherwise available). This is a fascinating point, and I would have liked to see the consequences explored at length. Instead, Shermer jumps straight from there to the conclusion that the best economy is one based on completely unregulated free trade. Such an over generalization undermines Shermer's original insight. All in all, this book stimulated some thinking, but I would not read it again.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    I am a fan of Michael Shermer, but feel this was not his best work. A lot of the information in this book is a re-telling of what he's already written, and then attempted to tie into economic theory (see The Science of Good and Evil). I don't feel he made his thesis very strongly; in fact, I was left wondering what his thesis was. Some of his conclusions about free markets were not made as strongly as they could have been, and I never felt the tie-in between personal decision making and the over I am a fan of Michael Shermer, but feel this was not his best work. A lot of the information in this book is a re-telling of what he's already written, and then attempted to tie into economic theory (see The Science of Good and Evil). I don't feel he made his thesis very strongly; in fact, I was left wondering what his thesis was. Some of his conclusions about free markets were not made as strongly as they could have been, and I never felt the tie-in between personal decision making and the overall "complex emergent" market was made. In other words, he did a great job showing how people behave individually (usually poorly, or at least not how they THINK they are behaving), but what does that mean for the market? How SHOULD markets be regulated or not? With this understanding, how should I behave to take advantage of this understanding? He never goes there. Overall, worth reading, but I think Beinhocker's "The Origin of Wealth" was much stronger.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sariene

    This is pretty good book, once you get past the first few chapters. I do wish Shermer would stay off of idealogical discussions. The first few chapters of the book are consumed by a near-rant about how capitalism is the bestest ever. But Shermer falls prey to a common problem in the libertarian wing of the skeptical movement, where ideology is concerned he is as guilty of cherry-picking the arguments as anyone else. It never fails to disappoint me since he is otherwise a champion of identifying This is pretty good book, once you get past the first few chapters. I do wish Shermer would stay off of idealogical discussions. The first few chapters of the book are consumed by a near-rant about how capitalism is the bestest ever. But Shermer falls prey to a common problem in the libertarian wing of the skeptical movement, where ideology is concerned he is as guilty of cherry-picking the arguments as anyone else. It never fails to disappoint me since he is otherwise a champion of identifying and rooting out our psychological biases. Just not when it's HIS worldview at issue.. I'm not anti-capitalist, I just didn't think his argument was useful to the book, or well written. It was more a one sided, poorly argued value judgement than a scientific evaluation, which is what I read Shermer for. However, once he moves on from there it's not a bad book. He gets into a discussion of the psychology which motivates people's economic decisions, and psychology (not philosophy) is where Shermer shines. I don't think he added anything in this book that I hadn't already read, but it was a decent treatment of the subject anyway. And he even manages to wade into discussions of the theoretical evolutionary basis for the phenomena he describes without getting his boots completely covered in the just-so B.S. that is 90% of modern evo-psych.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chris Brownell

    His work on cognitive biases is worth understanding, and he has a novel approach to thinking about economics. He does echoe a common theme of death to the theory of Homo Economicus. Through his attacks on the rationality assumption of humans. We make decisions for all sorts of irrational reasons, these seem to be unavoidable but hopefully they can be minimized in practice. If you read this book there is little need to read his other title: The Believing Brain which contains a good deal of similar His work on cognitive biases is worth understanding, and he has a novel approach to thinking about economics. He does echoe a common theme of death to the theory of Homo Economicus. Through his attacks on the rationality assumption of humans. We make decisions for all sorts of irrational reasons, these seem to be unavoidable but hopefully they can be minimized in practice. If you read this book there is little need to read his other title: The Believing Brain which contains a good deal of similar information with a moderate twist as to why humans believe, and what are the neuro-chemical mechanisms of belief.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    This is a somewhat strange book, as it was written by an Ayn Rand libertarian, yet focuses on the findings from behavioral economics that in my mind show the idiocy of libertarian economics. Ayn Rand thought altruism was a swear word and greed the highest moral value, yet behavioral economists confirm what all non-economists already knew--most people are indeed social animals who care about each other, frequently cooperate, and often sacrifice their own welfare to help others. The coverage of be This is a somewhat strange book, as it was written by an Ayn Rand libertarian, yet focuses on the findings from behavioral economics that in my mind show the idiocy of libertarian economics. Ayn Rand thought altruism was a swear word and greed the highest moral value, yet behavioral economists confirm what all non-economists already knew--most people are indeed social animals who care about each other, frequently cooperate, and often sacrifice their own welfare to help others. The coverage of behavioral economics is good, but the author's own contributions strike as somewhat schizophrenic.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Muhammad Shalaby

