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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 members say

Average customer ratings

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    5 out of 5 stars
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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...

21 of 25 people found this review 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.

20 of 24 people found this review helpful

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How to make your life as predictable as possible..

I couldn't get beyond more than two hours of this. Even if the message was profound the narration is dull, which is asking for failure when the competition is so strong.

I think this is aimed at twenty-somethings or fresh graduates who don't have much confidence or life experience to inform their judgement. The impression it leaves me with is essentially suggesting you reduce every important decision you make into a (yawn) equation.

The dating advice is utterly cringeworthy. If you meet a woman using the advice from this book, if she has any sense she'll probably run a mile when she discovers the advice herein.

Seriously, rather than listen to this and learn to become a robot, just get out there and connect with people. You'll learn the lessons within anyway, and they'll be reinforced by emotion which is how humans learn and remember. This is a concept that this book appears to overlook.

I know it may sound like harsh criticism given the expectations the title raises, but as someone interested in decision theory, I thought I'd find this interesting. I could listen to the end and find out why it's rated as highly as other audiobooks I've loved.

This criticism is not of the author(s), it is of the work. If the author(s) worked on the presentation and engagement, and did more interesting research, maybe I'll look again.

7 of 8 people found this review 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!

11 of 13 people found this review 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.

13 of 16 people found this review 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 of 9 people found this review 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.

8 of 11 people found this review 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).

28 of 40 people found this review 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.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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brilliant!

A fascinating topic with lessons for everyday life and complex ideas were presented elegantly and clearly. one of my favourite audible books. Explore or exploit? Optimising decision making. How to design better outcomes are just a few of the ideas explored.

5 of 7 people found this review 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.

73 of 78 people found this review 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.

68 of 73 people found this review 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.

31 of 33 people found this review 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.

6 of 6 people found this review 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.

86 of 98 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 22-09-16

Really Good

I really enjoyed this book all the way through. After listening, I feel like more mentally efficient and organized. The chapter in caching was especially helpful for organizing myself a bit better. Highly recommend.

50 of 57 people found this review helpful

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  • GH
  • 01-05-16

Absolute Must Listen

If you are into computers, this book is a must, and if you are not, it is still very interesting. You get to hear about numerous different algorithms that affect our daily lives in a unique and interesting narrative. This book is written by authorities. One of the authors is an accomplished Professor and the other an extremely accomplished author.

This book seeks to shed light on the various algorithms that shape our lives that computer science has in many cases solved. This books does not have equations or heavy theory so lay-listeners are safe, but there is enough meat on the bone for us folks in the biz something to chew on. Give it a listen.

130 of 151 people found this review helpful

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  • Stephen Redlack
  • 15-09-16

Highly recommended

Narration is good.
Ideas presented are both intriguing and actionable, especially if you already have an engineering or process improvement mindset.
Great for managers, game players and people who understand the value of data-backed decision making.

44 of 52 people found this review helpful

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  • Wayne
  • 07-10-16

Algorithm: The set of steps to accomplish a task

A recipe is an algorithm used in cooking. Remember the 2005 - 2010 CBS TV program NUMB3RS where math professor Charlie Epps solved all of the FBI crime issues for his FBI agent brother Don using math algorithms? Charlie had algorithms for everything. My problem with that program was that they never defined the word algorithm resulting in many viewers believing it was hocus pocus rather than the solid science it really is . This book does a better job of definition as it applies to computers then provides numerous real world helpful examples. It is a marvelous book! But I down rate it to 4 stars because (1) the authors make several errors which they say will be corrected in the paperback and (2) they use several terms without definition such as "factorial" and "polynomial" which are not part of the vocabulary of many potential listeners.

83 of 100 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • 31-05-16

Excellent

Gave a good account on the role of algorithms and its reflection on human behavior. The maths are succinctly explained without having to resort to pen and paper. Great inspirational book.

45 of 54 people found this review helpful