How to Think

Alan Jacobs
"Absolutely splendid . . . essential for understanding why there is so much bad thinking in political life right now." --David Brooks, New York Times 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. 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.


Reviewed: 2018-10-10
Alan Jacobs thinks we have a thinking problem. I think he’s right. Not that we cannot think, but as a society, we would rather not and actively avoid it. Thinking requires too much of us. Thinking will change us and often will cause us trouble. This isn't a guide to logical thinking. He walks us through the process of thinking through issues in the comment section like hostility of our society. If you want to slow down and really think and are concerned with discovering truth, this book is for you.

How to Think is an important book for our times. The world of social media has made thinking much more difficult. We create echo chambers of online communities that agree with us and shout down and ostracize anyone who doesn't walk the line. It is so easy to categorize anyone who disagrees with us as the enemy, dismiss them, block them, and banish them from your feeds. But learning to think involves a “skepticism about our own motives and generosity toward the motives of others." You have to care about the truth more than your social position. There always has been, a social aspect to our thinking. No one comes to any conclusion as “an independent thinker”. Whether through face to face discussion, books, or teachers, we don’t come to ideas on our own. All of these factors come to play, and they can either be used for good thinking or to shut it down.

Thinking is also more than coldly calculating all possible options like a super computer. We are human beings, not machines. Clear and good thinking requires the rational, logic, but there is the emotional aspect involved as well. Knowing the truth is important; so is loving your neighbor. All logic and no compassion, or all emotion and no social element or empathy for those you disagree with will shut down thinking. The search for truth requires the courage to admit you are wrong, or to say your friends and family are wrong.

I didn't agree with all his conclusions, but I am still thinking them over.

Thanks to for the review copy.
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@drakewald completed #howtothink... on 2020-11-10