April 2024

The Age of Magical Overthinking

By Amanda Montell
Review by
Amanda Montell explores our cultural and cognitive biases and their perilous consequences in the funny, compassionate The Age of Magical Overthinking.
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It’s hardly groundbreaking news that the world is increasingly confusing and isolating. Deaths by despair continue to rise, and America has long been in a mental health care crisis. Our screens feed our wildest conspiracy theories and our equally wild celebrity fantasies, while distancing us from friends and family. We put our faith in “manifesting” our reality, while ignoring the advice of experts. We have access to never-before-imagined amounts of information, but we are no wiser. We contrive conflicts with people online whom we have never met. Our anxiety culminates in a nagging question: “Is it them, or is it me?” Amanda Montell, author of The Age of Magical Overthinking: Notes on Modern Irrationality, would probably answer, “It’s all of us.”

A linguist, podcaster and writer, Montell explored the links between language and power in her books Cultish and Wordslut. In her new book, Montell takes on an even more ambitious project: explaining how our cognitive biases combine with our brain functions to skew our perceptions of reality.

This is heavy stuff, but Montell combines erudition with humor and self-deprecation to make it accessible. Her explanations of a dozen cultural biases are clear and backed by research, while her cautionary tales of their destructive impact are personal, often hilarious and frequently moving. So, for example, her commitment to an abusive relationship was the result of the sunk cost fallacy—the conviction that “spending resources you can’t get back . . . justifies spending more.” Her affection for a thoroughly mediocre seat cushion that she made from “the innards of a neglected dog toy” is a charming symptom of the IKEA effect—that “we like things better when we’ve had a hand in creating them.” And our fascination with the vlogs of young women dying from painful disease is an example of survivorship bias. There is no condemnation or exasperation in this book, but there is plenty of humor, compassion and reason.

Reading The Age of Magical Overthinking feels like listening to your smartest friend give excellent advice. Hopefully, we’ll take it.

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The Age of Magical Overthinking

The Age of Magical Overthinking

By Amanda Montell
One Signal
ISBN 9781668007976

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