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How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds

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How to Think is a contrarian treatise on why we're not as good at thinking as we assume - but how recovering this lost art can rescue our inner lives from the chaos of modern life.

As a celebrated cultural critic and a writer for national publications like The Atlantic and Harper's, Alan Jacobs has spent his adult life belonging to communities that often clash in America's culture wars. And in his years of confronting the big issues that divide us--political, social, religious--Jacobs has learned that many of our fiercest disputes occur not because we're doomed to be divided, but because the people involved simply aren't thinking.

Most of us don't want to think, Jacobs writes. Thinking is trouble. Thinking can force us out of familiar, comforting habits, and it can complicate our relationships with like-minded friends. Finally, thinking is slow, and that's a problem when our habits of consuming information (mostly online) leave us lost in the spin cycle of social media, partisan bickering, and confirmation bias.

In this smart, endlessly entertaining book, Jacobs diagnoses the many forces that act on us to prevent thinking--forces that have only worsened in the age of Twitter, "alternative facts," and information overload--and he also dispels the many myths we hold about what it means to think well. (For example: It's impossible to "think for yourself.")

Drawing on sources as far-flung as novelist Marilynne Robinson, basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, British philosopher John Stuart Mill, and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis, Jacobs digs into the nuts and bolts of the cognitive process, offering hope that each of us can reclaim our mental lives from the impediments that plague us all. Because if we can learn to think together, maybe we can learn to live together, too.

160 pages, Hardcover

First published October 17, 2017

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About the author

Alan Jacobs

59 books482 followers
I grew up in Alabama, attended the University of Alabama, then got my PhD at the University of Virginia. Since 1984 I have been teaching at Wheaton College in Illinois. My dear wife Teri and I have been married for thirty years. Our son Wes begins college this fall, and to our shock, decided to go to Wheaton. I think he will avoid Dad, though.

My work is hard to describe, at least for me, because it revolves around multiple interests, primary among them being literature, theology, and technology. I also watch soccer and write about it, but that's purely recreational.

You can find out a lot more about me online: Twitter, Tumblr, my blog, my home page. Google is the friend of inquiring minds.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 607 reviews
Profile Image for ladydusk.
428 reviews174 followers
January 14, 2019
Kindle read.

Alan Jacobs is one of my favorite internet people - his various blogs and mini blogs and the sole reason I used to go to twitter have long provided interesting ideas, visuals, and social commentary that was worth reading. A number of years ago I LOVED his book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. This book is written in that vein. It's a personal exploration of the whys and hows of - instead of reading - thinking.

I had little investment in the last Presidential campaign and election, but found myself on election night watching the returns and not able to turn away. The absolute shock of the cable commentators to understand what was happening and how people could vote in the way they did was worth watching. It was demonstrative of much of what Jacobs talks about here in How to Think: the Repugnant Cultural Other, the failure to listen, to empathize, to see past the filters, myths, and metaphors that hold thinking together. Jacobs' instructive defining would go a long way to help us all not only listen to each other, but hear and understand - to not speak past one another but to know.

The worst part of this review is that while I'm sure I didn't understand everything in the book, I didn't really disagree with anything ... which means I wasn't thinking about it as I should. I do think that seeking community is different from desiring membership in an Inner Ring, that being able to switch interaction as appropriate to the social setting is important, and that I care way too much about what others think. I do think that ideas held loosely yet firmly is wise, but that employing empathy toward the situation of others is wise. I do see how the myths and metaphors I surround myself with are helpful and harmful.

I suppose I do disagree that both/and instead of either/or isn't necessarily the lazy way out. I don't really have good explanations for that, but I see so many false dichotomies espoused that could be resolved by seeing 'both' as viable options that his argument there fell on deaf ears.

Overall, this is my favorite kind of Jacobs books. It's well written with many references and -be still my soul- footnotes, yet it's very personal with many stories and narratives to keep it going. It's conversational, yet formal at the same time like Pleasures of Reading ...

