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Algorithms to Live By

The Computer Science of Human Decisions
Narrated by: Brian Christian
Length: 11 hrs and 50 mins
4.4 out of 5 stars (1,808 ratings)

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Summary

A fascinating exploration of how computer algorithms can be applied to our everyday lives, helping to solve common decision-making problems and illuminate the workings of the human mind.

All our lives are constrained by limited space and time, limits that give rise to a particular set of problems. What should we do, or leave undone, in a day or a lifetime? How much messiness should we accept? What balance of new activities and familiar favorites is the most fulfilling? These may seem like uniquely human quandaries, but they are not: computers, too, face the same constraints, so computer scientists have been grappling with their version of such problems for decades. And the solutions they've found have much to teach us.

In a dazzlingly interdisciplinary work, acclaimed author Brian Christian and cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths show how the simple, precise algorithms used by computers can also untangle very human questions. They explain how to have better hunches and when to leave things to chance, how to deal with overwhelming choices and how best to connect with others. From finding a spouse to finding a parking spot, from organizing one's inbox to understanding the workings of human memory, Algorithms to Live By transforms the wisdom of computer science into strategies for human living.

©2016 Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths (P)2016 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved.

What listeners say about Algorithms to Live By

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Simply delightful

Fantastic listen. Lot's of concepts to digest but you'll find at least one useful and useful in your everyday being. The simplicity of the rendition and linkage to everyday life means you don't even need a college education to follow this and learn a thing or two about life. It made me reflect on how we all have a tendency to be sure or certain of things that are far from certain, in a world that is so much more complicated than we could imagine. From choosing a spouse to sorting out our wardrobes, the book links human cognition and intuition to mathematically proven concepts while admitting the limitations of many so-called intellectual truths that we hold. In the end, it says, to me at least: "don't grieve about the past, learn from it; don't worry about the future, make the best preparations you can for it and in between, just be yourself".

7 people found this helpful

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Delightful insights into and from computer science

The authors set out to provide insights from computer science to help in your everyday life - how long to search before committing to your flat or wife, how to organise your closet to find your favourite clothes quickly, how to schedule interruptions and context switches to make your to-do list disappear faster. However, they also do a great job of sketching out the challenges that the wunderkinder at Google or Amazon solve everyday in their unending quest to make our lives better and richer and easier.

Written by two computer scientists the prose is limpidly clear. Their logically trained minds cannot tolerate any ambiguity in a sentence - which makes the book above averagely readable, despite fairly sophisticated material.

Narration. Sort of apt - read very clearly and melodiously by one of the authors (who thus understands the material), at exactly the correct speed for comprehension (I bet Christian researched this and timed himself). A little bit like an AI machine might narrate...

35 people found this helpful

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Great and practical concepts, too much theory

The concepts, parallels anf conclusions are very good, but the background and introductions are a bit too long. The book could be some 36% shorter.

31 people found this helpful

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One of the most educational and fun books I've read

A great book from start to finish.
Every chapter has a great balance of computer science and its application to human life alongside a healthy dose of history.

The first book I've heard in audio that proved too good not to buy a readable version for reference.

Please write a follow up!

15 people found this helpful

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Interesting Overview on Algorithms

What made the experience of listening to Algorithms to Live By the most enjoyable?

The story's about the scientist using their knowledge in daily life.

What did you like best about this story?

It is not a story but a facts book. I liked the the clear presentation.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

Enjoy is not the right word, I took most out of how one might handle a drug addict relative.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Because of the title I expected to take out more practical advice out of the book, but that was not the case to the extend I had hoped for.

Any additional comments?

I think the title is a bit misleading. Maybe. A history of Algorithms in Computer Science spiced with anecdotes about the scientist is more to the point.

18 people found this helpful

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A superb listen, fascinating and enlightening

This is the first time i have been moved to write a review for a book I have listened to, I always rate them but have not felt the need to comment before.

This book is different - I found this to be a fascinating listen and, whilst some will look at the subject matter and perhaps feel it doesn't appeal to them, I would urge anyone to listen to it as it relates to almost everyone's lives in some way.