    الكتاب رائع وانا استمعته صوتي مثير للتساؤلات ومنشط للذهن الاقتصادي يشرح الكثير من العوامل النفسية والمنطقية والعصبية خلف الاقتصاد منحاز جدا لاقتصاد السوق وان كان هذا ليس عيبا من وجهة نظري الأمثلة حية وواقعية ومدروسة بالتفصيل الكتاب الصوتي بصوت المؤلف نفسه ولذلك يحمل نبرة اقتناع واقناع يعيبه أنه يعتمد كثيرا على نظرية داروين

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    This was the first title for a new book club that I did the first review for. If you are interested in keeping up with the discussion that follows, you can visit the International League of Skeptics, and the book discussion thread. Long Story Short: This is a book about, variously, the free market, evolutionary psychology, and economic decision-making that has only one chapter devoted to the main premise of the book. The Book’s Strengths: Shermer has written a book about economics and trade that e This was the first title for a new book club that I did the first review for. If you are interested in keeping up with the discussion that follows, you can visit the International League of Skeptics, and the book discussion thread. Long Story Short: This is a book about, variously, the free market, evolutionary psychology, and economic decision-making that has only one chapter devoted to the main premise of the book. The Book’s Strengths: Shermer has written a book about economics and trade that explores many different aspects of the producer to consumer process. He fills it with interesting anecdotes about how some products make it to market, how government can affect what gets produced, and how people behave with their money. As a non-economist (and not even a market aficionado) I appreciate the accessibility of his examples and explanations. He makes the nuances of economics—to the extent that nuances can be presented in such a short book for general readers on an offshoot topic—very understandable. I particularly appreciate his explanation of “folk economics,” or how thinking on a short-term, personal level about money can be exactly the wrong thing to do. I am guilty of not thinking about money sufficiently, and I am glad now to have some insight why. At the very least, he has made me interpret conversations I have or hear about money with more knowledge of where my ignorance is, which is stage one of fiscal empowerment (I guess). Shermer has also filled the book with references to economists and psychologists, people who have theorized and analyzed market movements since the Enlightenment Era and people who are studying human behavior within controlled scientific experiments and with modern, technological tools. You understand everything as you read it, which is great, and you come away with some urban myths debunking and some cool soundbytes of data, such as the QWERTY keyboard wars and the invention of the gel-filled bicycle seat. Shermer’s writing style is interesting and well-paced, the prose is clear and optimistic, and it is a good voice to hang out with. The Book’s Weaknesses: This is a volume that does not hang together well. I am sad about this. It is also a book that is not really about what it purports to be about, which is very disappointing. We don’t really get an analysis—scientific or otherwise—of why “the market” behaves as it does, and the few glimpses we get of why consumers do what they do are not big picture stuff. I don’t want to blame Shermer for things that maybe the marketing department at his publishing company did, and I don’t want to speculate (not with specifics, anyway) on how much of the book was actually written before he contracted with Holt, but it is absolutely not what I thought the book would be about. Let’s start with the publisher’s book description. Yeah, yeah, I know that the author does not creating marketing copy, but looking at it goes a long way towards explaining my mild annoyance at falling victim to a bait and switch: Michael Shermer…shows how we made the leap from ancient hunter-gatherers to modern consumers and traders and how the capitalist marketplace thrives as a sort of Darwinian organism, evolving through natural selection as the fittest way to satisfy our needs. It’s flashy and engaging, but it’s not that different from the purpose of the book that Shermer establishes in the prologue: Markets that traffic in rankings, ratings, and bestseller lists seem to operate on their own volition, almost like a collective organism. In fact, this is only one of many effects we shall see in this book that demonstrate just how much the mind influences the market, and in a broader sense how markets seem to have a mind of their own. These two paragraphs are broad enough that you could say I was being too picky, that I misinterpreted the whole thing, and the book does meet these established goals, but I remember Michael Shermer’s podcast/interview rounds. I heard him in a couple different venues, and he talked up a different book than I read. This is not a book that explains the kind of large population trends that shift the balance between consumers and producers, and the gains in status and desirability that explain how some perfectly good (nay, superior) products fail against lesser competitors. I expected more on advertising, and communication, and the globalization of culture, and how people behave, and I guess book a lot more like Robert Wright’s Non-Zero in economics form than this one. I honestly don’t know if a book like the one I envisioned could be written, but I had high hopes. (Did I already say that? Believe you me, they were high.) There was one chapter that met all my expectations. It was a great chapter. Right smack in the middle of the book, Chapter 6: “The Extinction of Homo Economicus” was exactly what I wanted. It gets into the brain scans, and the primates, and the psychology experiments, and the analysis, and the commentary, and the bigger picture things that I really was looking forward to. I know exactly why he was pimping this chapter in the interviews, though—it contained all the good parts. It actually addresses 1) the mind, 2) market interactions, 3) monkeys, and 4) real world examples. Who doesn’t love monkeys? And fancy fMRI machines? And brain science? The eleven chapters do not follow this template. The first few chapters—a good quarter of the book—are reasonable, persuasive arguments for how the free market will save the world. It’s a Libertarian plug. It’s not even an obnoxious Libertarian plug, but it doesn’t really address the stated purpose of the book, except in the most incidental ways with a couple references here and there obviously tacked on to remind people they are reading a book about psychology and evolution, too. There are chapters about virtue, and happiness, and trust, and other non-market things that only at the last minute tie into the topic of the book. I was patient with the beginning, and was rewarded with Chapter 6, but when the subsequent chapters left the plan again I really started getting antsy. I had a hard time focusing on anything after the first half of Chapter 9: “Trust with Credit Verification.” Then the book wrapped up with more arguments for unencumbered free markets. Like I said, they were good arguments, but that’s not what the book set out to cover. It’s really just one big tangent. What Should Have Happened: If Michael Shermer really wanted to write a series of short articles addressing the psychology of humans, he should have. The book already has the words “Tales from” in the title, and if people knew in advance they were getting a loosely related collection of tales about evolutionary behavior, they would probably like it. It would have saved him from reaching as far as he did to make an economic point just to prove he’s writing a long text and assembling an anthology. I mean, come on. The About Schmidt and the Ndugu Effect conclusion to Chapter 7: “The Value of Virtue” was a reeaaall stretch. I think, however, that publishing a book about “Evolutionary Economics” sounded new and fresh, whereas a book about evolutionary psychology or sociobiology or whatever you would call these chapters would not stand out. Short Story Shorter: I would not recommend this book. It is too muddled.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Eva