Definitely recommended.
Profile Image for Kevin.
954 reviews46 followers
October 3, 2017
A fascinating discussion of how to get outside our biases, as best we can, avoid instinctual group think and be open to change. Despite referencing classic literature and philosophy and the latest research, the book is an engaging and conversational read. It is talking through the issues with a knowledgeable friend or mentor rather than a lecture.

A desperately needed call to be a different kind of person and thinker in an age of polarization, tribalism and ideology.
Profile Image for Adam Shields.
1,646 reviews83 followers
October 18, 2017
Short Review: How to Think is a short book (157 pages of main content) that is somewhat along the lines of Exercise for Young Theologians or Letters to a Young (X) types of book. Jacobs is writing as an English professor that has taught comprehension and communication skill via literature and composition for more than 30 years. He is not specifically writing to 'young people'. But it does feel a bit like wisdom from an elder in a good way.

How to think isn't a structured 5 steps to better thinking or an analysis of logical fallacies, although there is a discussion of logical fallacies and there are suggestions on how to think better. Largely it is about creating habits of thought that re-enforce good thinking.

First, stop overestimating yourself. You are probably not as good at thinking and being open to alternative ideas as you think you are. You are impacted by the community around you, there is no 'independent thinking' that comes to your own ideas. All ideas are shared.

Start actually listening. Make sure you can not only understand others, but understand them in a way that they would agree with your assessment. And then surround yourself with good thinkers that think differently than you do. Assume people are not evil because they have different ideas. That doesn't mean all ideas are equally good, just that people rarely adopt different ideas because they are intentionally trying to be evil.

Much of this is about breaking down tribalism. Tribalism is part of how we are created. But we don't have to only by tribal. Jacobs uses the phrase, 'by that you mean' as an example of how we have tribal interpretations. Often using a few words or metaphors to communicate far more than they were intended.

I am going to read this again in print. I listened to the audiobook in a day. (It is short). But if you are thinking about picking it up, I would skip to the back and read the 12 point checklist about how to think better. If that checklist makes rough sense, this is probably a good book to pick up.

It is not intended to be a definitive treatment of logical thinking. Nor is it claiming to be super innovative. But it is well written, clear and helpful.

My full review is on my blog at http://bookwi.se/how-to-think/
Profile Image for Samuel Kassing.
329 reviews9 followers
January 17, 2022
This book was excellent. We need more intellectual humility in our society and world. Jacobs' prose are beautiful and his points are clear. I highly recommend this little book.
Profile Image for Mark Jr..
Author 6 books305 followers
September 6, 2017
I read pretty much anything Alan Jacobs publishes. How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds is yet another great read.

This book is Alan Jacobs not half-baked but maybe 90% baked, and it’s still fantastic. It felt to me like one long essay, very much in the Jacobs style, which means a lot of trenchant intellectual commentary, delivered smoothly, on interesting stories. But whereas Original Sin, which was very much in the same vein, felt to me like it drove me to a point and wrapped a theological bow around it; this topic—good thinking—is simply too large for this small book to handle with anything feeling like finality (that’s what I mean by 90%). If this book had been titled “How to Keep Cool in a World of Social Media Firestorms,” it might have felt more complete. Jacobs does deliver numerous insights for the social-media-addled. (For example, “Remember that you don’t have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness.”)

But his self-critical exploration of intellectual honesty, an exploration which skirts the realms of the theological, was the most valuable part of the book for me. He brings thinkers back to love, a theme he explored in A Theology of Reading: The Hermeneutics of Love . Here Jacobs offers no final answers. We can’t keep an open mind at all times; he knows that and proves it with verve. But when it comes to thinking, there is no algorithm by which we can necessarily determine whether we are guilty of kowtowing to some Inner Ring or are part of genuine community, no way to know with certainty whether we are susceptible to narrow influences or are truly loving thinkers. Life is, or ought to be, a pursuit of that knowledge, even if we’ll never perfectly achieve it. “You simply can’t thrive in a state of constant daily evaluation of the truth-conduciveness of your social world,” Jacobs says, “any more than a flowering plant can flourish if its owner digs up its roots every morning to see how it’s doing.”

