The best books about "thinking skills"

Martin Cohen Author Of Rethinking Thinking: Problem Solving from Sun Tzu to Google
By Martin Cohen

Who am I?

Most of my books (101 Philosophy Problems, Wittgenstein's Beetle, Critical Thinking for Dummies, and so on) are on thinking skills, in the broad sense. However, I'm always a bit uncomfortable when I'm presented as an expert on thinking, as people tend to imagine I must have some brainy strategies for thinking better when my interest is also in the ways we "think badly." Because logic is really a blunt tool, compared to the brilliant insights that come with intuition. Yet how do you train your intuition? So the books I've chosen here are all ones that I've found don't so much tell you how to think, but actually get you thinking. And that's always been my aim in my books too.

I wrote...

Rethinking Thinking: Problem Solving from Sun Tzu to Google

By Martin Cohen,

Book cover of Rethinking Thinking: Problem Solving from Sun Tzu to Google

What is my book about?

Everyone, as the French philosopher René Descartes pointed out long ago, thinks. That’s the easy bit. The harder part, and what this book is really about, is how to make your thinking original and effective. And here the problem is that too often we don’t really engage the gears of our brain, don’t really look at issues in an original or active way, we just respond. Like computers, inputs are processed according to established rules and outputs are thus largely predetermined. Yet that’s not what makes us human and that’s not where the big prizes in life are to be found.

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The books I picked & why

Thinking, Fast and Slow

By Daniel Kahneman,

Book cover of Thinking, Fast and Slow

Why did I love this book?

What I like about this book is that it deals with big ideas in very plain language, and is packed full of practical experiments and examples. This is all the more remarkable as the book actually started out as a 'post-hippy,' 1970s academic paper, entitled "Belief in the Law of Small Numbers," in which Daniel Kahneman and his lifelong collaborator, Amos Tversky, set out eleven "cognitive illusions" that affect human judgment. The book went on to define a whole new field, which can't be said for everyone! Its weakness is, I think, an insistence that being irrational is bad. Not always!

By Daniel Kahneman,

Why should I read it?

37 authors picked Thinking, Fast and Slow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The phenomenal international bestseller - 2 million copies sold - that will change the way you make decisions

'A lifetime's worth of wisdom' Steven D. Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics
'There have been many good books on human rationality and irrationality, but only one masterpiece. That masterpiece is Thinking, Fast and Slow' Financial Times

Why is there more chance we'll believe something if it's in a bold type face? Why are judges more likely to deny parole before lunch? Why do we assume a good-looking person will be more competent? The answer lies in the two ways we make choices: fast,…

Thought Experiments

By Roy A. Sorensen,

Book cover of Thought Experiments

Why did I love this book?

This is the book that got me thinking about thought experiments. It really opened up my eyes to a whole new way of thinking – mainly by introducing me to the wonderfully playful, indeed modern style of writing that Galileo used to present his groundbreaking scientific theories – way back in seventeenth-century Italy!

Sorenson is a philosophy professor and goes on a bit, but his book was also groundbreaking in a way. My own books owe him a debt and for scholarly types, he also suggests a general theory "of" thought experiments: meaning what they are, how they work, and what is good - and bad - about them.

By Roy A. Sorensen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thought Experiments as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this book, Roy Sorensen presents the first general theory of the thought experiment. He analyses a wide variety of thought experiments, ranging from aesthetics to zoology, and explores what thought experiments are, how they work, and what their positive and negative aspects are. Sorensen also sets his theory within an evolutionary framework and integrates recent advances in experimental psychology and the history of science.

Book cover of What Is the Name of This Book?: The Riddle of Dracula and Other Logical Puzzles

Why did I love this book?

Raymond Smullyan is a riddler, a puzzler, well-known for various Knights and Knaves puzzles, a type of logic game where some characters can only answer questions truthfully, and others only falsely. However, I recommend this book as here he offers not only logical tricks but many insights too. One section offers the World's shortest explanation of Gödel's theorem which is a magnificent achievement but frankly, reminds me why I like long explanations sometimes.

Basically, this is an examination of boolean logic, which is (rather boringly) a branch of algebra in which all operations are either true or false, and relationships are expressed with logical operators such as and, or, or not. So it’s serious stuff, but also pretty funny along the way.

By Raymond M. Smullyan,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked What Is the Name of This Book? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The most original, most profound, and most humorous collection of recreational logic and math problems ever written." — Martin Gardner, Scientific American
"The value of the book lies in the wealth of ingenious puzzles. They afford amusement, vigorous exercise, and instruction." — Willard Van Orman Quine, The New York Times Book Review
If you're intrigued by puzzles and paradoxes, these 200 mind-bending logic puzzles, riddles, and diversions will thrill you with challenges to your powers of reason and common sense. Raymond M. Smullyan — a celebrated mathematician, logician, magician, and author — presents a logical labyrinth of more than 200…

Alice in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll, Illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer,

Book cover of Alice in Wonderland

Why did I love this book?

We all know this book as a children's bookor maybe just secondhand as a cultural reference. What few of us think of the book as being is as a brilliant work of the philosophy of maths, language, and self-reference. Yet Lewis Carroll in fact was a mathematician and what is unique about his writing is how he hides his learning with such wit and elegance, that, well, we all forget the book is actually serious stuff.

By Lewis Carroll, Illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Alice in Wonderland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Alice sees the White Rabbit running by on the river bank, she follows him, tumbling down a Rabbit Hole into a magical world where nothing is ever as it seems...

Lewis Carroll's classic story has delighted children since 1865. One hundred and fifty years since its first publication, Hodder celebrates in style with this sumptuous new edition, illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer, whose dreamlike illustrations bring vibrant new life to Carroll's beloved characters. The original text appears complete and unabridged.

Rebecca Dautremer is the celebrated illustrator of The Secret Lives of Princesses.

Book cover of Chaos: Making a New Science

Why did I love this book?

This is a book about "non-linear" thinking. I like this kind of weird stuff. 

Research in psychology shows that the human mind struggles to understand non-linear relationships. Our brains seem to like the rather dull and predictable story of simple relationships. Ones like "you drive quicker, you arrive sooner" or maybe "the more books you read, the brainer you become."  But real life is not following these laws! Take dieting: if you eat less food you don't necessarily get thinner - maybe your metabolism slows down instead. Maybe you skip breakfast but start snacking late at night. "It's complicated."

By James Gleick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chaos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Uncover one of the most exciting frontiers of modern physics in this fascinating, insightful and accessible overview of Chaos theory.

'An exceedingly readable introduction to a new intellectual world' Observer

From the turbulence of the weather to the complicated rythmns of the human heart, 'chaos' is at the centre of our day to day lives. Cutting across several scientific disciplines, James Gleick explores and elucidates the science of the unpredicatable with an immensely readable narrative style and flair.

'An awe-inspiring book. Reading Chaos gave me the sensation that someone had just found the light-switch' Douglas Adams

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