The best books on making decisions when you don’t know what’s going on

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a retired university professor. My research, in which I am still actively engaged, deals with decision-making under deep uncertainty: how to make a decision, or design a project, or plan an operation when major relevant factors are unknown or highly uncertain. I developed a decision theory called info-gap theory that grapples with this challenge, and is applied around the world in many fields, including engineering design, economics, medicine, national security, biological conservation, and more.

I wrote...

The Dilemmas of Wonderland: Decisions in the Age of Innovation

By Yakov Ben-Haim,

Book cover of The Dilemmas of Wonderland: Decisions in the Age of Innovation

What is my book about?

Innovations create opportunities and dilemmas. Innovations are desirable, but their newness means they are more uncertain and potentially worse than existing options. To use or not to use a new and promising but unfamiliar and uncertain innovation? Everybody faces that dilemma. The dilemma arises from new attitudes like individual responsibility for the environment, or new social conceptions like global allegiance transcending nation-states. Uncritical belief in outcome-optimization—“more is better, so most is best”—pervades decision making in all domains, but that’s irresponsible when facing the uncertainties of innovation. This book offers a new and practical direction.

Examples include e-reading, bipolar disorder and pregnancy, disruptive technology in industry, stock markets, agricultural productivity and world hunger, military hardware, military intelligence, biological conservation, online learning, and more.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Yakov Ben-Haim Why did I love this book?

The world is complicated and confusing, but Harari organizes this complexity into 21 issues covering such diverse topics as liberty, community, war, ignorance, and meaning.

The book is a collection of self-standing essays that can be read independently. The prevailing message is that we can understand the world in which we live, though, at the same time, we cannot always make reliable decisions today or confidently predict the future because we fundamentally don't know what's going on.

Finally, the book offers a warning: modern technology, coupled with artificial intelligence, may challenge human freedom if we lose control of the powerful and evolving forces of hi-tech and AI.

By Yuval Noah Harari,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 21 Lessons for the 21st Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


In twenty-one bite-sized lessons, Yuval Noah Harari explores what it means to be human in an age of bewilderment.

How can we protect ourselves from nuclear war, ecological cataclysms and technological disruptions? What can we do about the epidemic of fake news or the threat of terrorism? What should we teach our children?

The world-renowned historian and intellectual Yuval Noah Harari takes us on a thrilling journey through today's most urgent issues. The golden thread running through his exhilarating new book is the challenge of maintaining our collective and individual focus in the face of constant…

Book cover of A Question of Standing: The History of the CIA

Yakov Ben-Haim Why did I love this book?

This is an interesting collection of essays on the history of the CIA.

A spy agency thrives on deceit and uncertainty, making plans and taking actions when the adversary also thrives on those same elements.

Arranged in chronological order, the essays cover nearly 20 different incidents, describing the challenges, uncertainties, goals, and decisions made by both high-level political decision-makers and practitioners in the field.

Topics covered include early stages in the development of the CIA (founded in 1947), including covert action against the Soviet Union in the 1950s, the Bay of Pigs (1961), the Iran-Contra affair (mid-1980s), up to more recent events with bin Laden, fake news, and more.

By Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Question of Standing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Question of Standing deals with recognizable events that have shaped the history of the first 75 years of the CIA. Unsparing in its accounts of dirty tricks and their consequences, it values the agency's intelligence and analysis work to offer balanced judgements that avoid both celebration and condemnation of the CIA.

The mission of the CIA, derived from U-1 in World War I more than from World War II's OSS, has always been intelligence. Seventy-five years ago, in the year of its creation, the National Security Act gave the agency, uniquely in world history up to that point, a…

Book cover of Studies in Generalship: Lessons from the Chiefs of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces

Yakov Ben-Haim Why did I love this book?

War is the realm of uncertainty. Clausewitz sums this up by referring to the "fog of war".

Military commanders must confront this uncertainty, making far-reaching decisions when the fog of war obscures their understanding of the situation and the implications of their actions.

The book contains concise professional and historical biographies of 6 generals of the IDF, serving from early 1973 (prior to the Yom Kippur War) to 2013. The studies focus on decisions made – or not made – by these generals, the uncertainties that they confronted, and the military, political and social constraints they faced.

An interesting aspect is the personal and individualistic nature of the decision-making process. While military activity has a long history and much theory, it is more of an art than a science. The art of war, and of preventing war, is very personal, and it differs from one general to another. Some generals are better than others, but there is no single road to success.