If Jacobs perchance reads this review, he ought to know that I read most words he writes publicly—and that I think this once he missed a great opportunity to quote Stanley Fish. Fish has a story he appeals to a number of times in his writings that is much like the Phelps-Roper story. It features a member of the Aryan Nation who finds himself instantly disaffected with his erstwhile crowd when one of its leaders gives a speech consigning those with cleft palates to the gas chambers. This man’s daughter had a cleft palate. What Fish points out is that people who change from one worldview to another don’t change wholesale; they pivot on at least one point they held before. In this case, the man loved his daughter and this was his pivot point. I think Jacobs could have explored this story with great depth—and could have deepened his own case by using it. In it again love is key to thinking.

One more thing: I’m a Christian, and Jacobs is a Christian, and says so in this book. I think Jacobs could have gotten away with more Christianity. Augustine, for example, surely could have figured prominently in a book on how love is essential to right thinking. And, for that matter, the Apostle Paul. Still highly recommended. A delight.

The publisher supplied me a copy of this book for review purposes, but I was not required to say anything nice.

Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,659 followers
December 15, 2017
There were some interesting insights in here and a little bit of reactionary conservative complaints (which was surprising in a book about not being reactionary). But when he describes his debate society's norms, I thought it was a great idea. Basically, before you can debate, you have to restate the other person's position in a way that they would find satisfactory. Seems like great advice for our society. I do think we've lost the ability to debate properly. We need some more reasoned civility.
Profile Image for raffaela.
202 reviews34 followers
October 8, 2019
A short little book that has some good reminders on how to think (or, more accurately, how *we* think - it's more descriptive than prescriptive, even if the descriptions usually have clear implications). As always, Jacobs is an engaging author, but this time, for me at least, it just wasn't quite engaging enough for me to want to return to the book after having read it once. Thus, three stars.
Profile Image for Ana Avila.
Author 1 book989 followers
July 15, 2022
A great read to revisit frequently.
Profile Image for Jenny.
904 reviews87 followers
March 25, 2021
A colleague told me about this book because I'm most likely going to be using it as a textbook of sorts in an Honors seminar. She wants to have a once-a-week, hour-long class that introduces Honors students to the program and to the Capstone project, the paper they'll have to write at the end of their two-year stint at our community college. The Capstone project is a two-semester long affair and ends with the completion of a thirty-page paper and a community-wide presentation. The Honors program does more than enforce rigorous demands, though. It also provides an alternative way of learning for students who are differently gifted. In other words, Honors students aren't all A students, and they aren't all "together." In fact, many times, they need more support and more guidance than other students. They stress more and sometimes have more emotional reactions to the same events. This book, then, makes sense as a guide for Honors students, a book that will teach them how to think critically, how to channel emotion in a healthy way, how to be actively engaged throughout their college careers and their lives.

Full disclosure: Alan Jacobs states right away that he's a professor and a Christian, so I immediately identified with him. I also read the Bible every day, reflect, think a lot, and have deep conversations with my family members, who are all thinkers and talkers and overanalyzers, the works. Most of what Jacobs says, I agree with 100%. He states right away that the book isn't for everyone. Not everyone can or wants to think, to be activated at all times. That's what thinking, in Jacobs' definition, requires.

Jacobs uses everyday life examples to illustrate his points, and he quotes extensively from scholars in fields ranging from psychology to literature to sociology. He quotes Darwin and Jesus. The subtitle of the book is actually accurate (I find that most nonfiction books I've read are subtitled horribly and inaccurately) with lots of references to social media. An idea I had for an Honors seminar of my own was InstaReality: Life Filtered through the Social Media Lens. I want to argue that social media has fundamentally altered the way that we interact with the world but, more than that, the way we think. I find myself thinking differently than I used to because I'm thinking through a social media lens. My Honors students will never have known a life before social media. It's what they'll have grown up with, so they already think differently than I do. Because of social media, problems that already existed have gotten worse. It's so easy to find people who feel like you do, so you don't have to engage with people who don't feel like you. You can cancel people and block people, and it's dangerous. Jacobs comes from this angle in most of his chapters. He uses illustrations from many other aspects of life, but a few of his major examples come from Twitter, in particular, the only social media site he seems to be active on.

