The Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less, by Barry Schwartz
This is a book that disappointed me. There are a lot of things about this particular book that are worthwhile insights, but at the same time the perspective of the book is one that has a lot of unacceptable elements because of its political worldview. Even books that manage to say something useful are problematic when they are written with the sort of blinkered anti-capitalistic mindset of the author and others of his ilk, and that makes it hard for those who recognize the author’s worldview errors to attempt to parse out what is worthwhile from what is obviously not. This is a problem of some seriousness, and though this book can (obviously) not be wholeheartedly recommended, there are at least some worthwhile things that a skillful and critical reader can appreciate from the author’s discussion of the way that satisficing can lead to a great deal more contentment than the uncritical acceptance of more and more choices to consider that only lead people to increase their fear of missing out on something better without recognizing the opportunity costs of seeking perfect information before making various choices in a world where perfect knowledge is simply not available.
This particular book is a bit less than 250 pages of text and is divided into four parts and 11 chapters. The author begins with a prologue that discusses the road map for the book as a whole. After that the first part of the book looks at what happens when we choose, with chapters on shopping (1) and the new choices faced by people that did not have to be faced by previous generations (2). After that there is a discussion of how we choose, with chapters on deciding and choosing (3) as well as what we do when only the best will do (4). The third part of the book looks at why we suffer from too many choices, with chapters on the relationship between choice and happiness (5), which turns out to have a certain optimum level that our society often goes far beyond, the problem of missed opportunities when there are too many choices to investigate them fully (6), the problem of regret (7), the problem of adaptation by which we become less grateful for the benefits of what we already have (8), the problem of why everything suffers from comparison (9), and the question of whose fault the relationship between choice, disappointment, and depression is (10). the fourth part of the book discusses what we can do about choice (11), after which the book ends with notes and an index.
How are ways this book could have been better? Given the subject matter, it is clear that a lot of the insights this book has to offer could have been easily managed by someone writing from a sound biblical perspective. There are insights that can be drawn from scriptures pointing out the importance of developing an attitude of gratitude, showing a sense of contentment for what God has given us, heeding the reminder of the importance of being faithful to our commitments and not always seeking something that seems better, and avoiding the folly of comparing ourselves among ourselves. None of these insights require a sense of hostility towards those business that offer us an insane number of choices when we go to the supermarket or check our social media accounts looking for dates, but they do require recognizing the way that insights can come even from those whose perspective limits the depth they are able to understand of the matters they are writing about. This is a book that could have been better, but it would have required the writer to be more interested in timeless truths than trendy namedropping of other writers and researchers.