The pace of this book is perfect, it starts with simple sorting and searching but accelerates through several other areas, inceasing the interest as it goes.
It explains in simple to understand language without dumbing down the premise it is explaining - even though some of the concepts are quite complex, the explanations are always easy to follow.

Whilst the narrator is no actor, his voice is reasonably pleasant, combined with his knowledge and obvious enthusiasm for the subject mean his presentation is easy on the ears.

There are a few points of humour (see favourite quote below) and there are several places where I found it related exactly to scenarios I have found myself in - 'thrashing' being an example (I won't ruin the surprise as to what that refers to, but i would be surprised if a lot of people didn't relate to it.)

Favourite quote of a quote from the book : "if you are flammable and have legs, you are never blocking a fire escape"

Brilliant book and i will definitely be listening to it again.

14 people found this helpful

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Your problems have already been solved!

Most problems you struggle with, have already been solved. Read this and get inspired, and maybe find a few new solutions, you'll also find that you're already smarter than you realise.

7 people found this helpful

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Computer science as easy as pop culture

Take ordinary questions, some seemingly mundane, and try to scale them past matching socks to matching preferences to Netflix selections and you have a computer science set of priorities laid out in layman's terms.

4 people found this helpful

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Why good people get it wrong

If you've ever felt the odd one out; ever doubted your decisions; always seemed to go against the herd out of compassion, only to see them right: here is your redemption. A book implicitly about the Buddhist conundrum: Why bad things happen to good people (or, why good people get it wrong).

30 people found this helpful

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very repetitive and boring.

the author speaks about secretary tbeory, which can be summarised in few sentences. absolutely boring

1 person found this helpful

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  • Michael D. Busch
  • 03-10-16

Loved this book!

The authors take us on an easy-to-understand grand tour of the science of computer algorithms — stopping, sorting, caching, predicting, game theory, and much more — and then do a marvelous job of explaining The application of these algorithms to the most mundane problems of everyday human experience — parking, dating, remembering, playing poker, etc. A tour de force! I enjoyed it greatly, and recommended it to several friends.

42 people found this helpful

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  • Megan Carr
  • 31-01-18

How do you prioritize when everything is top priority? I have an answer now.

Have you ever had the inevitable interview question about how you prioritize so many different things when everything needs to be done right now? I am a “non traditional” med student with a background in business and real estate. I’ve been on my fair share of interviews and am currently rotating through clinical interviews. I have heard at least some version of this exact question in every interview I’ve had in both medicine and the business world. My most recent interviewer said they had never heard someone put so much thought into an answer after I decided to answer given the theorems described in the chapter on prioritizing. 😂 I have gained a much better understanding of many different theorems used from computer algorithms to economics and how they can be used to optimize my own decisions. It was an enlightening read.

117 people found this helpful

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  • Marcy N.
  • 23-10-17

diamonds among the brickwork

I persevered to the end and I'm glad that I did. This is definitely a book for people who understand computers and math, which is not my strong suit. However, what i could understand was very interesting and gave me many points to think about regarding human interactions.

69 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-12-19

tone-deaf

Listener, I wanted to like this book, or at least find it useful. Within two chapters, I resigned. First a word on misogyny. It’s one thing to place a classic mathematical riddle within context, but another to perpetuate the sexist cliches. In the discussion of the secretary puzzle, there is no reason in this century to solely and exclusively refer to the secretaries as female. Enough. Next, let us discuss banalities, or rather, using a puzzle, especially designed to narrow and simplify a complex issue with the aim to bully another profession. Of course we are discussing the parking puzzle. At the onset, I hoped for some insight, some new way of considering an ongoing challenge to public and private sector planners. Land planning is complex and hyper-local. Instead of an acknowledgement in that direction, or some acumen towards developing new solutions, the authors took a sanctimonious jab at municipal planners, quipping that those professionals need to remember that it’s more complicated than the narrow parameters of the puzzle. No Kidding. Finally, a note on when not to introduce humor. I hope that we can agree that even if we think that oligarchy is not our favorite governmental style or business practice, that a person is still a human. The story of the oligarch may be an irresistible cautionary tale for quitting-while-ahead, but joking that the apparent suicide victim may have instead been murdered is a pretty distasteful way to initiate sense of humor. I chose not to complete this book.