Anyway, I learned a lot from this book. What Jacobs mostly gets at is that we need to have perspective and empathy. People think badly because they don't think about other people, and they project how they feel or how they would handle situations onto others. Thinking, then, isn't about reason and logic. Those are involved, of course, but thinking is an antidote to impulse. Impulse, as Jacobs explains, is necessary. We can't think about everything all the time, and our brains give us shortcuts so that we don't have to. However, when we rely on autopilot too much, we take away any chance we might give ourselves to see things differently. To stop, to contemplate, to be aware and active and alive and awake. To do more than just accept what we are and have and believe because it's what we are and have and believe.

But the key is you have to want to think, to change, to open yourself up to new ways of being. If you're shut off to others, you're probably shut off to yourself, and this won't work for you. Jacobs says as much multiple times. But if you do stop to reflect, and you wonder why other people annoy you or frustrate you, why you can't seem to see the other side, and this bothers you, then this is the book for you. If you want affirmation and confirmation and lots of "Mmmm" and "Huh" moments, this is the book for you.

I strongly recommend this book, and I'm so glad that my colleague found it and wants to use it for the Honors seminar. I really hope I get to teach it and discuss it with my students, who will most likely all be just out of high school during a very weird year when nothing is like it was and when they'll all be virtually (see what I did there??) social-media saturated.
Profile Image for Jacob.
879 reviews49 followers
July 25, 2021
I was worried this would be just another survey of cognitive biases, as some of the psych books I’ve read recently about how people’s thinking is less good than it could be. Those things are good to know, but it’s been done and there is definitely more space for discussing ways that people think well or poorly aside from recognized cognitive biases. I got even more worried when the author promptly started referring to them right away in the introduction. It was a momentary scare: after a page or two the author heads straight for a more general discussion of how people think, just like I’d hoped!

I’m inclined to like this book even more since the author shares some of my own long-held opinions, including:
- Most people don’t actually like to think much of the time (a coworker pushed my thinking in this direction even further by suggesting it might have to do with avoiding expending unnecessary calories).
- Academics as a group don’t think more than less educated people (as a group). Jacobs says they avoid genuine reflection just as much, which has been my experience.

Jacobs brings up the case of when we are more understanding of people who are very different from ourselves, but unthinkingly rigid in demonizing people who are similar to us with slight differences (i.e. part of our own society). I wonder if it’s an almost “uncanny valley” of thought, where people can’t tolerate different thoughts from people who are mostly similar to themselves, but they can from people who are clearly more different? Jacobs calls the phenomenon the Repugnant Cultural Other, and suggests that our unthinking intolerance toward the our differences with others who are similar may be based on belonging to a group. If thinking a certain way and rejecting different opinions of neighboring groups is what gets us accepted into a group, then our lack of actual thought on the topic makes more sense. I think Jacobs is definitely onto something. I’ve heard Brene Brown refer to this during an excellent podcast interview with Adam Grant on why people remain so unaware of the possibility that they are wrong.

Jacobs also has an excellent argument about how “thinking rationally” isn’t rational at all. Emotions are an important part of thinking and decision making. Evidence shows that people make decisions, and then come up with reasoning to back it up, and emotions are a primary driver of that initial decision. Not only are we incapable of separating our emotions from our thinking, but Jacobs points out that people with certain types of brain damage whose emotions cannot participate in their thinking process (who are literally the most rational thinkers) are demonstrated to make significantly worse decisions -- so even if we could think “rationally” (sans emotion), it would actually be worse thinking leading to worse decisions & outcomes.

There’s a section in the book about “lumping” and “splitting” where I’m not sure I understand what Jacobs is saying. Lumping and Splitting are two different preferences when categorizing things: whether you prefer to fit things into existing categories (Lumping) or generate a new category (Splitting) every time something doesn’t fit exactly into an existing category. The author comes out against Lumping, because of people who try to force existing categories to fit everyone and who try to prevent categories from shifting once they have started to outlive their usefulness. I disagree with him. Not only is Lumping generally preferable from an information standpoint, but the author is thinking of Lumping starting from a standpoint where there’s already been an unreasonable splitting (his examples: between Free and Slave, or between University Student and Female) that never should have happened in the first place. So I think his point here is muddled and worth only slight consideration.

