"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.
Thinking is "the power to be finely aware and richly responsible," and this handbook by Jacobs (The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis), a Baylor University English professor, represents an erudite attempt to tap into that potential. For those who share Jacobs's values thinking self-critically about one's own beliefs and being willing to empathize with those with whom one disagrees this guide on how to navigate an intellectual landscape dominated by snap judgments and polarization will be a delight. Jacobs initially focuses on C.S. Lewis's concept of the "Inner Ring," which describes how the urge to belong to groups can promote conformity, but then branches out across the philosophical spectrum, tying in the ideas of Thomas Aquinas, S ren Kierkegaard, John Stuart Mill, and David Foster Wallace, among others. Interspersing the intellectual nuggets are colorful anecdotes, including on basketball great Wilt Chamberlain's sex life, the Westboro Baptist Church and its abandonment by member Megan Phelps-Roper, and the landmark social-psychology book When Prophecy Fails, about the groupthink of a 1950s UFO cult. Witty, engaging, and ultimately hopeful, Jacobs's guide is sorely needed in a society where partisanship too often trumps the pursuit of knowledge.
A worthy read.
Somewhat reminiscent of Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence” in the scope of identifying the underlying sociological factors that can grossly impact our ability to think critically in today’s hypermedia saturated world. For the excellent sources (duly noted for independent reading) and the way he weaves their relevance to the subject and social impacts together I would give five stars. He achieves a brevity I would not have expected given the breadth of crucial aspects he addresses.
Where it fell short for me is that it fails to address the role that objective truth must play in critical thinking and how vitally lacking that usually is in today’s exchanges. He deftly guides us to evaluate our navigation of subjective positions and interpersonal relationships along the Pauline lines of “...as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all...” What he did not do from his Christian perspective, however, is address how knowable truths must inform our thinking and our interactions in this present age - and that alone, for me, drastically tarnished the otherwise exceptional treatment of trying to teach us all how to discipline our own thinking so that we can have thoughtful civil conversations concerning difficult subjects.