Book Review: ‘The Unpersuadables’ by Will Storr


Rating: 4 / 5

In The Unpersuadables, investigative journalist Will Storr sets out to find out why certain people hold on to their beliefs, even in the face of contrary evidence.  He interviews various people and various beliefs, from people who firmly believe in homeopathic cures to creationists to Holocaust deniers.  These people are intelligent, and Storr wants to find out what makes them tick.  These people are endlessly fascinating, and while I am bewildered, I found it amusing that they all staunchly held onto their beliefs even when Storr challenged their views.

The most interesting exposes for me were the following:

-interviews with Holocaust deniers

-yoga and the guru Swami Ramdev

-people who claim to suffer from Morgellons, a disease which does not exist

 The interviews and observations are interesting, but Storr goes further, researching why people form their convictions and refused to be persuaded.  I was shocked to learn that much of what we think we see is really our brain making assumptions.  Also, much of our beliefs have neurological and physiological impacts.  In general, humans have solidified their belief system by their late 20s, and new information that does not conform with the belief system will be rejected.  While this happens on a subconscious level, the person will immediately make up a reason to explain the decision, and, studies have shown, the stories are completely arbitrary.  It is shocking to learn that what we know and what we believe are frequently incorrect, but the brain will create reasons and explanations as to why our opinions are correct.  On a personal level, it makes me wonder if reading opinions which are contrary to mine are even worthwhile since my brain will automatically reject such opinions and create valid reasons to support the rejections.

The only aspect of this book that I thought was weak was how some information was presented.  The Unpersuadables is jam packed with information but I felt lost at the beginning of many of the chapters.  Introductions at the beginning would have helped immensely in giving the reader context in what was being presented.  For example, it took me a few pages before I realized that Storr was going on a tour of concentration camps with people who did not believe that the Holocaust occurred.  It felt like I randomly started in the middle of a chapter.

The Bottom Line: The Unpersuadables is a book that will really make you think.  When you first read about the various minority opinions you’ll be baffled at why people believe some things.  Then you’ll read about Storr’s quest to understand how opinions and convictions are formed, and you’ll start questioning your own.  The Unpersuadables is definitely eye-opening.

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