Similar to rational thinking, Jacobs points out that we don’t really want people to have open minds, or they’d be changing their mind every time someone told them something different. We don’t want closed minds, either, but rather something in the middle. And there’s an interesting bit about how nerds who get bullied for correcting others (e.g. grammar or spelling police) and kids who get bad grades because they can’t bring themselves to pay enough attention to teachers are being punished for the same thing: an inability or unwillingness to “code switch”, to see things and relate to people (non-nerdy kids, or teachers, or whoever else) they way they are. Despite my nerdiness, I feel this is the reason I was accepted among so many groups of people who were not like me: I respected their view of the world and could relate to them the way they wanted.

The author ends with a “Thinking Person’s Checklist” for steps to think well, which I’ve recorded here so I can refer back to it:

1. Give It 5 Minutes: take time to think before responding
2. Value Learning Over Debating: Focus on finding what’s right, not on being right
3. Avoid people who fan flames and are only there to stir up anger & fear
4. You don’t have to respond to what everybody else is responding to in order to signal your virtue & right-mindedness
5. If you *do* have to respond to the same thing as everyone else, your community is not a community, but rather an “Inner Ring” (cult)
6. Gravitate towards people who value a genuine community & can handle disagreement with equanimity
7. Seek out the best & fairest-minded people whose views you disagree with, listen to them without responding, and then keep thinking over what they say
8. Assess your own repugnances
9. Sometimes the “ick factor” is telling, sometimes it’s just a distraction from what matters
10. Beware of metaphors & myths that do too much cognitive lifting; they are framing your thought, directing you towards certain ideas and, even more importantly, away from others
11. Try to describe others’ positions in the same language they use, without indulging in “in-other-wordsing”
12. Be brave
Profile Image for Steve.
74 reviews2 followers
December 11, 2019
Wish I could urge everyone I know to read this slim volume. It's the perfect introduction to Jacobs' style as a writer--impassioned, conversational, and teeming with valuable insights. Although the title might seem to promise a topic far too broad and expansive to be tackled in just 150 pages, his focus is more narrowly on the ways in which we engage the ideas of others in our current cultural moment, oftentimes in response to the messy arena of politics and nearly always in the online environment. Yet because of the "online disinhibition" factor, too many of us are regularly transformed into howling, angry critics, demonizing our RCOs ("Repugnant Cultural Others") and waging verbal warfare through spurious, bad faith arguments. In our desire to belong to a group, we too often fall prey to "Inner Rings" that demand absolute, unwavering obedience to a particular worldview. What we lose in the process are the habits of openness, charity, listening, and empathy. I found myself at first conjuring up others with whose ideas I fundamentally disagree desperately needing to read this book, and then realized the book was holding a mirror to my own frequent excesses. Although this isn't intended to be a self-help manual of tried and true techniques to encourage more charitable and reasoned interpretations of others and of the world around us, you'll definitely find yourself at the end of the book more hopeful about the possibility of thinking more clearly and fairly. As Jacobs writes, "we can expect to cultivate a more general disposition of skepticism about our own motives and generosity toward the motives of others." The rhetorical culture wars don't have to end in mutually assured destruction!
Profile Image for Sally.
1,081 reviews
February 24, 2018
Such an important topic for today's angry, divided world. Jacobs talks about how we decide who is our RCO (Repugnant Cultural Other) and how we don't bother to try to understand their point of view, choosing instead to gather information that reinforces our own beliefs and values. This was a short but helpful book to remind us that we need to listen and work to understand others before assuming we know them/their worldview and dismissing them.
Profile Image for Scott.
473 reviews67 followers
September 17, 2018
A great, short little book on how to have empathy with others who think differently. Jacobs is always enjoyable and this is essentially a book-length treatment on how to not be insane because of the internet. Much needed, very fun.
Profile Image for Dan Glover.
530 reviews49 followers
August 4, 2019
This might have been subtitled 'how to love your neighbour as yourself when you disagree with them.' This is just so good (like everything Jacobs writes) and so relevant for our politically charged time. This deserves a wide readership and a far better review than I currently have time for.
Profile Image for Pavol Hardos.
335 reviews178 followers
January 11, 2019
As is to be expected from any booklet that promises teaching you 'how to think', this one does not quite deliver. There are some wise observations, some good ideas, some benign ones, and some pretty terrible ones too.

