A GRAIN OF SALT by Daniel Romm


Why You Must Make Your Own Decisions
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A diverting and quirky guide to the decision-making process, containing a number of personal diatribes on received wisdom.

Romm claims that his book will make you wise. Considering that even Socrates felt it impossible to imbue others with wisdom, this is certainly an ambitious task. The author is at his provocative best when, like Socrates, he serves as a gadfly, stinging us into reexamining thoughtless assumptions. A cerebral type who passed the Ph.D.-qualifying exam in mathematics and has obtained a law degree as well, Romm takes on politics, law, economics and philosophy--as well as theology, life sciences, the scientific method and Einstein's theory of relativity. Often, however, he does not answer his own questions. In the section "Is Smarter Better?," rather than addressing the relative merits of intelligence over stupidity, he launches an attack on so-called "intelligence tests," claiming that they focus too pointedly on speed ("a highly overrated asset"). Likewise, after answering "yes" to the question "Do we have the best legal system in the world?" (without qualifying the statement), Romm devolves into a heavy critique of the criminal justice system. Opposing attorneys, with the permission of judges, he claims, "do everything they can to confuse and bamboozle" juries, rather than helping them do what they ought to: reach a just decision. Still, in "Does it pay to insure?," his critique of the insurance industry is right on target: "Few, if any, businesses have been as profitable as insurance...[it's] a losing investment that appeals particularly to risk-averse people, who constitute the majority of society." These contrarian arguments are supposed to prepare the reader's mind for the principle section of the book, "the key to wisdom"--which ends up a disappointment, especially coming from such a stimulating thinker. Equally frustrating, Romm offers a "Twelve Step Process" for reaching good decisions that includes such obvious measures as keeping an open mind, considering all alternatives, gathering relevant facts, and ranking priorities. The book closes with an appendix that contains two scholarly--but not uninteresting--essays on physics ("Dark Matter as Tachyons") and law ("Pure Risk Theory"). Curiously, though, they have scant relationship to the rest of the book and seem included merely as a means of having them published.

Notwithstanding a few cookie-cutter guidelines for wise decision-making, works best as a provocation of wisdom in the Socratic tradition, a challenge to conventional thinking.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 1-4134-5104-7
Program: Kirkus Indie
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