    Some notes, before I quit the book: The banker's paradox says only the rich can get loans, but the rich aren't the ones who need them. So is friendship the same way, with people abandoned when they're down on their luck? To a degree, but insofar as a friend is reciprocally invested in helping you, he has value to you. The average Yanomamo village has about 300 unique items, whereas the "village" of Manhattan has 10 billion--33 million times as many. - p2 Average annual income is growing at an accel Some notes, before I quit the book: The banker's paradox says only the rich can get loans, but the rich aren't the ones who need them. So is friendship the same way, with people abandoned when they're down on their luck? To a degree, but insofar as a friend is reciprocally invested in helping you, he has value to you. The average Yanomamo village has about 300 unique items, whereas the "village" of Manhattan has 10 billion--33 million times as many. - p2 Average annual income is growing at an accelerating rate: It took 97,500 years to go from $100 to $150 (1000 BCE), 2,750 more to go to $200 (1750), and 250 more to go to $6,600 (2000). - p3 "Path dependency" or "historical lock-in" describes how what the design of something is not necessarily optimal or deliberate, but the necessary product of its peculiar history. Ex: the panda's thumb (actually a wrist bone) and the qwerty keyboard. - p47 Cues that indicate deception "are less likely to be expressed if you actually believe the lie yourself. This is the power of self-deception, which evolved in our ancestors as a means of fooling fellow group members who would otherwise catch our deceptions." - p69 "In one [survey] of 829,000 high school seniors, 60% put themselves in the top 10% in 'ability to get along with others,' while 0% (not one!) rated themselves below average." - p72 (I guess I would have been the 1 in 829,000!) "Studies have found that women in their forties believe they have a 1 in 10 chance of dying of breast cancer, while their real lifetime odds are more like 1 in 250." - p79 (This is not helping the stereotype about women and math.) The peak-end rule: "We judge a past event almost entirely on how the experience was at its peak and its end--whether pleasant or painful--instead of a net average." - p109 "As the evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker likes to say, the number one predictor of crime and violence is maleness." - p122

  9. 4 out of 5

    E

    Evolutionary perspectives on economics This is a lively, entertaining, useful and uneven work. Author Michael Shermer ranges over an array of disciplines to synthesize current understanding of the intersection of economics and evolution. He defines and debunks homo economicus, or the economic man, a theoretical creation who behaves in a purely rational fashion. Shermer weaves personal experiences with interviews of researchers, summaries of classic texts, and contemporary experiments and observat Evolutionary perspectives on economics This is a lively, entertaining, useful and uneven work. Author Michael Shermer ranges over an array of disciplines to synthesize current understanding of the intersection of economics and evolution. He defines and debunks homo economicus, or the economic man, a theoretical creation who behaves in a purely rational fashion. Shermer weaves personal experiences with interviews of researchers, summaries of classic texts, and contemporary experiments and observations of such well-known businesses cases as the Enron debacle. Readers with knowledge of behavioral economics or negotiation will find some familiar material in this book. For others, Shermer’s connections among biology, psychology, economics and ethics will be enlightening. He overreaches at times, making sweeping claims for the power of the market, but you don’t have to agree with every conclusion to enjoy the work. getAbstract recommends this to readers who are interested in behavioral economics, self-knowledge or the machinations of markets.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shea Mastison

