Book Review: The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity (Carlo M. Cipolla)

Book Review: The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity (Carlo M. Cipolla)

(Human) Stupidity

We all see it daily, maybe even hourly. We encounter it when we’re least expecting it — as well as when we are expecting it. Perhaps it can even happen to us – or from us. Of course, I am talking about human stupidity.

We encounter it all the time in our daily lives. At work, at home, online (especially online), while driving, while out eating, while out shopping, etc, etc, etc.

Perhaps its one of those things we just accept and move on, knowing that its going to be involved in our lives and there isn’t much we can really do about it.

Thankfully Carlo M. Cipolla gave us a codified look at the Laws of Human Stupidity. Philosophy in that same sense as ‘On Bullshit’ by Harry G. Frankfurt and ‘Assholes: A Theory’ by Aaron James. This is a quick dive into the stupidity of human nature.

Audio Book

While doing inventory at work today, I opened up Libby (an audio book app that lets you borrow books from libraries to listen to). It was a super quick read, and read extremely well too. Less than an hour for the book to be read all told, and it was read with the dry wit and humor that this piece is attempting to invoke while also being true and smart and intelligent.

It was narrated by Paul Boehmer.

The Laws:

1. Everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals among us.
2. The probability that a certain person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person while deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses themselves.
4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals.
5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

Book Review – The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity – written by Carlo M. Cipolla with a forward by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (and narrated by Paul Boehmer)


GoodReads Blurb:

In the spirit of On Bullshit and Assholes: A Theory, an economist explores the five laws that confirm our worst fears: stupid people can and do rule the world

Since time immemorial, a powerful dark force has hindered the growth of human welfare and happiness. It is more powerful than the Mafia or the military. It has global catastrophic effects and can be found anywhere from the world’s most powerful boardrooms to your local pub. This is the immensely powerful force of human stupidity.

Seeing the shambolic state of human affairs, and sensing the dark force at work behind it, Carlo M. Cipolla, the late, noted professor of economic history at the University of California, Berkeley, created a vitally important economic model that would allow us to detect, know, and neutralize this threat: The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity.

If you’ve ever found yourself despairing at the ubiquity of stupidity among even the most ‘intellectual’ of people, then this hilarious, timely, and slightly alarming little book is for you. Arm yourself in the face of baffling political realities, unreasonable colleagues, or the unbridled misery of Christmas day with the in-laws with the first and only economic model for stupidity.

“Cipolla’s subtle tongue-in-cheek humor made this book an underground classic in Italy. Today, under current worldwide political trends, it reads more like black humor. Keep in mind: reliable statistical data shows that 98% of the people seriously believe that they are far less stupid than the average.” –Carlo Rovelli, author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity (GoodReads)

One of my favorite quotes from the book: “A stupid creature will harass you for no reason, for no advantage, without any plan or scheme and at the most improbable times and places. You have no rational way of telling if and when and how and why the stupid creature attacks. When confronted with a stupid individual you are completely at his mercy.”

This about sums up stupid people. The laws are pretty irrefutable, and there isn’t much room for negotiation on it. Again, the laws are:

1. Everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals among us.
2. The probability that a certain person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person while deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses themselves.
4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals.
5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

The first is exceptionally true. We all underestimate the number of stupid individuals among us. They are everywhere. Its like shape shifters, alien lizard people, like the Skrulls from Marvel, they are hiding in plan sight. They might even be someone you know – your best friend, your mum, your girlfriend even, who knows? Thats how insidious this “disease” [stupidity] is.

The book is pretty blunt in its language and phrasing. Theres no real political correctness, but there is no real political [in]correctness either. It just is. For example, rule number two is pretty straight forward – the stupid person is stupid because he’s not stupid; not because of any other defining characteristic. His race, his ethics, his nationality, his location, his place of birth, the way he looks, his gender, the skin color, etc, doesn’t matter. He is stupid — simply because — he is stupid.

George Carlin pretty much best sums it all up:

“Consider that the average person is stupid. Now, consider that most people are below average.”

George Carlin

I would have to look up the date for Carlin’s quote in question to see if he was inspired by Cipolla or vice versa; but they are basically cribbing off each other on this one.

Whereas Carlin is looking at things kind of more on an anecdotal, sociological side of things, more for the purposes of just humor with a bit of provocation of thought – Cipolla is doing it on kind of a philosophical, sociological, and academically / scholarly side. The economics and finance background of Cipolla lends him some credibility with the probability, the statistics, and the scholarly worldview. Whereas Carlin is making the statement and moving on with his monologue, Cipolla has science to back himself up and gives it to us.

Stupidity comes in many forms. And with that – in comes to people of all different levels; people who we would “think” are intelligent. Noble Prize Winners can do some stupid things (example – James Watson, the DNA co-discoverer, claiming that Blacks are inferior to Whites), politicians (…actually, this might not come as much of a shock to many people), leaders of all sorts – Hitler attacking Russia, people who have extreme values and allow them to cloud their normally intelligent judgments, people who express conspiracy theories long after they’ve been proven wrong; and these can be from all forms of walks of life – teachers, mentors, professionals and experts in their fields, etc, etc, etc.

“Whether the Second Basic Law is liked or not, however, its implications are frightening: the Law implies that whether you move in distinguished circles or you take refuge among the head-hunters of Polynesia, whether you lock yourself into a monastery or decide to spend the rest of your life in the company of beautiful and lascivious women, you always have to face the same percentage of stupid people—which percentage (in accordance with the First Law) will always surpass your expectations.”

