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The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few | [James Surowiecki]

The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few

In this endlessly fascinating book, New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea that has profound implications: large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant. Groups are better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.
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Publisher's Summary

In this endlessly fascinating book, New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea that has profound implications: large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant. Groups are better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.

This seemingly counterintuitive notion has endless and major ramifications for how businesses operate, how knowledge is advanced, how economies are (or should be) organized, and how we live our daily lives. With seemingly boundless erudition and in delightfully clear prose, Surowiecki ranges across fields as diverse as popular culture, psychology, economic behaviorism, artificial intelligence, military history, and political theory to show just how this principle operates in the real world.

Despite the sophistication of his arguments, Surowiecki presents them in a wonderfully entertaining manner. The examples he uses are all down-to-earth, surprising, and fun to ponder. Why is the line in which you're standing always the longest? Why is it that you can buy a screw anywhere in the world and it will fit a bolt bought ten-thousand miles away? Why is network television so awful? If you had to meet someone in Paris on a specific day but had no way of contacting them, when and where would you meet? Why are there traffic jams? What's the best way to win money on a game show? Why, when you walk into a convenience store at 2:00 A.M. to buy a quart of orange juice, is it there waiting for you? What do Hollywood mafia movies have to teach us about why corporations exist?

The Wisdom of Crowds is a brilliant but accessible biography of an idea, one with important lessons for how we live our lives, select our leaders, conduct our business, and think about our world.

©2004 James Surowiecki; (P)2004 Books on Tape

What the Critics Say

"Surowiecki's style is pleasantly informal, a tactical disguise for what might otherwise be rather dense material. He offers a great introduction to applied behavioral economics and game theory." (Publishers Weekly)
"The author has a knack for translating the most algebraic of research papers into bright expository prose..." (The New York Times Book Review)

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  •  
    Jim Twickenham, United Kingdom 27/04/2013
    Jim Twickenham, United Kingdom 27/04/2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
    69
    ratings
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    57
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    Overall
    "All of us are smarter than any of us"

    Some readers seem to feel that Surowiecki stretches this idea further than it really deserves thus leading to some repetition or padding. It didn't feel that way to me. Using genuinely interesting examples the author makes a case for how and why the wisdom of crowds works before going on to clarify the conditions that differentiate this approach from a simple matter of asking a bunch of people what they think and averaging the results. In addition to being just long enough it's also well narrated although the production standards are poor; hence the dropped star. Ten minutes in I no longer noticed the slightly muffled delivery.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Casnewydd, United Kingdom 23/11/2011
    Mark Casnewydd, United Kingdom 23/11/2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    12
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    13
    8
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    2
    0
    Overall
    "Great book -- terrible audio quality"

    This is an excellent book but is let down by the very poor quality of the audio. I downloaded in a high quality format but both parts of the book sounded like old AM radio. A great pity

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    M.J. United Kingdom 23/08/2011
    M.J. United Kingdom 23/08/2011

    Devil's Advocate

    HELPFUL VOTES
    82
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    "Shoot the messenger"

    This book takes an awfully long time to unpack a very simple idea - interesting, persuasive but excessively laboured and wordy. The worst part though is the choice of narrator. Grover Gardner is just plain unbearable, quacking away in a style that destroys the material. Shoot the messanger. Please!

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-3 of 3 results
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  • G Barth
    Cambridge, MA, United States
    12/06/04
    Overall
    "Very worthwhile listen!"

    This audiobook delivers what it promises and then some. James S. starts out with a provocative premise about WISE crowds (honestly, don't we think that most crowds are uninformed, crazy, act like sheep, etc...) and delivers detailed, deep examples of how, darn it, crowds ARE smart given some broad and sensible conditions. But this audiobook touches on much more than crowd psychology: economics, statistics, business, politics, science, history, sports. The range is impressive and endlessly fascinating. Good narration, extremely interesting, I have returned to parts of this audiobook more than once!

    17 of 17 people found this review helpful
  • Nathan
    Boston, MA, USA
    03/08/04
    Overall
    "Excellent"

    A profound examination that seems to tread remarkably close to defining
    a kind of sacred mathmatics for the analysis and interpretation of group dynamics. Surowieki, in his consise and readable style, aggressively upends much of what assume to be true about how we actually do behave in the "crowds" we are participants in, and, how it is that our collective reasoning has both a capacity for stunning intelligence and shocking irrationality.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • O
    Westford, MA, USA
    31/08/05
    Overall
    "Very interesting, with a lot of good insights"

    I have read all the complaints, and all I can say is that, yes, sometimes it did get a bit boring. But never for long. And, in retrospect, the boring parts were difficult but necessary to explain the point the author was making. All points were valid, and everything was backed up by studies. Even when the author was just giving an anecdote, he would then back it up with a study to show relevance.