    Michael Shermer is one of the best writers of popular science today. His style is highly accessible; he is knowledgeable about a wide array of sociological, psychological, and biological topics, and he is willing to examine multiples sides of any given issue. This is an excellent book describing the morality of capitalism based upon the newest discoveries in neuroscience. But it's also a more open look at how free market principles can help us prevent war--as he references: Bastiat's Principle-- Michael Shermer is one of the best writers of popular science today. His style is highly accessible; he is knowledgeable about a wide array of sociological, psychological, and biological topics, and he is willing to examine multiples sides of any given issue. This is an excellent book describing the morality of capitalism based upon the newest discoveries in neuroscience. But it's also a more open look at how free market principles can help us prevent war--as he references: Bastiat's Principle--"When goods do not cross frontiers, armies do." So, let's stop killing people, and start trading with them instead. Read this book!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ninakix

    This book is sometimes odd because it seems to sit in the middle of three different disciplines - economics, psychology, and evolution - but that actually turns out to be a good thing, because it explains how the different disciplines tie together. A lot of the research is covered in other books, but the way he ties it together, explaining how different psychological principles probably emerged from our evolution (evolutionary psychology), but also how that effects our economic systems today - a This book is sometimes odd because it seems to sit in the middle of three different disciplines - economics, psychology, and evolution - but that actually turns out to be a good thing, because it explains how the different disciplines tie together. A lot of the research is covered in other books, but the way he ties it together, explaining how different psychological principles probably emerged from our evolution (evolutionary psychology), but also how that effects our economic systems today - and not just models, but the real actions (irrational) people take. Shermer advances an interesting model and view of the world that's worth reading about.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Moryl

    An attempted synthesis of behavioral economics and biology. Works in some places, doesn't work in others. The sections about addiction and neurobiology--how our pleasure centers drive our behavior--are backed by better empirical evidence than the sections where Shermer tries move from micro (individuals) to macro (social). I strongly agree with the criticisms prevented in this review, so I'll just link to it rather than re-typing its comments: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  13. 5 out of 5

    JP

    Michael Shermer's life is as interesting as this explanation about how our minds haven't yet caught up to our modern economic world. We're hard-wired to make purchases quickly, share our big kills, trade with trusted systems, feel a rush at cooperating, avoid losses, and respond tit for tat. One interesting fact - quoting a Rudolf Rummel analysis - of 371 international wars from 1816 to 2005 where at least 1000 people were killed, 205 were between nondemocratic nations, 166 between a nondemocrat Michael Shermer's life is as interesting as this explanation about how our minds haven't yet caught up to our modern economic world. We're hard-wired to make purchases quickly, share our big kills, trade with trusted systems, feel a rush at cooperating, avoid losses, and respond tit for tat. One interesting fact - quoting a Rudolf Rummel analysis - of 371 international wars from 1816 to 2005 where at least 1000 people were killed, 205 were between nondemocratic nations, 166 between a nondemocratic and a democratic, and none were between democratic nations.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    Having loved "How We Believe", I had high expectations for this one, but it never came together for me. While there were interesting passages and ideas, it was one of those where I would read ten pages, get sleepy, come back to it in a couple days and not remember the last 10 pages, have to backtrack a couple pages, get through 6 more pages, etc... It was a bit random. And the fact that he gets oddly conservative/libertarian in a couple places threw me for a loop. I'm not saying that's bad as a Having loved "How We Believe", I had high expectations for this one, but it never came together for me. While there were interesting passages and ideas, it was one of those where I would read ten pages, get sleepy, come back to it in a couple days and not remember the last 10 pages, have to backtrack a couple pages, get through 6 more pages, etc... It was a bit random. And the fact that he gets oddly conservative/libertarian in a couple places threw me for a loop. I'm not saying that's bad as a rule, but he lost me when he actually used the phrase "tax and spend liberals"...