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

This book borderlines on the brevity, one might even call it a pamphlet more than an actual rigorous book of academic value. But that might also be its best feature, its saving grace. For if it this was taken too far, to continue too long, it would become more on the bore, more on the tedious side, and lose much of that sharp wit, much of what makes it so poignant. On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt follows that same similar ideology.

As some might say, this book goes a long way to showcasing the “downfall of Western Society since 1945”. Might be a bit too harsh on society… but then you have to remember – the stupid walk amongst us.

My GoodReads Rating: ****
My LibraryThing Rating: ****1/2
GoodReads Average Rating: 3.88 (as of 11.20.23)

Philosophy Books We’ve Reviewed

Some philosophical works we’ve reviewed:

Some More Book Reviews

Interested in more book reviews? Then check these out:

More Information

Carlo M. Cipolla

Carlo M. Cipolla on August 15th, 1922
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The following biography comes from Wikipedia:

Carlo M. Cipolla (15 August 1922 – 5 September 2000) was an Italian economic historian. He was a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society

As a young man, Cipolla wanted to teach history and philosophy in an Italian high school, and therefore enrolled at the political science faculty at the University of Pavia. While a student there, thanks to professor Franco Borlandi, a specialist in medieval economic history, he discovered his passion for economic history. He graduated from Pavia in 1944. Subsequently, he studied at the University of Paris and the London School of Economics.

Cipolla obtained his first teaching post in economic history in Catania at the age of 27. This was to be the first stop in a long academic career in Italy (Venice, Turin, Pavia, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and Fiesole) and abroad. In 1953 Cipolla left for the United States as a Fulbright fellow and in 1957 became a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Two years later he obtained a full professorship.

Carlo M. Cipolla (Wikipedia)


Thank You For Reading

If you like this article, please check out our other many articles, including news, beer reviews, travelogues, maps, and much much more. We greatly appreciate everyone visiting the site!


Thanks again for reading everyone. Take some time to check out the site, we greatly appreciate it. We have affiliates and sponsors with and Beer, which can save you money on their products if you are interested. Check out our articles on them. Make sure to check out our beer reviews, brewery reviews, Amy’s weekly column, book reviews, hike reviews, and so much more.

As always, thank you everyone for reading! Leave your likes, comments, suggestions, questions, etc, in the comments section. Or use the Feedback – Contact Us – page, and we’ll get right back to you! You can also reach out to us at our direct e-mail address:

Thank you for visiting our blog. Please make sure to follow, bookmark, subscribe, and make sure to comment and leave feedback and like the blog posts you read. It will help us to better tailor the blog to you, the readers, likes and make this a better blog for everyone.

We are working on a massive project here at The Beer Thrillers. We are creating a map of all of the breweries across the United States. State by state we are adding maps of all of the different states with every brewery in each state. (We will eventually get to the US Territories, as well as the Canadian Provinces, and possibly more countries; as well as doing some fun maps like a map of all the breweries we’ve been to, and other fun maps.) You can find the brewery maps here:

We are also working on a project of creating printable and downloadable PDFs and resources to be able to check and keep track of all of the breweries you’ve been to. So stay tuned for that project once we are finished with the Brewery Maps of the US States.

You can check out our different directories here: Beer ReviewsHike ReviewsBook ReviewsBrewery News, Brewery OpeningsBrewer Interviews, and Travelogues.

Please be sure to follow us on our social media accounts – FacebookFacebook GroupTwitterInstagramYouTube, and Influence. As well as our brand new Tumblr page. Please be sure to also follow, like, subscribe to the blog here itself to keep updated. We love to hear from you guys, so be sure to leave a comment and let us know what you think!

You can now find us on our Discord Server here: The Beer Thrillers (Discord Server). We’ve also joined LinkTree to keep track of all of our social media pages, as well as hot new articles we’ve written.

The Beer Thrillers on LinkTree can be found here: The Beer Thrillers LinkTree.

We have partnered with an affiliateship with Beer You can check out that partnership and receive great discounts, coupons, and more here: Beer Drop. Going here and logging in and ordering will help you receive your discounts and coupons as well as help support our page. Thank you for helping to support The Beer Thrillers and to help us maintain the site and blog and to keep it running.

The Beer Thrillers are a blog that prides itself on writing beer reviews, brewery reviews, travelogues, news (especially local to the Central PA brewery scene), as well as covering other topics of our interests – such as hiking, literature and books, board games, and video games which we sometimes stream with our friends over at Knights of Nostalgia. We are currently listed as #7 on FeedSpot’s “Top 100 Beer Blogs” and #8 on FeedSpot’s “Top 40 Pennsylvania Blogs”. (As of January 2023.) Thank you for reading our site today, please subscribe, follow, and bookmark. Please reach out to us if you are interested in working together. If you would like to donate to the blog you can here: Donate to The Beer Thrillers. Thank you!

You can also check out our partnership and affiliation with, where ordering pretzels and using our affiliate code – AFFILIATE CODE IS THEBEERTHRILLERS20 – will help you get wonderful pretzels and help us maintain and keep this blog running. Thank you!

If you would like to reach out to us for product reviews, beer reviews, press release writing, and other media – please contact us at Thank you.

(Thank you for reading. The opinions, thoughts, and expressions of each article posted on The Beer Thrillers represents the author of the content and only themselves. It does not express the opinions, beliefs, or ideas held by The Beer Thrillers or any company in which the author themselves work for. Each piece of written content is written by the creator(s) listed in the authorial section on each article unless otherwise noted. Their opinions, comments, and words on screen do not represent any company in which they work for and / or are affiliated with or any non – profits that they contribute to. Thank you.)




recent posts

Go to Top