The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
‘We are all but a product of our choices’, is something that we all have heard sometime somewhere. We usually agree with it, but I am not sure how well we understand this. Sheena Iyengar, an expert on the subject of ‘Choices’ brings to you the various dimensions of choices in our lives.
She talks about how we deal with choices, how many choices we want inherently, how not having a choice makes us miserable as much as having too many choices do, how our cultural backgrounds impact the choices we make and how we deal with the choices others make for us, how sometimes we prefer not to have a choice and just about everything around choices.
The book has been written in a storytelling manner that begins with author’s own family, when she talks about her parents getting married to someone who their respective families chose, and not questioning that choice and how that was relevant for them. Then there are lots of stories, some from Sheena’s own life and some from the experiments that she did over a period of time. And I must admit that she is a fine storyteller and knows how to keep her readers engaged through the right mix of stories and knowledge sharing. I guess she must be a very multi-faceted person, as she chooses people for her study from wide angle. She talks about impact of religion on choices, including going to an astrologer to figure out how they impact choices and why people feel comfortable going to them. They basically help people choose, when they have multiple choices specially the big ones like marriage.
Sheena shares the famous Jam study that she had done as a student to conclude that ‘though we may be drawn to more choices, but when we have to choose we prefer a small set of choices’. She takes you through the wide variety of choices, small and big and in various facets of life. Sometimes choices can be as simple as choosing a flavor from the dozen available and sometimes as difficult as choosing to let or not let a family member die, and everything in between. She talks about choices that may have a short term impact on us, like not choosing the right dish at the restaurant and sometimes for the rest of your life like choosing a life partner.
At one place she touched upon my favorite topic ‘Innovation’ and how invention is nothing but a set or combination of right choices. I am intrigued by this statement and would like to explore it further.
It is not just difficult, but impossible to believe that Sheena can not see. She brings colors and places so vividly across for you, that you wonder how someone who has not seen it in first person can write so explicitly. Her descriptions of places almost make the scene come alive before your eyes. She mentions her blindness in the beginning of the book and once or twice after that, but then no where she seems to be restricted by it, as if she had made the choice not to be.
I loved reading the book; it had a bit of everything that I look for in a book. A lot of knowledge about ‘Choices’ that I did not know, and was presented in a manner that anyone can understand though based on solid research. It had stories that kept me engaged. There are no prescriptions in the book that tell you what to do and what not to in a given situation. What it provides you with is an understanding of Choices and how we take decisions, without any preaching. Each chapter began with a question that most people can relate to and ended with potential answers to that question. It had a bit of author in it in a way that by the end of the book you feel you know her. When authors keep themselves away from the book, they make the book too dry for the readers. There is that ‘Ras’ in the book that keeps you with the author all the time. Chapters are interestingly named and keep you curious.
It is a book written by an expert for non-experts, so people who are versed in the subject may not find many new things. For others, it is a brilliant book, a must read to help you understand how you make choices and how those choices make you.
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