  15. 4 out of 5

    John Seno

    This book has brilliant insights, linking our evolutionary & biological history with the marketplace went along way in showing how the market is really a collection of unconscious and mostly irrational decisions. Although it might not seem like it on the surface we are hardwired for altruism and the pursuit of self interest at all cost is not in our nature. The whole market is built on trust and this quality is intrinsically found in our hard-wiring. Great Book, amazing insights!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    O carte esențială pentru înțelegerea lumii în care trăim.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Erik

    Many a year since enjoying his Why People Believe Weird Things, I am once again picking up on Shermer’s latest thoughts. Yet this time his ideas revolve around what makes up our economic minds and lives – rather than oddball cultish thinking, or contemporary popular myths. Shermer lets us readers know up front that he is essentially pro-capitalist – but not in the Social Darwinist sense of either “winner takes all” or “dog eat dog.” Rather, he makes it clear that capitalism is the best possible Many a year since enjoying his Why People Believe Weird Things, I am once again picking up on Shermer’s latest thoughts. Yet this time his ideas revolve around what makes up our economic minds and lives – rather than oddball cultish thinking, or contemporary popular myths. Shermer lets us readers know up front that he is essentially pro-capitalist – but not in the Social Darwinist sense of either “winner takes all” or “dog eat dog.” Rather, he makes it clear that capitalism is the best possible economic system to-date because it rewards innovation, promotes trade (which he views as a barrier against war), and functions best as a grass-roots social phenomena that is transparent and honest (Enron and Worldcom executives be damned). By the end of the first quarter of his book, Shermer proudly outs himself as an unwavering advocate of a democratic capitalism, which he defines as “a system of…social liberalism and fiscal conservatism [in:] a synergistic marriage that leads to the greatest prosperity, the greatest liberty, and the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” (The last of which sounds strikingly utilitarian, if you ask me.) After his economic theorizing during this first portion of his book, Shermer turns his attention to the psychology of humans as social creatures. Not only does he debunk the myth that we are either innately selfish (whether one misreads Richard Dawkins, or if one truly believes in the mantra that “Greed is good” propounded by Gordon Gecko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street) or intrinsically evil (as referenced by Phillip Zimbardo’s now-infamous and well-documented Stanford Prison Experiment), but he proudly – and for the most part convincingly -- argues that human societies have evolved to benefit the greater good. Why? Simply because it is in one’s self-interest to help others. That is, the act of giving usually results in receiving back in spades, as Shermer views it. Social creatures we are, for better or worse. If you were to ask me what I think of Shermer as a researcher into and theorist of human behavior and motivations, I would say that he’s a “glass half full” kind of thinker. Bleak this man is not. For some thought-provoking reading that is neither too heady nor too dependent on statistics, Shermer’s latest book is the perfect bedside reading that will keep you staying up later past your bedtime.

  18. 5 out of 5

    David

    I cannot review this book without mentioning my biases. I love Shermer as a writer and thinker, and I've yet to read something of his I disagree with. With that out of the way, I must admit that the title and subtitle of the book aren't an accurate representation of the book as a whole. This is more an expansion of an earlier book (which he admits) than the title indicates. Shermer's premise with this book is that the free market and capitalism are both the most natural and the freest modes of e I cannot review this book without mentioning my biases. I love Shermer as a writer and thinker, and I've yet to read something of his I disagree with. With that out of the way, I must admit that the title and subtitle of the book aren't an accurate representation of the book as a whole. This is more an expansion of an earlier book (which he admits) than the title indicates. Shermer's premise with this book is that the free market and capitalism are both the most natural and the freest modes of economic exchange. And his evidence springs from neuroscience as an indicator of the evolutionary history of humans. While the title suggests this in a minor way, it implies a broader analysis. One of the biggest points in this book is the disproving of the antiquated idea of Homo economicus. Along with economists like Thaler, Becker, and Levitt (the economist co-author of Freakonomics), Shermer uses not just psychology and economics, but the aforementioned neuroscience, to illustrate the idea of innate altruistic behavior. He explains a theory of evolutionary basis for altruism, going so far as to posit a new classification, Homo evonomicus (the evolved tendency for pro-trade, pro-market mentality in humans) to supplant the older model. This is by far the highlight of the book (indeed, its central theme), but the data and arguments bury it, leaving the final product less coherent than optimal. There are two problems I have with this book. First, Shermer has a tendency to repeat himself, even when his ideas aren't so complex as to warrant the continuous clarification. Second, the narrow scope of the ideas can be hard to get through. As I mentioned above, he repeats the less important conclusions and glosses over the big ones, a fault that doesn't weaken the ideas of the book, but impairs the work as a whole. Of the Shermer books I've read, this one is the worst. It's still very good, but most of his other books feature a lot of the same data and studies and broader implications from both. If you're looking for a book that uses neuroscience to explain why people behave the way they do, and your primary interest isn't economics, this book isn't for you. Even a passing interest in economics, like mine, doesn't make this book exceptional. It's still very good and worth the read, but it's narrower and less interesting than Shermer's books on belief.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rod Hilton

