The best books about critical thinking

Who am I?

I’m an author, tech philosopher, father, geek, pianist, and novelist; and I'm fascinated by what it means to think clearly and well. Our world is bristling with complexities and crises; with staggering technologies, opportunities, and threats. What does it mean to find some kind of clarity, focus, and community amid this maelstrom? How can we hope to grasp, together, the nature of our times? These are the questions that keep me up at night—and that have driven me to write books that, I hope, can help and support people in rigorously exploring such questions for themselves.

I wrote...

How to Think: Your Essential Guide to Clear, Critical Thought

By Tom Chatfield,

Book cover of How to Think: Your Essential Guide to Clear, Critical Thought

What is my book about?

This is my third book about critical thinking. I wrote it during the early days of the pandemic and wanted to capture the ways in which critical thinking skills can help us in the face of escalating uncertainties and crises. How thinking well is rooted in honest doubt, collaboration, and empathy just as much as in reading, research, and logic. This result is a slim, personal book that—I hope!—invites you to explore what the lifelong journey of thinking more richly about thinking itself might look like for you.

The books I picked & why

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What Is Philosophy For?

By Mary Midgley,

Book cover of What Is Philosophy For?

Why this book?

Mary Midgley was in her nineties when she wrote this book, yet it’s alive with ideas and energy – and the insistence that philosophy should be “for” something in the most urgent, practical sense; that it should help us explore such questions as to how to live and to do good. Midgley was both highly scientifically literate and fiercely opposed to the claim that science will ever answer every question. We humans, she believed, are brilliant animals who need to understand our biological heritage as richly as possible if we’re to grapple fruitfully with our planetary future. I can think of few more urgent themes for the present century.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

By Caroline Criado Perez,

Book cover of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Why this book?

One of the most important aspects of critical thinking is identifying and questioning faulty assumptions, and Invisible Women is one of the most brilliant recent examples I’ve seen of this in action. Criado Perez offers a rich and meticulously researched account of the ways in which women’s experiences, bodies, needs, and histories have been systematically effaced in countless settings; how, for example, the “normal” human measurements used to design everything from car safety features to phone handsets are based on male rather than female bodies. This is a devastatingly eye-opening book and a call to action against complacency of all kinds.

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb,

Book cover of Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets

Why this book?

Taleb has written a handful of wonderful books exploring the ways in which human beings tend to systematically misunderstand the world. This was his first, and it’s a fantastic place to begin. As the title suggests, he’s fascinated by the ways in which chance events can seem significant when, in fact, this significance is merely an illusion; how, for example, we can’t resist seeing events in terms of cause and effect even when this is wishful nonsense. Taleb is a risk expert and mathematician – but he’s also a dazzling explainer and fearless provocateur, drawing on history and personal experience to bring statistically rigorous ways of thinking to life. 

Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom

By bell hooks,

Book cover of Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom

Why this book?

This is a slim, passionate, personal book by one of the most significant American educators and activists of the last century. It’s part of her “teaching” trilogy (the other two books cover Community and Freedom) and is founded on the belief that “one could choose to educate for the practice of freedom.” Critical thinking is often treated as an emotionless, logical discipline, but this book shows how it’s rooted in a deep human longing for understanding—and is also vital to informed, equitable democratic participation. Teaching Critical Thinking is a profound testament to the significance of emotionally, politically, and intellectually engaged pedagogy – and why these three things are ultimately inseparable. 

Thinking, Fast and Slow

By Daniel Kahneman,

Book cover of Thinking, Fast and Slow

Why this book?

This might be the most famous book written in recent years about thinking – and the ways in which we’re all astonishingly vulnerable to various kinds of bias, distortion, and selectivity in our views of the world. But it’s also a book that offers hope in the sheer care with which it synthesizes a lifetime of thought and research. To be human is to be hasty, flawed, and partial; but it’s also to be part of an ongoing collective negotiation with these limitations. This is a foundational text for embarking upon that negotiation, and one that Nobel laureate Kahneman has put together with a careful mix of clarity and wisdom.

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