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Risk by Dan Gardner


Who wrote it

Dan Gardner has a M.A. Modern History and BLL and is a senior fellow with the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public Policy and International Affairs. Prior to becoming a New York Times best-selling author he worked as an investigative journalist for the Ottawa Citizen.


What it’s about

The book is an in-depth examination of how we perceive and respond to risk. Gardner’s central premise is “Why are the safest and healthiest people in history living in a culture of fear?” He delves into the psychology of risk, calling out some common biases that lead us to misinterpret our personal level of risk, as well as our lack of statistics skills. “We live in a world of complex information, and if Head doesn’t learn the basics of math, stats, and logic – if it doesn’t know the difference between an increase of 5 percent and an increase of 5 percentage points, or that correlation does not prove causation - it can make bad mistakes.” (pg 31)


There are plenty of examples of risks we face in all aspects of our lives, how we assess them, and what we often get them wrong. Gardner then goes on to show the impact that our responses to these risks have on decision we make in our own lives, as well as decisions made by politicians and leaders based on our (and their) responses to risks. How often have you heard accusations of fear mongering among leaders? Have you noticed how often politicians this past year have responded with policies out of an ‘abundance of caution’? Advertisers and the media are both susceptible to biases in assessing risk, as well as savvy exploiter of those biases. Gardner discusses both of those short-coming in the book and how they further impact our societies perception of risk and our responses to risks.


Why you should read it

My main reason for reading and re-reading this book was to learn more about risk management by understanding how I perceive risk, what influences my perception, and what I can do to assess risks more accurately. The book also provides insights how our perception of risk impacts the way politicians and leaders make decisions in the face of risk. If you thought the reactions to the COVID pandemic seemed chaotic, contradictory and at times illogical this book will give you some insights into how that can happen.


Risk contains a lot of detailed information, on topics that are hard to read about such as cancer, terrorism, and crime. While I found it to be a hard read for me, it was worth the knowledge and understanding I gained about assessing and managing risk.


by Ines Quandel


Photo by Alfons Morales on Unsplash

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