    The Mind of the Market analyzes the free market of capitalism in a manner like evolutionary biology. It's an interesting book, in which Michael Shermer essentially argues that the market works the way it does because of the desires and behaviors of its component parts: people. Shermer discusses people as independent agents within the system and the ways in which the traditional model of Homo Economicus are mistaken. The book also touches on a bit of morality theory, explaining how and why people The Mind of the Market analyzes the free market of capitalism in a manner like evolutionary biology. It's an interesting book, in which Michael Shermer essentially argues that the market works the way it does because of the desires and behaviors of its component parts: people. Shermer discusses people as independent agents within the system and the ways in which the traditional model of Homo Economicus are mistaken. The book also touches on a bit of morality theory, explaining how and why people behave in an ethical manner. Essentially, the position of the book is that the behavior of the free market can be explained in terms of the evolution of the humans participating in that market. The book is interesting, short, and informative. Unfortunately, it deals in a lot of well-worn areas, discussing at length the limitations of the human brain and even rehashing a great deal of material from Shermer's other books, most notably The Science of Good and Evil. The main problem with the book is the same problem with other Shermer books: it never really gels as a cohesive book. Most of the other Shermer books I've read felt like a collection of somewhat-related essays, stapled together into a book. Each chapter is, by itself, a very good read, but whenever I remind myself of the greater context of the book, I often found myself wondering "where is this going? What does this have to do with anything else?" Often, by the end of the chapter I'd understand the reason for the chapters inclusion, but on a few occasions I never felt like I understood why the chapter was included. Overall, Shermer is a very engaging writer and this is one of his better books, it just has to be read as a collection of related essays rather than a cohesive book with a central thesis being proven over a series of chapters.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Rudisel

    REVIEW Fantastic! A very fascinating and enlightening study of economics from an evolutionary vantage point. Evolutionary economics, complexity economics, behavioral economics, neuroeconomics, and virtue economics. Wonderful exploration of the latest science and history in all these areas. Outstanding. “The best politico-economic system to date is a liberal democracy and free market capitalism, or democratic-capitalism. In a system of democratic-capitalism, social liberalism and fiscal conservatism is REVIEW Fantastic! A very fascinating and enlightening study of economics from an evolutionary vantage point. Evolutionary economics, complexity economics, behavioral economics, neuroeconomics, and virtue economics. Wonderful exploration of the latest science and history in all these areas. Outstanding. “The best politico-economic system to date is a liberal democracy and free market capitalism, or democratic-capitalism. In a system of democratic-capitalism, social liberalism and fiscal conservatism is a synergistic marriage that leads to the greatest prosperity, the greatest liberty, and the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Free markets, as much as they are possible, with minimal top-down regulation or hindrance, should be the dominant and guiding principal in creating a flourishing society. This is a book about the science of why and how human brains function the way they do regarding morals and economics, exploring the evolutionary pathways, both biological and social, that led to human brains and human society. It is about the many “built-in” cognitive biases and "flaws" of human brain function, fleshed out with the latest neuroscience, etc…, and how these biases and evolved brain functions affect our morals and economic thought, often irrationally. It is about the history and psychology of the many philosophies regarding morals and economics. It’s not so much a political book, as it is a science book about the evolution of human brains, human society and its norms.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bridget Casey

    What the fuck is this shit? First, props for the grossly misleading title, because this book essentially never discusses the market. What Shermer does do is insist Ayn Rand's Objectivist ideals are the truth & the light, but while we're at it we should get on board with traditional religion too. By the way did you know Conservatives are more generous than Liberals and children are irrevocably damaged by divorce? Guns for everybody, we need them to fight the government! Seriously though. I have What the fuck is this shit? First, props for the grossly misleading title, because this book essentially never discusses the market. What Shermer does do is insist Ayn Rand's Objectivist ideals are the truth & the light, but while we're at it we should get on board with traditional religion too. By the way did you know Conservatives are more generous than Liberals and children are irrevocably damaged by divorce? Guns for everybody, we need them to fight the government! Seriously though. I have no idea what this book was for or what he was trying to do except babble on that what Charles Darwin was really talking about when he wrote the Origin of Species was how the answer to everything is capitalism. Shermer credits and quotes a number of writers much better than himself, so if you're really interested in human behavior you should really read first-hand the works by Daniel Kahneman or Phillip Zimbardo. Read Ayn Rand too, but don't let it turn you into Shermer. And if you actually want to read a book about the market, pick up one on economics because this is NOT about economics at all. 2 stars because his writing was good enough to get me to finish the book, even while hating him the whole way. Also props for citing so many sources I actually like, namely Rand, Zimbardo and Kahneman but also Richard Dawkins and Amos Tversky. Mostly, however, I want the hours of my life back that it took to read this book that taught me absolutely nil and just spewed right-wing propaganda for 360 pages in desperate attempts to make a point. 'Murica!