By Meir Finkel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Studies in Generalship as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The commander, or chief of staff, of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is a prominent public figure in Israel. His decisions, advice, and persona exert direct influence on force design and military strategy, and indirectly impact social, economic, and foreign affairs. This first-ever in-depth comparative study on the role and performance of the IDF chiefs of staff throughout modern Israel's history offers lessons for practitioners and students of strategy, military history, and leadership everywhere.

Book cover of Hannibal: Rome's Greatest Enemy

Yakov Ben-Haim Why did I love this book?

This is a very readable account of Hannibal and his exploits, though it’s perhaps a somewhat idealized, romantic, and heroic portrayal of the man. Nonetheless it’s a great read.

The book follows Hannibal’s many military exploits in Carthage, Sicily, Spain, and many more, up to Cannae, Rome, and his ultimate fall from power and exile.

One sees the continual tension between three factors: Hannibal’s military genius in making military decisions despite deep uncertainty about his own capabilities and about the adversary's intentions, the military genius of his opponents, and the ruthless hand of uncertainty in human history. Hannibal’s life illustrates all three factors.

By Philip Freeman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hannibal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Telling the story of a man who stood against the overwhelming power of the mighty Roman empire, Hannibal is the biography of a man who, against all odds, dared to change the course of history.

Over two thousand years ago one of the greatest military leaders in history almost destroyed Rome. Hannibal, a daring African general from the city of Carthage, led an army of warriors and battle elephants over the snowy Alps to invade the very heart of Rome's growing empire. But what kind of person would dare to face the most relentless imperial power of the ancient world?…

Book cover of The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000

Yakov Ben-Haim Why did I love this book?

The author presents a reasoned rational explanation of historical events: Agents act rationally from self-interest. History makes sense.

As I read the book, I was challenged to ask: how rational is human behavior? What does rationality mean in a world that we hardly understand because it is fraught with uncertainty?

Uncertainty and surprise are important in history: What will be the next revolutionary invention? Who will be the next charismatic leader? What new ideology will sweep away conventions? Does history really make sense? Can we really make rational decisions when we face deep uncertainty about the world?

By William H. McNeill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pursuit of Power as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this magnificent synthesis of military, technological, and social history, William H. McNeill explores a whole millennium of human upheaval and traces the path by which we have arrived at the frightening dilemmas that now confront us. McNeill moves with equal mastery from the crossbow-banned by the Church in 1139 as too lethal for Christians to use against one another-to the nuclear missile, from the sociological consequences of drill in the seventeenth century to the emergence of the military-industrial complex in the twentieth. His central argument is that a commercial transformation of world society in the eleventh century caused military…

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Return to Hope Creek

By Alyssa J. Montgomery,

Book cover of Return to Hope Creek

Alyssa J. Montgomery Author Of A Spanish Seduction

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an Australian USA Today bestselling romance author who writes contemporary romance and uses the pen name Alyssa James to write medieval romance. I think the makeover trope resonates with me because although I’m no beauty queen now, I was definitely an ugly duckling in my teens. For reasons best known to him, my father insisted on close-cropped hair, and financial circumstances dictated out-of-style hand-me-down clothing. After university, I found my own style, but it wasn’t until I was accepted as an international flight attendant that I believed that I couldn’t be all that ugly if Qantas employed me!

Alyssa's book list on makeover romances

What is my book about?

Return to Hope Creek is a second-chance rural romance set in Australia.

Stella Simpson's career and engagement are over. She returns to the rural community of Hope Creek to heal, unaware her high school and college sweetheart, Mitchell Scott, has also moved back to town to do some healing of his own.

Mitchell, a former NFL quarterback, doesn't need the complication of encountering Stella again so long after the messy end to their relationship, but as each tries to build a new life, they are drawn together and find their chemistry is just as strong as ever.

Will their love be stronger the second time around?

Return to Hope Creek

By Alyssa J. Montgomery,

What is this book about?

When two old flames come back to their home town, sparks are bound to ignite. A rural romance from USA Today bestselling author Alyssa J. Montgomery.

A horrific car accident ended former world number-one Stella Simpson’s tennis career, and a betrayal ended her relationship with her fiancé/coach. When a family friend offers to sell her half of a property in the rural community where she grew up, it seems like the perfect place to escape, heal and begin the next phase of her life. Until she discovers that the man who broke her heart ten years ago has bought the…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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