Written by Joseph T. Hallinan, “Why We Make Mistakes,” is a clear and well written look into some of the inner workings of the human mind. While he does devote one small chapter at the end to advise us on how to make fewer mistakes, that is not the main concern of the book. So if you are thinking of buying it as a simple fix to improve your averages, don’t. It will take a little more work to ferret out the advice that is implicit in the whole of the text.
The secondary title for the book is: “How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We are Way Above Average.” And the book delivers on the promise to explain these things.
Joseph Hallinan has been a newspaper reporter for more than two decades. He writes that he has made a small hobby of collecting stories about errors people have made. He says his favorite comes from his home-town paper, the Chicago Sun-Times. It involved an incident in the village of St. Brides, in South Wales. A mob of angry people attacked and vandalized the office of a prominent children’s doctor, because they had confused the word “pediatrician” with the word “pedophile.” I would have to guess this was a case of looking without seeing.
The book is full of clinical study information that is presented in an interesting manner and not at all boring. He gives the reader lots of facts that I found to be fascinating and quite memorable. For example, my favorite color to wear is black; it’s so easy to accessorize around. But teams that wear black uniforms are penalized significantly more than average. Good thing I’m not into team sports. There is also this: most people who change their answers on a test improve their test scores; which is the exact opposite of what my mother always told me. And while talking about the fallacy of multi-tasking, he has this to say: “Workplace studies have found it takes up to fifteen minutes for us to regain a deep state of concentration after a distraction such as a phone call.” He makes the point that a significant cause of mistakes is related to our perceptions of the world around us and our perceptions of ourselves. I found this book to be all together quite enjoyable.
The book is only 283 pages and that includes the acknowledgements, references, bibliography and index. It goes quickly, but deserves a second look because the information is so dense. I will probably read it again and see what I missed the first time around. Hey, I’m not perfect. I make mistakes and will probably continue to do so. After all, as Hallinan points out, it’s in our nature.