  22. 4 out of 5

    James

    There is more information in the 261 pages of The Mind of the Market than there is in most books more than twice its size. That is both an advantage and a disadvantage in the sense that the book held the reader's attention even though the fecundity of ideas sometimes bordered on the overwhelming. Michael Shermer, the author of The Mind of the Market, is the publisher of Skeptic Magazine and the author of nine previous books. In this book he attempts to capture the "Mind" of the Market while argu There is more information in the 261 pages of The Mind of the Market than there is in most books more than twice its size. That is both an advantage and a disadvantage in the sense that the book held the reader's attention even though the fecundity of ideas sometimes bordered on the overwhelming. Michael Shermer, the author of The Mind of the Market, is the publisher of Skeptic Magazine and the author of nine previous books. In this book he attempts to capture the "Mind" of the Market while arguing against previous visions of how the market works while surveying scientific theories that he believes may be used to replace these earlier visions. I came to the book receptive to his support of free market economics, his penultimate chapter is entitled "Free to Choose" - a direct reference to Milton Friedman's classic text of the same name; however I was not convinced that, with all the scientific theories and studies used as examples of "evolutionary" economics and the neuroscience of the market, he made a convincing case. Many of the pieces of the book seemed to just hang there, fascinating little essays on some aspect of science or how "Homo Economicus" no longer exists (or perhaps never did!). He summarizes his goals as describing 1) How the market has a mind of its own; 2) How minds operate in markets: and, 3) How minds and markets are moral. Each of these goals can be included under the rubric of "Evolutionary Economics" in Shermer's estimation. For my "money" and "mind" I found his attempt to be informative and entertaining if not, in the end, convincing.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Shermer's book is full of insights very familiar to anyone who's read Dan Ariely's book, Predictably Irrational. It's all about how we make economic decisions, and when Shermer is trolling the sociological and psychological literature, he's on strong ground. His basic premise is well-argued: that we evolved in a hunter-gatherer society, and now find ourselves in a consumer-based capitalist society, and so our evolution is often at odds with our current state. As a result, we do silly things with Shermer's book is full of insights very familiar to anyone who's read Dan Ariely's book, Predictably Irrational. It's all about how we make economic decisions, and when Shermer is trolling the sociological and psychological literature, he's on strong ground. His basic premise is well-argued: that we evolved in a hunter-gatherer society, and now find ourselves in a consumer-based capitalist society, and so our evolution is often at odds with our current state. As a result, we do silly things with our money. But he's less persuasive when he makes specific leaps from the evolution of the species to the evolution of markets. As he admits only once or twice, the first kind of evolution follows scientific laws, but the second kind follows only probability. His relentless proposing of the free market as the solution to everything gets less and less persuasive as he argues. Would that it were that simple. But the events of the last couple of years have taught us that capitalism on its own can collapse from inefficiencies, malfeasance, and greed. We also need laws and governments to enforce fairness and accountability.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    There are some interesting things in here, but I expected a well-known skeptic to show better reasoning skills than Michael does in this book. The reasoning is especially weak when it comes time to try to tie in the psychological background with the "invisible hand" of the free-market system. Since I listened to an audio version of this book it is difficult to give specifics, but I was especially appalled when he stated a "fact", then presented the converse of the statement as a "corollary". Epi There are some interesting things in here, but I expected a well-known skeptic to show better reasoning skills than Michael does in this book. The reasoning is especially weak when it comes time to try to tie in the psychological background with the "invisible hand" of the free-market system. Since I listened to an audio version of this book it is difficult to give specifics, but I was especially appalled when he stated a "fact", then presented the converse of the statement as a "corollary". Epic logical fail. The truth of a statement is logically independent from the truth of the original statement, so concluding that the converse automatically follows from the original statement is nonsense. In most places the flawed logic is less obvious than this. Basically he just strings together a number of ideas and then concedes that what he wants to be true follows. Ahem. We call that wishful thinking. I've read two of Shermer's books now. This will be the last one.

  25. 5 out of 5

    John Bailo

    WinTroll alert! WinTroll alert! Sorry, I really started to get into this book, but it seems like he mentions either Microsoft or Windows or Bill Gates every five pages. What seemed to be an exploration of new science in the service of economics, has turned into an apologia for a bad operating system (and why we shouldn't try to do anything about it). The author reminds me of some of the smug commentators on Usenet to that I used to tangle with when trying to advocate Linux. I once remember a rev WinTroll alert! WinTroll alert! Sorry, I really started to get into this book, but it seems like he mentions either Microsoft or Windows or Bill Gates every five pages. What seemed to be an exploration of new science in the service of economics, has turned into an apologia for a bad operating system (and why we shouldn't try to do anything about it). The author reminds me of some of the smug commentators on Usenet to that I used to tangle with when trying to advocate Linux. I once remember a review of a Charles Kuralt TV series where he roamed America in an RV and did little stories...where smugness filled the vehicle like a pine tree air freshener. The reviewer said that Mr. Kurault "intoned with the satisfaction of a man who had just eaten a very large and filling meal". I don't know if Mr. Shermer eats at the same diner...but it sure seems that way!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shane Westfall

