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The Wisdom of Crowds

James Surowiecki writes for the New Yorker and this book reads like it was expanded from a New Yorker article, which it was. Nothing wrong with that, but it just means it’s a certain type of book, like many of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. The basic premise is this: collating, combining and even sometimes averaging the problem solving abilities of a group of people nets better solutions to problems than the ideas of any one person, even the smartest person, in a group. The rest of the book is just details, experimental data, and “how this applies in real life” sorts of anecdotes. Surowiecki talks about the stock market, the Columbia explosion [in a particularly chilling chapter which could be entitled “how NOT to solve problems] and the idea of tipping. He shows how in many cases the economically "rational” solution to a problem is not the one that people select, and discusses why and how they make the choices that influence their lives. This book is strongest when it’s recounting interesting experiments in sociology, group behavior, and best-case business planning. Surowiecki has a great ability to look at things that don’t work and say “this is broken” in a way that isn’t threatening and/or whiny. The book is weakest when it starts getting all philosophical about human nature and fills pages with discussion of stock market dynamics. Like many books that are expanded New Yorker articles, this one could have probbably been 25% shorter and still packed the same punch.