Like a book on swimming that won't harm any experienced swimmers who might refresh and compare their experiences with the book, even disagree with some peculiar notions the author brings with his own perspective (trying to avoid the word bias here), it would be a terrible idea after reading this to likewise think you now know how to swim if you've never actually been to the deep end.
Profile Image for Chad.
Author 22 books288 followers
June 23, 2020
This is my second time to read through this short but very helpful book. It seems like thinking should be easy—we do it all the time, right?—but true thinking is perhaps one of the most challenging of human activities. We are blockaded by unhelpful prejudices, many of which we are unaware. We almost instinctively assume we know why someone who disagrees with us is wrong, even before we fully or adequately listen to their argumentation. Most online interactions, rather than aiding thinking, feeds the worst kinds of anti-thinking. Jacobs analyzes all of this, offers insightful strategies for overcoming bad thinking, and charts a course forward.
Profile Image for Kelsie Hartley.
64 reviews7 followers
June 3, 2022
This is a must read for everyone. I really don’t say that lightly. I just listened to it on audible and it was so enlightening. I will definitely be revisiting the physics book again soon. I am quickly becoming an Alan Jacobs fan girl I must say. He is so thoughtful while still being accessible and I wish I could take his classes!
Profile Image for Laura.
720 reviews78 followers
April 2, 2019
Love Your Neighbor.

If you're wondering "how to think," there's Alan Jacobs' answer. Perhaps this is a "spoiler," but I don't think so. The book is so full of convincing illustrations and clear explanations, you're going to want to read it to understand how we all think and how we can think better.

I really enjoyed reading Jacobs' The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction because he is such an honest and gracious thinker. This book is the same: Jacobs gently and convincingly explains that we can only think well when we recognize that we aren't thinking independently. All of our thinking is relational. Our ideas are always formed with other people. We think in order to belong to certain groups. We think in ways that protect ourselves from future embarrassment about our "sunk costs" from prior commitment to an idea. He offers more and better illustrations, but you get the point. Thinking is not neutral and independent.

Jacobs is able to explain much of the frustration we have with one another as we try to share information. But most importantly, from the very beginning, Jacobs emphasizes again and again that we ought to recognize that under different circumstances, we could think like those whom we oppose. How to Think is short and fascinating and lives up to its subtitle: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds.
Profile Image for Tori Samar.
533 reviews71 followers
February 8, 2023
This is only the second Alan Jacobs book I’ve read, and I’m glad I have other books of his on the 2023 docket because I quite like the way he, ahem, thinks. In the introduction, Jacobs sets forth the argument that our fundamental problem is not that we think with biases but that we don’t think at all. The rest of the book then explores different principles that are part of getting on the road to thinking well.

Undergirding the book is Jacobs’s belief that good techniques won't help us think well. Rather, we need to be the right kind of person. It takes a certain sort of disposition and character to think well. That’s why we need to be part of a true community, in which the key quality is not that the members are like-minded but that they are like-hearted. After all, there’s really no such thing as an independent thinker. Thinking is an incredibly social act, so it matters whom you surround yourself with and how your community views and interacts with outsiders (as the repugnant cultural other or as fellow human beings who are just as capable of being right and wrong as you are and most likely agree with you on ends even if their means are different?).

I’ve still only scratched the surface of what Jacobs says in this book, so I will leave you with the encouragement to take up and read it for yourself.
Profile Image for Jon Pentecost.
279 reviews23 followers
September 7, 2020
Brief, insightful work. Must read for those tossed about on the seas of internet and public opinion.
Provides a positive approach to guarding against the natural errors humans fall into in thinking.
Profile Image for Patrick Schlabs.
48 reviews3 followers
January 13, 2020
Different from what I thought it would be, but exactly what I needed to read.
Profile Image for Abby.
1,411 reviews178 followers
June 13, 2021
“To think independently of other human beings is impossible, and if it were possible it would be undesirable. Thinking is necessarily, thoroughly, and wonderfully social. Everything you think is a response to what someone else has thought and said. And when people commend someone for ‘thinking for herself’ they usually mean ‘ceasing to sound like people I dislike and starting to sound more like people I approve of.’”