31 people found this helpful

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  • Aaron P.
  • 11-03-19

HEARTLESS

I have 10 hours left of this book left to listen too, and so far, this book comes across completely heartless and off-putting. It is everything that is WRONG with corporate America and today's business world. I knew, just by the title that it was going to be a book about making decisions based on math and logic, but the author COMPLETELY takes all the "human" out of the decision making process, at least so far in the beginning of the book. I'm sorry, but if you go with the author's summation of a 37% decision making threshold in the decision making process of whom you employ just about anyone will usually make the right decision. Hell, even if you intuitively choose the person and didn't know about this percentage at the start the hiring manager will do just a well in their decision making process... I can pretty much guarantee it. It is simply insane that this book has so many high reviews... and the narration is borrowing as hell! The dude sounds like he is sleeping at the wheel. Dry and boring, monotone, much like a bad computer voice... ugh. How are these reviews so high?????? AND, it's not complicated at all. It's simple math. It's simple deductive logic based reasoning! And I went to Art School. This book is frustrating.

24 people found this helpful

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  • M
  • 10-10-16

Not Just Computer Science

This fascinating and entertaining book discusses several famous decision problems that I would not necessarily call computer science problems: “The Secretary Problem” (optimal stopping), “The Multi-Armed Bandit Problem”, “Bayes’s Lottery/Laplace’s Sunrise Problem”, "The Prisoner's Dilemma". and “The Traveling Salesman Problem". It also discusses merge-sort, caching, and the Least-Recently-Used (LRU) principle, which do seem more like computer science. This may sound dry, but it isn't! The authors sprinkle in anecdotes, short biographical sketches, and quotations that keep things fresh and interesting. I also own the Kindle edition, which has some useful figures, tables, and notes, but this works fine as an audiobook. Any equations are relegated to the notes. One of the authors, Brian Christian, reads it well.

83 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-10-16

Beware non-techies

I have a hard time grasping computer science, statistics and the like. So, I did not follow the narrator's explanations very well. But I did like hearing the results of his stories. I listened to the whole book even though I probably only understood 20% of it. The narrator had a nice voice and that made it easy for me to keep listening.

152 people found this helpful

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  • Hobbit Taz
  • 07-10-16

I will Re-Read this one!

What made the experience of listening to Algorithms to Live By the most enjoyable?

I Don't normally write reviews on books and movies - but this one I started promoting to fellow workers before I was 1/2 way through it. It was a really interesting way to look at everyday life tasks and the methods used for best results based in mathematical and computer Algorithm theorems (but explaining in everyday non-mathematical ways). I will have to read again myself.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I think taking the book in small portions (a chapter at a time - listening to it a couple times even if you miss following a portion). Allow the material to soak in and measure it against your everyday activities to best decide which of the Algorithms to best apply to your (or I found in some cases explained what I was already doing).

Any additional comments?

On a Side note if you are like me and deal with computers / numbers / and other such detail oriented thinking you probably are aware of some or many of the algorithms mentioned, but it was interesting to see them applied to everyday activities.

122 people found this helpful

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  • Adam Hosman
  • 07-08-17

Great listen, just don't expect tips!

Spoiler: the conclusion of many chapters is that your intuition is better than any current algorithm. Therefore, I wouldn't buy this book for tips. If you're smart, your intuition is already better, and if you're stupid, you're not going to understand the concepts anyway. However, I enjoyed the book as a fascinating exploration into how the mind works optimally, and liked putting words to the things I’m already just doing.

130 people found this helpful

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  • Sean
  • 24-07-16

Accessible and engaging

I have an engineering background, but little formal computer science training. The text felt approachable for a general audience and the authors weave in some good stories. I was familiar with the topics on probability, randomness and optimization, yet found valuable new insights. Recommended to anyone with an interest in computing, algorithms and decision making.

99 people found this helpful