    I wanted to like this book more, but it is just not some of Shermer's best work. It has moments of brilliance and is easy to read, yet has glaring flaws as well. For one, Shermer constantly relies on his past work to fill pages or make an argument. Many a chapter starts with 3-5 pages of the author discussing past work and then spending 2-3 pages trying to tie it to his new thesis. In many ways the book seems disjointed, as if he had a few good essays and decided to pad it out enough to crank ou I wanted to like this book more, but it is just not some of Shermer's best work. It has moments of brilliance and is easy to read, yet has glaring flaws as well. For one, Shermer constantly relies on his past work to fill pages or make an argument. Many a chapter starts with 3-5 pages of the author discussing past work and then spending 2-3 pages trying to tie it to his new thesis. In many ways the book seems disjointed, as if he had a few good essays and decided to pad it out enough to crank out another book. He also throws in virtually every experiment covered in an intro Psyche course, which even the casual reader will recognize as unoriginal. Yeppers, Milgram is in there, the Stanford prison study, Solomon Asch and group-think...an undergrad research paper would need more original data. All that said, its a fun and quick read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Vladimir Grigorov

    Интересна книга, която изследва връзкита между устройството на мозъка, емоциите и икономиката, и техния зародиш в хилядите години еволюция. Първите глави ми се сториха леко повърхностни (не и без помощта на претупаната корица), но нали пък трябва книгата да е достъпна за лаици като мен. Нататък си остава лесна за четене, докато автора излага солидната си теория върху фундаментални въпроси като какво са добродетелите, щастието, доверието, злото... Всяка глава изобилства с много любопитни наблюдени Интересна книга, която изследва връзкита между устройството на мозъка, емоциите и икономиката, и техния зародиш в хилядите години еволюция. Първите глави ми се сториха леко повърхностни (не и без помощта на претупаната корица), но нали пък трябва книгата да е достъпна за лаици като мен. Нататък си остава лесна за четене, докато автора излага солидната си теория върху фундаментални въпроси като какво са добродетелите, щастието, доверието, злото... Всяка глава изобилства с много любопитни наблюдения и експерименти. Само един пример - Майкъл Шърмър дава обяснение защо в ада до казана на българите няма пазач :) Е, неговата постановка е малко по-различна - с няколко маймуни в клетка, които се нахвърлят върху всяка която посегне да вземе закачените на тавана банани.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Macie

    If you've read books or articles by Michael Shermer or heard him talk, a lot of this book will feel very familiar. Michael Shermer loves to discuss the life of Michael Shermer (especially his time on a bike). He cites his own work repeatedly, which gets annoying when you've already read the works being referenced. But, like all of his work, it is a very easy read. He writes in a conversational style and makes complicated subjects very easy to comprehend. I'm not really certain what the primary t If you've read books or articles by Michael Shermer or heard him talk, a lot of this book will feel very familiar. Michael Shermer loves to discuss the life of Michael Shermer (especially his time on a bike). He cites his own work repeatedly, which gets annoying when you've already read the works being referenced. But, like all of his work, it is a very easy read. He writes in a conversational style and makes complicated subjects very easy to comprehend. I'm not really certain what the primary thesis of the book was supposed to be since it covered so many topics but it was interesting and entertaining.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Even

    Good review of behvhioral economics. Occassionally a bit sloppy with language (leading him to seem a bit myopic or oversimplistic) and suffers from the all too common flaw of Panglossianism that exists in behavioral sciences dealing with evolution. I was hoping for some concrete policy/philosophical implications, but it was missing. If Homo economicus is unrealistic, which Shermer aptly demonstrates, there is little in the book that would challange a system built upon the idea. The closest Sherm Good review of behvhioral economics. Occassionally a bit sloppy with language (leading him to seem a bit myopic or oversimplistic) and suffers from the all too common flaw of Panglossianism that exists in behavioral sciences dealing with evolution. I was hoping for some concrete policy/philosophical implications, but it was missing. If Homo economicus is unrealistic, which Shermer aptly demonstrates, there is little in the book that would challange a system built upon the idea. The closest Shermer comes is endorsing libertarian paternalism, a concept that is either banal or contradictory.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    A bit of a mess of a book. It combines economics, psychology, evolution, neuroscience, anthropology, history, religion and libertarianism. The result is a jumble lacking coherence. The chapters didn't seem to be related to each other. The libertarian defence of free trade was particularly random. There some good ideas and experiments discussed, but most of these were very famous and well known, so there little I hadn't already heard.

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