I like the book, “Thinking: Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman et al. While reading it, I had the thought that it was a “popular science” distillation of very rigorous research. Which makes sense, because Kahneman et al. are scientists first.. not just some random scientists.. Kahneman won the Nobel prize.. so one can assume he is a Good scientist.. and rigor is one of the hallmarks of a good scientist..
Compare the content and rigor of this book with other books written by non-scientists (Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” comes to mind as an apples-to-apples comparison). I think is safe to say that Blink is far, far more on the “popular science” end of the spectrum in comparison with “Thinking: Fast and Slow”. For the former, the main message is couched in extremely easy language.. the thrust of the message seems almost pre-digested.. but the extent of the author’s diligence is unclear. Therefore, it is not known if the author has indeed surveyed the complete research and/or cherry-picked the research results to fit the narrative of the book (there have been accusations of cherry-picking before. See the ask a korean blog post series).
With Kahneman, it is far easier to believe that the authors have been fastidiously thorough in their research. Yes, the main messages are still distilled and presented in the book, but it also goes into depth about the various experiments that back the conclusions. I think it is safe to say that compared to Blink, Thinking.. is further away from the “popular science” end of the spectrum.
So which book is “better”? Of course, there is no clear answer because it depends on your definition of better. If you are the more consentious type of person who wants an approachable introduction to the science and understand the analysis from experiment to conclusion, then Thinking.. will feel more appealing. If your viewpoint is: “Give me the conclusions in easy language. Make the narrative entertaining and gripping while you are at it. I don’t particularly care about how meticulous you were in your research” then Blink will be more appealing while Thinking.. may even feel a bit dull are repetitive at times. Thus, the evaluation of the books needs to be in context of “superficial, quick, and entertaining” vs “painstaking, deep, and comprehensive”. I think most of the time, readers are stuck in one particular context, without ever realizing it.. and end up panning the book that does not appeal to our context. Thus, to the conscentios reader, Blink may be dismissed as frivolous popular science.. while to the non-scientific reader, Thinking could be unbearably repetitive and stretched out. They won’t understand or care about why the book is crammed with details of the experiments/descriptions from which the conclusions are derived. From that context, here is an interesting review of the book on Amazon
“A brilliant (indeed, Nobel Prize-winning) concept made unbearably tedious by endless case studies. Kahneman going on for over 400 pages about his two systems reminded me strongly of Bernard Shaw’s comment on Darwin:
“If very few of us have read The Origin of the Species from end to end, it is not because it overtaxes our mind, but because we take in the whole case and are prepared to accept it long before we have come to the end of the innumerable instances and illustrations of which the book mainly consists. Darwin becomes tedious in the manner of a man who insists on continuing to prove his innocence after he has been acquitted. You assure him that there is not a stain on his character, and beg him to leave the court; but he will not be content with enough evidence to acquit him: he will have you listen to all the evidence that exists in the world.” Preface to Back to Methuselah, p. xlviii”