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The Wisdom Of Crowds


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* * Review round-up coverage anticipated across the national press * Submitted for trade promotions * Reading copies available

About the Author

James Surowiecki is a columnist for the NEW YORKER. This is his first book.


While our culture generally trusts experts and distrusts the wisdom of the masses, New Yorker business columnist Surowiecki argues that "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them." To support this almost counterintuitive proposition, Surowiecki explores problems involving cognition (we're all trying to identify a correct answer), coordination (we need to synchronize our individual activities with others) and cooperation (we have to act together despite our self-interest). His rubric, then, covers a range of problems, including driving in traffic, competing on TV game shows, maximizing stock market performance, voting for political candidates, navigating busy sidewalks, tracking SARS and designing Internet search engines like Google. If four basic conditions are met, a crowd's "collective intelligence" will produce better outcomes than a small group of experts, Surowiecki says, even if members of the crowd don't know all the facts or choose, individually, to act irrationally. "Wise crowds" need (1) diversity of opinion; (2) independence of members from one another; (3) decentralization; and (4) a good method for aggregating opinions. The diversity brings in different information; independence keeps people from being swayed by a single opinion leader; people's errors balance each other out; and including all opinions guarantees that the results are "smarter" than if a single expert had been in charge. Surowiecki's style is pleasantly informal, a tactical disguise for what might otherwise be rather dense material. He offers a great introduction to applied behavioral economics and game theory. Agent, Chris Calhoun. (On sale May 18) Forecast: While armchair social scientists (e.g., readers of The Tipping Point) will find this book interesting, college economics, math, statistics and finance students could really profit from spending time with Surowiecki. National author promos and print ads will attract buyers. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

'A bright and lucid columnist for the NEW YORKER...[Surowiecki] knows how to make a convincing, sometimes entertaining case' SUNDAY TIMES * 'Erudite and entertaining...he has a rare gift for combining rigorous thought with entertaining examples' FINANCIAL TIMES * 'Dazzling...will turn your world upside down. It's an adventure story, a manifesto, and the most brilliant book on business, society and everyday life that I've read in years' Malcolm Gladwell, author of THE TIPPING POINT * 'A handsome addition to the books that combine the verve of smart magazine writing with a whiff of academia ...a fantastically stylish counter to the expert-knows-best line...an offbeat argument for democracy. In the future, "crowd pleaser" might no longer be such a half-hearted compliment' GQ * 'Lightly written, well-argued and deftly assembled...intelligent, engaging and provocative' HERALD.

According to Surowiecki, the "simple but powerful truth" at the heart of his book is that "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them." Surowiecki, a staff writer for the Financial Page of The New Yorker, analyzes the concept of collective wisdom and applies it to various areas of the social sciences, including economics and politics. The author examines three kinds of problems involved in collective wisdom: cognition, or problems with definite solutions; coordination, where members of a group figure out how to coordinate their behavior with one another; and cooperation, involving getting self-centered individuals to work together. Part 1 studies the three problems (cognition, coordination, and cooperation) and the factors it takes for the crowd to be wise (diversity, dependence, and a specific type of decentralization). Part 2 contains case studies illustrating both success and failure of collective intelligence. Surowiecki also draws upon studies and works of past theorists of collective intelligence, including Charles Mackay's landmark Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. This work is an intriguing study of collective intelligence and how it works in contemporary society. Recommended for larger public and academic library collections.-Lucy Heckman, St. John's Univ. Lib., Jamaica, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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