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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

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  1,822 ratings  ·  313 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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4.01  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,822 ratings  ·  313 reviews

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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.
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
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, kindle, netgalley
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
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.
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
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).
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
Excellent book and I highly recommend it for everyone!
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Definitely worth a read.
Ana Ávila
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)
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
Matt Pitts
Dec 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: thinking
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.
Cameron Bernard
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
The discipline of thinking is difficult. I hope to follow some of the lessons in this book because it is easy to slip into habits that preclude intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth.
Mike Fendrich
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
March 3, 2019 - reread 2nd time for a family book discussion. Had discussion today - was excellent. There are many blind spots that we all have when it comes to thinking and we talked about several of them and thought of some action plans to help us change. We do not realize the sociological and our group identities impact on our thinking and how quickly we label and disregard others because they don't fit into our present understanding. It is important for us as humans to attempt to understand ...more
Vance Freeman
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 poli
Aug 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Having an unpopular opinion can be difficult and rewarding at the same time. I understand the desire to write about both aspects.

But this reads like a series of anecdotes about how he took the Devil's Advocate position for the sake of argument and his friends got mad at him instead of thanking him for being constantly contradictory.

It's a book of self-congratulation for being obnoxious.

Well done, I guess.
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This isn't earth-shattering (particularly if you've regularly read the author's blog), but it is a succinct and enjoyable reminder of ways to live with intellectual humility and charity in a world that often neither exhibits nor rewards either characteristic.
Joshua D.
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Best book I've read in 2017. You really should get it.
Oct 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-reads
This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader.
I haven't read any of them, but over the last few years I've seen a pretty good number of books about human thinking processes -- how it works, how it can/can't be changed, and how this can/may/should change the way we approach decision-making, etc. (it's not that I'm uninterested, there's only so much time). Unlike me, Alan Jacobs has read many of these -- and one thing he notes, that while these books are great on the science of human co
TJ Wilson
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a good book. It’s spelled out and concise. It promotes empathy and restraint and basically making sure your doing your due diligence as a social animal to acknowledge social biases and the like. The arguments are thoughtful and contemporary and useful for longterm pondering and aspiring. But I do take issue with some of the examples he uses for arguments that I think are well argued without the aforementioned examples:

The first is this assumption, which seems to be a sidenote in a discus
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I buy books like these all the time. Usually, reading them is just a way for me to waste time while feeling like I'm doing something productive: with books like this it usually turns out that all the major claims could fill about one paragraph and the rest of the book is filled with gossipy case studies. And usually I disagree with a lot of what gets said. This is not one of those books.

The author of this book is well read and thoughtful, and he's clearly thought hard about his own prejudices an
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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
“all of us at various times in our lives believe true things for poor reasons, and false things for good reasons, and that whatever we think we know, whether we’re right or wrong, arises from our interactions with other human beings. Thinking independently, solitarily, “for ourselves,” is not an option.” 5 likes
“T. S. Eliot wrote almost a century ago about a phenomenon that he believed to be the product of the nineteenth century: “When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when everyone knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not.” 3 likes
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