Book Review: Why We Make Mistakes

I have just finished the book:

Hallinan, J. T. (2009). Why we make mistakes: How we look without seeing, forget things in seconds, and are all pretty sure we are way above average. New York: Broadway Books.

This book has a 34 page bibliography. This is important because the author makes extraordinary claims throughout the book. I think he makes his case well with a mixture of peer-reviewed studies and entertaining anecdotes.

He also makes a good case that our society should accept accept human limitations and build in safeguards against the kind of innate errors humans are prone to make. Simple changes such as checklists or better distinguishing between two doses of medication has been proven to save lives. Checklists for tasks and getting more sleep can also greatly improve efficiency.

The book is written for a general audience and keeps the reader’s interest. People who have a deeper, academic bent are advised to mine the previously mentioned 34 page bibliography for many peer-reviewed articles that bolster the author’s case.  There is a decent index to go along with the excellent bibliography.

Author Joe Hallinan has a web site at http://www.whywemakemistakes.com/ that outlines the main themes of his book and provides current examples of human error.

Both the book and the website are worth a look. If you’ve read his book, please leave a comment.

On a personal note, I think I will be more forgiving of my tip-of-tongue errors that that I’ve seen credible research that most people make one a week. Maybe I’ll even learn to change my answers on tests. But that still feels scary even with all the science on its side.

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