The best books on thinking

Richard E. Nisbett Author Of Thinking: A Memoir
By Richard E. Nisbett

The Books I Picked & Why

A Primer of Freudian Psychology

By Calvin S. Hall

A Primer of Freudian Psychology

Why this book?

This book gives an excellent overview of Freud’s thoughts about human psychology, and also shows the way he thought. Freud’s brilliance shines through. I hasten to say most, though not by any means all of his hypotheses are wrong. I read this book at 15 and knew when I finished it I was going to be a psychologist. Some of my work gives strong support to a few of his hypotheses about the unconscious. Ironically, Freud himself didn’t believe his ideas could be tested by psychology experiments.


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The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations

By Fritz Heider

The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations

Why this book?

The book, written in mid-century, has some of the most powerful hypotheses of social psychology, which, along with the ideas of fellow émigré from Germany, Kurt Lewin, gave birth to the field of social psychology. Read Chapter 4 at least. I do every 5 years or so. The chapter gave rise to both dissonance theory and attribution theory, two of the major accomplishments of social psychology.


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Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science

By Alan Cromer

Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science

Why this book?

A remarkably charming book by a physicist who was a student of Hans Bethe. It shows the power and elegance of a scientific approach to matters that one might think would not be susceptible to scientific research.


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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

By Thomas S. Kuhn

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Why this book?

The book shows that scientific progress is only sometimes rational and incremental. Sometimes it proceeds like an unanticipated avalanche, wiping out much of what went before and utterly altering the landscape. The book preceded the success of the cognitive revolution in psychology, which was a perfect example of its ideas. One day the behaviorists such as Pavlov and Skinner were the unchallenged rulers of the roost. The next day the cognitive revolution, begun by people who were knowledgeable about artificial intelligence, research on visual perception, and epistemology, showed that much of their work was wrong. More importantly, it suggested fresh hypotheses that could never have come from a behaviorist framework. The early workers could hardly believe their luck at picking the “low-hanging fruit.”


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Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India, China, Tibet, Japan

By Hajime Nakamura

Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India, China, Tibet, Japan

Why this book?

The book shows some of the remarkable ways that Eastern and Western thought differs. I read the book 10 years before a brilliant Chinese student named Kaiping Peng came to work with me and told me right off the bat that I thought linearly and logically and he thought non-linearly and dialectically. That sounded like an exaggeration, but Nakamura’s book encouraged me to take Peng seriously. Our research together showed he was absolutely right. East Asian thought was shown by our experiments to be radically different in many ways from Western thought.


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