    I highly recommend this book.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • Roman
    warren, MI, USA
    05/06/04
    Overall
    "An Excellent Read !!!"

    Surowiecki has created a very insightful book that explores group mentality in sociological, psychological and economic areas. The anecdotal examples are interpreted in a thought-provoking, eye- opening manner that was a definite pleasure. Maybe not a "crowd pleaser" but one of the few books I'd listen to again. The narration was also very good and did not bore, even with some of the heavier subject matter. All in all - an excellent read.

    41 of 46 people found this review helpful
  • Iver
    Portland, OR, USA
    17/06/04
    Overall
    "Very solid, but tedious at times."

    The writing is clear, the reading is good, the logic is unassailable, and some of the examples are very interesting. However, I felt that the book spent excessive time explaining
    some conclusions that seemed very intuitive to me. I found the listening a bit tedious at times, perhaps because I have spent the last twelve years working for a large corporation that has implemented a significant number of the book's recommendations for fostering and exploiting the wisdom of crowds.

    28 of 32 people found this review helpful
  • Mitch
    Buena Park, CA, United States
    09/12/04
    Overall
    "One sided point of view"

    The author is really in love with his premises of crowds being smarter than the smartest, qualified individuals. I was skeptical and happy to explore his findings. The disappointment came when all he had to offer was evidence to his thesis. It is great that a crowd can guess almost correctly a number of pebbles in a jar. But let?s not forget that a crowd also voted Hitler into power and supported him for years, with destructive results for that very crowd. French followed Napoleon to Russia with destructive results. The ?Crowd? supported the Russian Communist revolution that resulted in the famine of the 1920 where 20 Million people died?
    To me the wisdom of crowds is still elusive. The author does not seem to touch on any of these examples, and the small scale experiments with students guessing a variable are just not raising to the word ?wisdom? for me.
    Try it on, is a good exercise.

    10 of 11 people found this review helpful
  • Paul
    Wichita, KS, United States
    26/05/05
    Overall
    "The Wisdom of this Book is Grossly Overstated"

    This book is crammed with many interesting anecdotes about the behavior of markets and the average "wisdom" of groups, and some of it actually has a sound connection to the title and premise of the book. However, as I listened further into the book, I became frustrated with the tedious overexplanations that were often poorly connected to supporting the author's premise. There are some interesting anecdotes, such as "academic" studies of irrationality of investment behavior. Other examples are weak, such as an early anecdote about a crowd guessing the dressed weight of a cow. The author claims that the accuracy of the group's average guess demonstrates the crowd is "smarter" more consistently than any "expert", but this ignores the likelihood that inexpert guesses will tend to cancel each other out and then we're left with whether the result of the "crowd" really boils down to simply averaging the guesses of a handful of experts. Many examples in the book simply demonstrate the type of statistical distribution one might encounter in any group, rather than providing insight into "wisdom" of the crowd.

    The best portions of the book deal with the author's categories of group decisions, and some of the pitfalls of small group decision-making. A few suggestions were given for avoiding or minimizing the impact of these pitfalls in small groups, though the treatment was so brief it bordered on being superficial. Still... we're introduced to some interesting ideas on this topic.

    The narrator did an adequate job, and generally made the book easier to listen to despite the tedious nature of the author's descriptions.

    This book may be worth a listen just for the interesting anecdotes, especially if you have little background with group decision-making, economics, markets, and basic statistical principles.

    15 of 17 people found this review helpful
  • Peter
    Wheelers HillAustralia
    20/07/04
    Overall
    "Good theories, too long"

    The books core theories and ideas where interesting, however it could easily have been halved in length. The examples are intresting in there own right, but I thought they got off the topic at times. Overall a good insight into crowds and crowd think, but you could listen to the first 1/2 hour and have most of the ideas in the book.
    Also the sample track is not the same voice as the whole book, just the introduction.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Kaeli
    Irving, TX, USA
    13/01/08
    Overall
    "Could have been better"

    This book started off great. But eventually, his examples got too random. I kept checking my mp3 player to make sure it wasn't on random. On the plus side, this book does an excellent job of explaining when groupthink is a good thing, rather than just painting everything with a broad brush.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Jason Karpeles
    Dallas,TX
    22/09/05
    Overall
    "Interesting book"

    This book and Blink (Gladwell), I believe are related. This book explains how to capture knowledge and Blink explains why it works.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
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