Recent years have seen a massive surge in popular economics books for the uninitiated masses. The list ranges from books advocating standard economics and its applications to everyday phenomena – like Landsburg‘s The Armchair Economist, Cowen’s Discover Your Inner Economist, and Harford’s The Undercover Economist – to books that tell of unexpected links of standard economics and real world behavior, e.g. Levitt & Dubner’s Freakonomics, to books that present a blend of economics and psychology, questioning the standard economics’ focus on flawed assumptions on human behavior, stressing the schism between neo-classical normative (standard) economics and positive (behavioral) economics – like Ariely’s Predictably Irrational and Thaler & Sunsteins’s Nudge.
The Brafman brother’s Sway belongs to the last category. In contrast to Ariely et al. they do not present there own original research as they are not active researchers in the field of behavioral economics. Thus they follow the current standard recipe of success of other popular economics books authors, they tell a lot of more or less connected anecdotes illustrating behavior that is not conforming to standard economic theory or an intuitive definition of rational behavior.
Sway has two main topics. About two third of the book is dedicated to the sunk cost fallacy, even if the Brafmans use different labels, most notably commitment (to a lost cause). In brief, due to being loss averse people tend to commit to behavior and opinions that are not in their best interest or rational since they already invested some resources and do not want to loose their initial investment. The remaining third is then about the interdependency of social norms and preferences and explicit incentives, the crowding out of intrinsic motivation by extrinsic incentives.
All in all, Sway is rather well written, entertaining and instructive. Indeed, once you start reading you will want to go on. Given the that Sway is just under 200 pages it may well serve as a nice teaser to the field of behavioral economics and other books and maybe academic programs that can provide more depth.