The one-sentence summary

People will make irrational decisions if left to their own devices.


  • NUDGEThe book is a discussion of how we can apply the new science of choice architecture to nudge people towards decisions that will improve their lives by making them healthier, wealthier, and freer.
  • It is much loved by politicians, because it adds modernity and legitimacy to what could otherwise be criticised as blanket social engineering. The book is keen to emphasise that it is, politically, neither left nor right.
  • Every day we make decisions on topics such as personal investments to schools and what our children eat. Unfortunately, we often choose poorly.
  • If we take our ‘humanness’ as a given, we can understand how people think and design choice environments that make it easier for people to choose what is best for themselves – a nudge in the right direction without restricting freedom of choice.


  • There are scores of examples from everyday life that make the point. A director of food services in schools can increase or decrease the consumption of various foods by as much as 25% simply by rearranging where they are in the cafeteria.
  • Behavioural economists borrow from psychology in recognising that the mind can fool itself. In a visual context, we are quite capable of looking at two identically sized tables and being convinced that one is bigger than the other.
  • The ability to be so ‘smart and dumb’ at the same time can be attributed to our Automatic System (instinct rather than actively thinking) versus our Reflective System (more deliberate and self-conscious).
  • There is an acronym to remember the main themes:

iNcentives: people have to feel they are getting something for their choice

Understand mappings: you have to understand how they see things

Defaults: make sure the ‘do nothing’ route is one of the best
Give feedback: investigate the rejected options, and experiment with them
Expect error: humans make mistakes, so well-designed systems allow for this
Structure complex choices: if it’s difficult, break it down into easier chunks


  • It is a ‘medium’ read. Some would call it heavy economic theory, others a welcome relief from much denser academic material.