I received a number of books for my birthday last November, that's the stock present for me, either a book or a bottle. I was very pleased as I'd been skimming through this particular tome in the shop only a day or so previously and had decided to get it on my Kindle.
It's by Duncan J. Watts and called Everything Is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer. It covers a lot of ground but concentrates on topics such as how predicting the future is inherently impossible. Most people (me included) look back on events such as government cock-ups and calmly describe how they were bound to fail because of X. The author argues that such hindsight is just fitting the appropriate facts to the event and shows why this is a fallacy. We tend to think, when things go wrong, that it is usually because we didn't have the full facts at our disposal whereas in truth we can never have all the facts and even tiny changes in one area can have dramatic effects in another. There are lots of examples comparing successful business strategies with failures and Mr Watts tries to show how these were largely a matter of luck, good or bad.
In another chapter he attempts to explain why the Mona Lisa is the most famous, admired, and valuable painting in the world and why, in his opinion, it's really just famous for being famous.
One of my favourite stories concerning hindsight and those who criticise such things as government research for pointing out what they consider the blindingly obvious. It concerns a survey of the military in the USA on those returning from World War II. One of its findings was that soldiers from a rural background fitted in better and adapted to the rigours of army life better than those from the city. Many complained of the obviousness of the results, of course these people would do better, they were more suited to outdoor life and rougher conditions than city types. There were other results published that were equally obvious to anyone with common sense. Afterwards the author of the report came clean, he had changed all the results to be the opposite of what they had actually found, it was in fact city dwellers who fared better in the army than their agrarian counterparts. Of course many now claimed that they suspected this all along, townies are more used to a chain-of-command in their jobs which fits in more with the military was one explanation.
I would recommend the book to anyone, it's a real eye-opener about the workings of the mind and how the actions of a crowd do not mimic the actions of its individuals, not can be predicted by such analysis.