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Algorithms to Live By

The Computer Science of Human Decisions
Narrated by: Brian Christian
Length: 11 hrs and 50 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (238 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A fascinating exploration of how computer algorithms can be applied to our everyday lives, helping to solve common decision-making problems and illuminate the workings of the human mind.

All our lives are constrained by limited space and time, limits that give rise to a particular set of problems. What should we do, or leave undone, in a day or a lifetime? How much messiness should we accept? What balance of new activities and familiar favorites is the most fulfilling? These may seem like uniquely human quandaries, but they are not: computers, too, face the same constraints, so computer scientists have been grappling with their version of such problems for decades. And the solutions they've found have much to teach us.

In a dazzlingly interdisciplinary work, acclaimed author Brian Christian and cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths show how the simple, precise algorithms used by computers can also untangle very human questions. They explain how to have better hunches and when to leave things to chance, how to deal with overwhelming choices and how best to connect with others. From finding a spouse to finding a parking spot, from organizing one's inbox to understanding the workings of human memory, Algorithms to Live By transforms the wisdom of computer science into strategies for human living.

©2016 Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths (P)2016 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved.

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    5 out of 5 stars

A great blend of sciences

This book shows how computer scientists solve computing problems by drawing from all areas of life. There is a ton of information but it is written and narrated in a way that tells an intriguing story. I learned a lot and plan to listen again.

3 people found this helpful

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  • SJ
  • 2018-10-24

They must have written this book for me

This was an absolutely excellent book.

As an engineer, and a giant nerd, I'd already heard of and studied all of the topics covered - but I'd never considered them often in my personal life.

It turns out, however, I'd been accidentally using my computer science knowledge in my day to day to optimize problems without ever knowing it. My wife never understands why I organize my clothes or papers in the way I do - and I could only ever say "dunno, feels like the most efficient way to do it". Now I can point to chapters in this book to explain why I cache and sort in the ways I do.

Other than being able to explain myself better to others, this book gave me some tips and tricks to get myself out of my routine "analysis paralysis" mode, and even gave me some ideas on planning out my projects better.

I highly recommend it to everyone, regardless of computer science background.

2 people found this helpful

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Enlightening

If you enjoy books such as Freakonomics and books written by Malcolm Gladwell you will love this book

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Lots of great things to think about!

I have really enjoyed listening to this. Each topic has given me great new ways to think about my life and how I think about everyday things.
I love it and look forward to listening to it many times.

1 person found this helpful

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Great for programmers and aspiring programmers

I was amazed at how the author was able to bridge the gap between an academic understanding of an algorithm and a real world understanding of an algorithm. 10/10 would highly recommend for both programmers and aspiring programmers.

1 person found this helpful

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I could probably listen to this book 5 times !!

A very pure, chill book that's perfect for you to understand hard concepts that are abstracted down to their core offerings and spirit that you can relate to in day to day life.

Why is it better to be optimistic? When to explore more or apply what you already know? How to minimize regret? Is it a good idea to host a party and ask your guest to hug every other guest that has arrived? Find out in this book!..

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So relevant and useful!

I often refer to things I learned in this book - such as Optimum Stopping problems and using an 'Extinction' approach for deciding how long to wait before giving a second chance (or tenth...). A keeper for sure! #Audible1

1 person found this helpful

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changed the way I think

I loved this. really interesting subjects and problems. It changed how I approach my work.

1 person found this helpful

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excellent book, great content!

aplying it knowledge and logic to everyday life, having optimal decision making is a must for anyone looking to inprove.

1 person found this helpful

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Fascinating way to view the world

A really interesting book applying some of the solutions we have learned from mathematics and computers to decision making for human beings in real life. Not only is it interesting how the one can apply to the other, but just the process of talking about it gives different insights in how to look at these real life problems.

If you've ever wondered things like:
- is having an empty inbox worth the time and effort it takes to organize your email daily?
- is having a tidy desk/house worth more than having the things you often need close to hand?
- how can I decide if I've found the "best" (house/spouse/job/etc) without predicting the future?

All these puzzles and more are discussed in this book through the lens of what mathematics/computer science theory tells us is the "best" solution, along with why this may or may not also apply to real life, and what you can do about it. No detailed mathematics is necessary, this is more about the theory and even philosophy than any direct numbers or formulas.

Not only is the theory itself fascinating (how do programmers deliberately introduce "randomness" or "mistakes" into a system to avoid computers getting stuck in loops) but so is the applicability to real world problems and why what we think we SHOULD do (such as keep an immaculately clean home) may not actually make logical sense (and now when my desk is a mess I can prove it's the most efficient solution!)

If these are topics that sound interesting to you, then I highly recommend picking up this book.

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  • Megan Carr
  • 2018-01-31

How do you prioritize when everything is top priority? I have an answer now.

Have you ever had the inevitable interview question about how you prioritize so many different things when everything needs to be done right now?
I am a “non traditional” med student with a background in business and real estate. I’ve been on my fair share of interviews and am currently rotating through clinical interviews. I have heard at least some version of this exact question in every interview I’ve had in both medicine and the business world. My most recent interviewer said they had never heard someone put so much thought into an answer after I decided to answer given the theorems described in the chapter on prioritizing. 😂

I have gained a much better understanding of many different theorems used from computer algorithms to economics and how they can be used to optimize my own decisions. It was an enlightening read.