A slim, humbling book with the much-needed call for us to be people adept at the art of thinking (especially the kind of slow System 2 thinking that Daniel Kahneman describes in his landmark book Thinking, Fast and Slow). This is not the kind of thinking that humans are particularly skilled at, preferring to dwell on the instinctual System 1 brain, but slow thinking is a facility needed now more than ever. Alan Jacobs, a professor at Baylor University, writes with compelling clarity, and I picked this up with a great desire to be refreshed by his own clear thinking after enjoying his most recent book, Breaking Bread With the Dead. Mission accomplished. I feel humbled and challenged by his wisdom.
“People invested in not knowing, not thinking about, certain things in order to have ‘the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved’ will be ecstatic when their instinct for consensus is gratified—and wrathful when it is thwarted. (Social bonding is cemented by shared emotion, shared emotion generates social bonding. It’s a feedback loop from which reflection is excluded.) … Anyone who claims not to be shaped by such forces is almost certainly self-deceived. Human beings are not built to be indifferent to the waves and pulses of their social world. For most of us the question is whether we have even the slightest reluctance to drift along with the flow. The person who genuinely wants to think will have to develop strategies for recognizing the subtlest of social pressures, confronting the pull of the ingroup and disgust for the outgroup. The person who wants to think will have to practice patience and master fear.”
Profile Image for ValeReads Kyriosity.
1,100 reviews144 followers
January 7, 2019
I ar two dum for too be understandablating all uv this buk. But there were a few good things I caught:

"Give it five minutes" is a useful principle that I learned some years ago (though don't, I am sure, apply often enough). It's especially valuable when someone you generally agree with says something that initially seems off the wall. Don't react. Let it simmer. Let him clarify. Let his others' agreement or objections and his responses to them fill in some details. Many of my sea changes have come about with the help of simply shutting my mouth.

Being able to restate your opponent's position accurately is of course vital to any sort of debate (and all too rare a skill). I'm exasperated by idiotic left-wing memes, but deeply embarrassed by idiotic right-wing memes that betray a complete misunderstanding of left-wing views.

There is, and rightly so, a limit to how open our minds should be. Settled convictions are also a sign of maturity.

What I missed in the book is any reference to Scripture as the standard by which all thoughts should be measured. It seems to me that that should be a hammered and rehammered point for any Christian writing on the topic of how to think.

I want to read David Foster Wallace's essay "Language and Authority," which is in Consider the Lobster, which I've bookmarked on Scribd. (My only friend who's reviewed this notes that there's an essay on the porn industry in that book that would probably be best to skip.)

If three stars seems too low a rating, remember my frequent caveat that my reviews are subjective.
Profile Image for Ryan Shelton.
88 reviews1 follower
January 14, 2021
This is my second time reading (in full) this little gem, though I’ve kept little quotes from it on hand often. When I think back on the past 5 years of my life, it’s clear that this was one of the books that’s changed my life the most. I’m quite simply a different person than I was before I read it.

Reading it again 3 years later, it is only proven to be more prescient and piercing.

I also think this book is surprisingly sophisticated. Jacobs reframes thinking — something we conventionally treat as a solitary activity (the thinking man statue comes to mind) — and he places it squarely in our social habits. Therefore, the challenges to our thinking well are not as personal as we think; they are social. We can learn to think better, but the cost is higher than we might want to pay. We have to become different kinds of people. And, sometimes, we need new friends.

My 2017 review:
Could also be titled, “How to Be a Human on the Internet.” A practical and honest little book that challenges us to a higher standard of civility—especially in the age of social media—and shares reasonable methods for evaluating our inevitable biases.
Profile Image for Vance Freeman.
75 reviews2 followers
March 30, 2018
4 1/2 stars. This is a thoughtful little book on thinking. Who is it for? People with brains.

