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Summary

Bloomsbury presents Sway by Pragya Agarwal, read by Aysha Kala.

Included in Stylist Magazine's Guide to 2020's Best Non-Fiction Books.

One of The Bookseller's Editor's Choice picks for April 2020.

Have you ever been told to smile more, been teased about your accent or had your name pronounced incorrectly? If so, you’ve probably already faced bias in your everyday life.

We like to believe that we are all fair-minded and egalitarian, but we all carry biases that we might not even be aware of. We might believe that we live in a post-racial society, but racial tension and inequality is pernicious and pervasive. We might believe that gender inequality is a thing of the past, but it is still ubiquitous.

Unconscious bias has become a frequently used term in our vocabulary, but there are still so many myths around it. For the first time, behavioural scientist, activist and writer Dr Pragya Agarwal unravels the way our implicit or ‘unintentional’ biases affect the way we communicate and perceive the world and how they affect our decision-making, even in life-and-death situations. She takes a unique inter-disciplinary approach combining case studies, personal experience, interviews and real world stories underpinned by scientific theories and research. She covers a wide range of implicit biases in depth, including age-ism, appearance, accents, sexism and aversive racism. Throughout, Pragya answers questions such as: do our roots for prejudice lie in our evolutionary past? What happens in our brains when our biases are activated? How has bias affected technology? If we don’t know about it, are we really responsible for it?

At a time when partisan political ideologies are taking centre stage and we struggle to make sense of who we are and who we want to be, it is crucial that we understand why we act the way we do. This audiobook will enable you to reflect and consider the forces that shape us all, opening your eyes to your own biases in a scientific and non-judgmental way.

©2020 Pragya Agarwal (P)2020 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Critic reviews

"An important look at one of the issues facing Western society today. This book exposes the insidiousness of unconscious bias and offers us a way to change the way we think that is practical, useful, readable and essential for the times we are living in. You need to read this book and think about the way you live and how you view others." (Nikesh Shukla, author and editor of The Good Immigrant, screenwriter and fellow of the Royal Society of Literature)

"If you think you don't need to read this book, you really need to read this book." (Jane Garvey, presenter, BBC Radio 4)

"An exhaustive, brilliantly researched survey of bias and how it seeps so easily into our everyday thoughts and actions. An eye-opening book that I hope will be widely read." (Angela Saini, science journalist and author of Superior and Inferior)

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I had hoped for more

When the books discusses unconscious bias it is interesting. When it strays into social justice territory it quickly gets tedious. Also tedious are the author's personal anecdotes about encountering racism in university departments, as if all departments are like this. It also had me wondering where she studied - and when. I could hardly believe the remarks that people are alleged to have said to her. Perhaps they did, but it is not indicative of higher education in general. Instances of cherry-picking the data also stood out. For example, a claim is made that a stereotype of Chinese males perpetuated in movies is that they are effeminate. Offered as evidence are "Fu Manchu" and "Charlie Chan", characters from movies made some 80 years ago, while more recent examples of Chinese males portrayed in cinema - as hyper-masculine in many instances - such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Yun Fat, are completely ignored. Surely an example of confirmation bias (ironically, confirmation bias is mentioned in the book). If you read, or listen to, this you'll also become aware of the endless hedging, e.g. can, could, might etc, in the paragraphs. Usually a good thing, in that conclusions are not being given with 100% certainty. Here some of it feels like a desperate stretch, like someone rolling out dough until eventually it's so thin the holes start to show. This seems to be a thing with academics, reaching for possibilities no matter how remote they might be. On the whole, I remain interested in the subject matter, although I'm hoping I will find it less seemingly agenda-driven and better handled elsewhere.

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Interesting

This wasn't actually what I was after, but after I'd started, I got hooked and saw it through until the end. Sway is very academic and maybe more suited to someone coming to this from a research angle, rather than a casual reader. Covers our biases of race, sex, age and even accents. Very interesting section on how social media and A.I are amplifying the existing biases.
(Just in case anyone from the publishers reads this the epilogue seems to be repeated twice)

4 people found this helpful

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Bored

wanted to learn about bias but this book is just too much, too complicated and dull

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Every human should read this!!

So many insights, facts, helpful references...
I work in Talent Acquisition and provide (basic) training on Unconscious Bias as part of Hiring best practice. This book gave me such inspiration in that regard, but equally important for life in general!! Certainly worth investing your time in listening. I’m sure I’ll be revisiting some if not all on a fairly regular basis (until I can rattle off the stats and examples in an instant!). Oh and also really appreciated it being so up to date, this made a huge difference to many of the references.

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Mostly good. Let down by feminist ideology.

Struggled to finish. It is quite astonishing how the social sciences continue to assert that there are no innate gender differences. She mentions a quite extensive list of psychological, scientific and medical disciplines that have shown empirically that there are many differences between males and females, she then counters these claims by calling them sexist.

It is essentially feminist activism and ideology over empirical evidence.

1 person found this helpful

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A relief!

This book is a must read, and an opportunity to understand how others see you, but more importantly how you see others.

1 person found this helpful

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Thought provoking

I thoroughly enjoyed the book.it provoked my understanding of unconscious bias.
I loved it

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Fascinating

What an enlightening read! This book is extremely well researched, giving detailed insight into all manner of biases and how they affect both ourselves and those around us.
I would have liked a little more expansion on how we can use all this knowledge to effect positive change. The book goes into a lot of detail on the evidence for bias but offers less in the way of practical examples (though there are anecdotes from the author’s experiences which are very useful). Perhaps a follow up book isneeded!

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Eyes Open

This book has a fundamentally important message. The world is not as it seems. If you believe the hype, if you think you understand the essence of others by looking at their racial, ethnic or gender characteristics. Then you are wrong. A great read for anybody who wants to understand the nature of humans and our experience of one another.

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A great book!

I found myself buying a hard copy of the book so I follow the content better and highlight and make notes. This is a well researched, brilliantly informative and surprising easy to follow book. I personally liked all the footnotes because they answered my queries around where the information was taken from and I will be looking some of them up to read in full where possible. This was a extremely thought provoking book that made me reflect on how I do things and that in my view is always positive.

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  • Diesel Monkey
  • 24-12-20

Ok

The book started off great and ended weak. Overall it was ok. I felt like she could have done a better job digging deeper down into each bias. She just skimmed the top

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  • Murdocc
  • 24-10-20

one of the most important books I've ever read.

this is a book that should be required listening or reading for everyone on the planet. we are all biased, every one of us. the science and data shared in this book provide plenty of proof. it's up to us to accept that and to work within that system to improve it. denial of the facts is a chronic condition in our society. we need to accept these implicit biases or else we cannot move forward as a species.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 13-05-20

We are all biased and have to dig deeper to get better

A wonderful exhaustive book about the research behind unconscious bias. We have so much work ahead of us. Recommended for anyone who es ya to understand implicit bias more. Would have liked more info at the end about tips to deal with the biases.

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  • Amar Dave
  • 27-06-22

The most influential book ever ! I go through it again and again.

This book made me aware of my Owen biases as well as biases of any given society where one lives in. A must read for every one.

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  • E. Wakeman
  • 15-06-21

good review

If you are unfamiliar with the literature on unconscious bias, this is an excellent resource.