80 people found this helpful

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  • Michael D. Busch
  • 2016-10-03

Loved this book!

The authors take us on an easy-to-understand grand tour of the science of computer algorithms — stopping, sorting, caching, predicting, game theory, and much more — and then do a marvelous job of explaining The application of these algorithms to the most mundane problems of everyday human experience — parking, dating, remembering, playing poker, etc. A tour de force! I enjoyed it greatly, and recommended it to several friends.

23 people found this helpful

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  • Marcy N.
  • 2017-10-23

diamonds among the brickwork

I persevered to the end and I'm glad that I did. This is definitely a book for people who understand computers and math, which is not my strong suit. However, what i could understand was very interesting and gave me many points to think about regarding human interactions.

40 people found this helpful

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  • M
  • 2016-10-10

Not Just Computer Science

This fascinating and entertaining book discusses several famous decision problems that I would not necessarily call computer science problems: “The Secretary Problem” (optimal stopping), “The Multi-Armed Bandit Problem”, “Bayes’s Lottery/Laplace’s Sunrise Problem”, "The Prisoner's Dilemma". and “The Traveling Salesman Problem". It also discusses merge-sort, caching, and the Least-Recently-Used (LRU) principle, which do seem more like computer science. This may sound dry, but it isn't! The authors sprinkle in anecdotes, short biographical sketches, and quotations that keep things fresh and interesting. I also own the Kindle edition, which has some useful figures, tables, and notes, but this works fine as an audiobook. Any equations are relegated to the notes. One of the authors, Brian Christian, reads it well.

65 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2016-10-11

Beware non-techies

I have a hard time grasping computer science, statistics and the like. So, I did not follow the narrator's explanations very well. But I did like hearing the results of his stories. I listened to the whole book even though I probably only understood 20% of it. The narrator had a nice voice and that made it easy for me to keep listening.

131 people found this helpful

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  • Hobbit Taz
  • 2016-10-07

I will Re-Read this one!

What made the experience of listening to Algorithms to Live By the most enjoyable?

I Don't normally write reviews on books and movies - but this one I started promoting to fellow workers before I was 1/2 way through it. It was a really interesting way to look at everyday life tasks and the methods used for best results based in mathematical and computer Algorithm theorems (but explaining in everyday non-mathematical ways). I will have to read again myself.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I think taking the book in small portions (a chapter at a time - listening to it a couple times even if you miss following a portion). Allow the material to soak in and measure it against your everyday activities to best decide which of the Algorithms to best apply to your (or I found in some cases explained what I was already doing).

Any additional comments?

On a Side note if you are like me and deal with computers / numbers / and other such detail oriented thinking you probably are aware of some or many of the algorithms mentioned, but it was interesting to see them applied to everyday activities.

114 people found this helpful

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  • Adam Hosman
  • 2017-08-07

Great listen, just don't expect tips!

Spoiler: the conclusion of many chapters is that your intuition is better than any current algorithm. Therefore, I wouldn't buy this book for tips. If you're smart, your intuition is already better, and if you're stupid, you're not going to understand the concepts anyway. However, I enjoyed the book as a fascinating exploration into how the mind works optimally, and liked putting words to the things I’m already just doing.

104 people found this helpful

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  • Sean
  • 2016-07-24

Accessible and engaging

I have an engineering background, but little formal computer science training. The text felt approachable for a general audience and the authors weave in some good stories. I was familiar with the topics on probability, randomness and optimization, yet found valuable new insights. Recommended to anyone with an interest in computing, algorithms and decision making.

96 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2016-09-22

Really Good

I really enjoyed this book all the way through. After listening, I feel like more mentally efficient and organized. The chapter in caching was especially helpful for organizing myself a bit better. Highly recommend.

56 people found this helpful

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  • GH
  • 2016-05-01

Absolute Must Listen

If you are into computers, this book is a must, and if you are not, it is still very interesting. You get to hear about numerous different algorithms that affect our daily lives in a unique and interesting narrative. This book is written by authorities. One of the authors is an accomplished Professor and the other an extremely accomplished author.

This book seeks to shed light on the various algorithms that shape our lives that computer science has in many cases solved. This books does not have equations or heavy theory so lay-listeners are safe, but there is enough meat on the bone for us folks in the biz something to chew on. Give it a listen.

137 people found this helpful

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  • Renato Ferreira de Souza
  • 2017-02-06

good book, but to detailed for listening

it is a very good book, but i think it is better for reading than listening

4 people found this helpful

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  • Thanh Tu
  • 2019-03-10

Good book with multiple reference about computer

First of all, I like the book. I learned a few thing while listening it. It give a lot reference about algorithm and how to apply it.
But howover, it used many classical examples of computer science so it might be boring during the listening. plus the advice it gives depends a lot in context.
All and all, good book, recommended for those who want to computerize your way of thinking.

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  • ARZU SOYTURK
  • 2019-01-09

this is a very good book to listen to I like it

this is a very good book to listen to I really liked it a lot

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  • Utilisateur anonyme
  • 2018-10-07

Loved it!

Great insight into computer science, this book humanized it for me and made me understand the human challenges computer science is trying to address. It made me understand more then”science” of computers and information, as opposed to IT. I’ve recommended it to others, the brainy friends from other disciplines. It’s definitely for a smart and curious audience, not for everyone.