Being Wrong

Adventures in the Margin of Error

Kathryn Schulz

Published: 2 June 2011
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 416 pages
ISBN: 9781846270741


Being wrong is an inescapable part of being alive. And yet we go through life tacitly assuming (or loudly insisting) that we are right about nearly everything - from our political beliefs to our private memories, from our grasp of scientific fact to the merits of our favourite team. Being Wrong looks at why this conviction has such a powerful grip on us, what happens when this conviction is shaken, and how we interpret the moral, political and psychological significance of being wrong. Drawing on philosophies old and new and cutting-edge neuroscience, Schulz offers an exploration of the allure of certainty and the necessity of fallibility in four main areas: in religion (when the end of the world fails to be nigh); in politics (where were those WMD?); in memory (where are my keys?); and in love (when Mr or Ms Right becomes Mr or Ms Wrong).

About the author

Image of Kathryn Schulz

Kathryn Schulz has written for a number of US publications from Rolling Stone to the New York Times, on subjects as varied as right-wing film festivals to the impact of antidepressant use on Japanese culture. In 2004 she was awarded a Pew Fellowship in International Journalism. This is her first book. More about the author


Being Wrong is full of fascinating stories and quirky pieces of research in the manner of Malcolm Gladwell, but Schulz interprets all her research from a Jamesian viewpoint, where "truth" is not something free-standing, but a function of the way humans interact with the world. Her insight is to recognise that this all-too contingent definition of "truth" is unsettling: we want truth to be written on stone rather than sand’ Nicholas Blincoe



‘A brilliant book with a sweeping grasp of philosophy and physics and all points in between.’ Bill Clinton

‘A brilliant new manifesto urging us to reassess our relationship with our own mistakes ... Since reading Schulz's book, I have been trying harder to train myself to think systematically about my own mistakes’ Johann Hari

‘A compelling meditation on the human condition. By combining personal stories with research into learning and memory, Schulz exposes psychological tricks we play on ourselves when we cling to beliefs in the face of evidence’

‘A compelling meditation on the human condition. By combining personal stories with research into learning and memory, Schulz exposes the psychological tricks we play on ourselves when we cling to beliefs in the face of the evidence.’ Jo Marchant

‘A luminously intelligent investigation of our propensity to error ... Being Wrong may be one of the most important books published for many years. It may seem paradoxical to try to see aright our universal, inveterate tendency to be wrong, but Schulz succeeds brilliantly. This sobering and yet liberating inquiry could make a major dent on the stupidity of the world.’ Raymond Tallis

‘A real find, Schulz's book is a funny and philosophical meditation on why error is mostly a humane, courageous and extremely desirable human trait. She flies high in the intellectual skies, leaving beautiful sunlit contrails. God isn't her co-pilot; Iris Murdoch seems to be’

‘An insightful and delightful discussion of the errors of our ways - why we make mistakes, why we don't know we are making them and what we do when recognition dawns ... Schulz is the patient naturalist who carefully examines the nasty little miracles the rest of us so eagerly discard.’ Daniel Gilbert

‘Firmly in the Gladwellesque genre of applying savvy journalistic technique to produce an insight into something that probably should have been obvious but we didn't really think about until the author teased it out ... Some of the best parts of the book - and the most disquieting - are those that show how badly our own minds can let us down when it comes to memory.’ Hugh Carnegy

‘In this lovely book about human mistakes the sickeningly young, forbiddingly clever and vexingly wise American journalist Kathryn Schulz ... argues passionately for the value of error. The experience of being wrong, she argues, helps to make us better people, with richer lives ... What is most cherishable about this bumper book of other people's booboos is its insistence that to experience error is, at its best, to find adventure - and even contentment.’ Stuart Jeffries

‘It is a courageous achievement to have gazed so long at the Gorgon of human wrongness and then written a book at all, let alone an enjoyable one. Schulz displays a gift for expressing hard ideas simply, and with humour’ Rafael Behr

‘It's not easy to write about such complex subjects in a lively and often very funny way, but Schulz pulls it off with aplomb ... a joyful and very readable book that will force readers to reconsider their own attitudes to error and belief.’ Anna Carey

‘Kathryn Schulz's brilliant, spirited, and necessary inquiry into the essential humanity of error will leave you feeling intoxicatingly wrongheaded’ Tom Vanderbilt, author of TRAFFIC

‘Schulz mounts a spirited defence of the value of being wrong’

‘Schulz mounts a spirited defence of the value of being wrong.’

‘Schulz wears her considerable learning lightly and renders complex ideas as accessible as possible.’ Ben Felsenburg

‘Schulz's book is filled with incidental pleasures ... Richly entertaining’

‘This book is both wise and clever, full of fun and surprise about a topic so central to our lives that we almost never even think about it. But there are very few problems we face, as individuals or as a society, that couldn't be helpfully addressed if we were willing to at least entertain the idea that we might not be entirely right’ Bill McKibben, author of THE END OF NATURE and EAARTH

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