Why is it good? So much of our opining about politics and social issues goes unexamined. And social media exacerbates our lack of reflection. Most media and our smart phones depend on activating and getting reaction from our lizard brain. As a result, the part of our mind that analyzes, self-reflects, and is self-critical atrophies.

We could frame the issue this way, can we really have positions on political and social issues without knowing why we think the way we do? We can’t really know what we think unless we know how we think. This short book helps explore that.

I’m so confident in recommending this book, I guarantee our society would be 61.4% more civil if we practiced the better thinking outlined in this book.

Why 4 1/2 stars and not 5? The typeface font were less than great. Please just give us a nice serif font and high contrast black ink. Please. #SNOOT
Profile Image for Mike.
Author 7 books37 followers
December 13, 2018
This isn't quite the book the title might lead us to expect. Jacobs has to lay out the groundwork extensively before he can finally provide us with a 'checklist' that will help us think our way through the many arguments and debates and confusions and antagonisms we encounter, especially on social media.

The groundwork is well-laid out and never difficult to follow - as compared to some of those other authors on the process of thinking whom he quotes. (I'm still only part way through Kahneman's 449 page Thinking, Fast and Slow.) Jacobs' book has the benefit of being short (161 pages) and yet broad enough to give us the information required. I've heavily highlighted, because it's packed with good sense and wisdom - not all of it by Jacobs.

I highly recommend it; it may seem at first he's not helping us to think, but he is, and he does it with great expertise.

Read this again. Excellent.
Profile Image for Brittaini.
160 reviews4 followers
March 18, 2018
Dr. Jacobs was one of my first lit professors in college, and I have tremendous respect for him as a thinker. I am almost always interested in what he has to say on a topic (except soccer), and can count on his thoughts to be measured and fair. All that to say, I was predisposed to like this book and did. I agree with some reviews that it's not necessarily a revelation, but it's a useful and brief meditation on thinking and how to approach it. Jacobs does get a little smug, but it's not something I mind.
Profile Image for Demetrius Rogers.
410 reviews63 followers
December 29, 2022
Listened to this on audio, but liked it so much I'll need to order a print copy to engage its principles further. Glad to have run across this amid the political and opinion wars our cultural is so prone to get into. Resources like this will help us improve sloppy ways of thinking, and also the sloppy ways we try to convert others to our point of view. Much more than just thinking (although that's foundational), this book helps administer a healthy dose of civility. And for that reason, this book is more than just about thinking, it's a great resource on building community.
Profile Image for Matt Pitts.
565 reviews41 followers
December 28, 2017
I saw this book on the "my favorite books of 2017" lists of a couple thinking people I admire and so I was eager to read it. Alan Jacobs did not disappoint. The book is short, pithy, thoughtful, sensible, and written with an eye to our current cultural moment. I'm glad I encountered those end of the year recommendations and I hope to recommend it myself.
Profile Image for Glen.
424 reviews11 followers
July 22, 2021
I purchased this book for two reasons: 1. I’ve read Jacobs before and like his writing and, 2. We live in an increasingly complex age with abnormal stress levels that requires me to reflect on how I think.

On both these accounts this was a great success. And, while Jacobs is a noted Christian thinker, he does a good job of being less apologetical as he navigates the germane topic. He is not proscriptive in his comments. Yet, he also eloquently remains true to his belief that there is a heuristic way to interpret life which for him is an essentially Christian worldview.

Some of my favorite sections were those that deal with belonging (inner ring vs. community) and how the misuse of metaphors in order to stereotype others is a social ill begging for a thoughtful response. Social media and dichotomized debates (I.e., ‘us’ vs ‘them) are repeatedly touched upon by way of a genuine critique of the dynamics framing our rhetoric. There is no flippant criticisms which elevates the message of this book.

Jacobs openly declares in the closing chapter that he is proposing a technique for clear thinking more than a particular school of thought. For this reason, I view this book as a helpful resource for the cultural dialogues seeking to redefine public discourse in our divisive times.
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