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

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  2,703 ratings  ·  443 reviews
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
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published October 17th 2017 by Currency
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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 ·  2,703 ratings  ·  443 reviews

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Adam Shields
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 thinkin
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mark Jr.
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, netgalley, kindle
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
Oct 07, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: practical, read-19
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.
Pavol Hardos
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 afte
Sally Ewan
Feb 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 environme ...more
Dan Glover
Aug 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jun 28, 2020 rated it liked it
My usual problem with books like this: I've already read too many of the reference materials. It's interesting to hear about the studies and conclusions again, but not as interesting as reading about new studies and conclusions.
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Patrick Schlabs
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Different from what I thought it would be, but exactly what I needed to read.
May 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 somethin ...more
Zack Clemmons
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I should probably give it 5 minutes before I pass judgment on this book. Alas.

A helpful toeing-into the world of cognitive biases and metacognition for those (like myself) who get claustrophobic and skeptical and a little disoriented after 15 minutes on Slate Star Codex. The organization of the text at the chapter level appeared contrived, and I wish Jacobs' editor had drawn (ok, it's Jacobs, PDF annotated) a heavy red line through all the parenthetical observations, but it's hard to begrudge s
Jordan Shirkman
Dec 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We desperately need to think in an age where sound bites and polemics rule. We need a way to actually engage in conversation instead of constant oneupmanship, name calling, and outrage.

Alan Jacobs provides a framework for a more kind, compassionate, empathetic approach to thinking about (not just rejecting) new ideas, dealing with pressure from our circles when adopting novel or contrary ideas, and having strong convictions yet being open to truly listening to others.

He says thinking is more o
Bruce Katz
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A little book that offers much to, um, think about. Really. About the role language and metaphor play in our thoughts and interactions, and how group dynamics influence how we perceive not only the world but the shape of our thinking. I am also particularly grateful to have encountered the following quotation from David Foster Wallace: "We are the Few, the Proud, the More or Less Constantly Appalled at Everyone Else." It made my day!
Justin Lonas
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A reminder for our time if there ever was one. Jacobs stitches together threads from Lewis, Kahneman, Wallace, Orwell (spiced, as Jacobs'work always is, with Auden) to declare that "thinking", properly considered, is the curated ability to calmly evaluate an opposing viewpoint. This, Jacobs argues, is the antidote to tribalism (even if tribes themselves must always exist) and inflexibility (even if there are certain convictions to which we always hold tightly).
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Definitely worth a read.
Kofi Opoku
May 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It’s a great read. Very careful and well balanced material on how to think critically. I liked that he included some practical tips at the end of the book.
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished-in-2019
Excellent book and I highly recommend it for everyone!
Alex Etheridge
Aug 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
This should required reading for any public figure that uses Twitter. I found Jacobs's best point to be that rather than view people we disagree with as repugnant others, we should see them as human, much more like us than different. Overall, it seemed he was trying to be much more accessible to his readers than he achieved. I did like his points, and his humble reasoning, but found his examples to be especially obscure.
Kendall Davis
Aug 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Great insights and even greater writing. Can't recommend highly enough.

In terms of content, I found Jacobs' focus on the social dynamics of thinking particularly helpful and refreshing. Typical appeals for critical thinking tend to take a more analytic approach and emphasize personal method and logical fallacies, but Jacobs believes that in-group/out-group dynamics are far more relevant, and I thoroughly agree with him.
Ana Avila
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great read to revisit frequently.
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Super helpful commentary and advice on dialogue that occurs on social media platforms! "Blessed are the peacemakers, to be sure; but peacemaking is long, hard labor, not a mere declaration." (Ch. 4)
Mark Nenadov
May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent, short book on thinking clearly, biases, etc. There’s a great deal of wisdom in here.
Dale Larson
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This should be required reading for being alive in this modern, combative, unthinking age. Everything it teaches is, theoretically, common sense but it can feel impossible to implement. We all feel wired to want to "win" all the time. We want to feel accepted and important all the time. And all of these "needs" compel us to shut of our minds and bare our teeth in the face of disagreement. It's an excellent book for those looking to lose friends and suffer emotional wounds and debasement of socia ...more
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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 i

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