The best critical thinking books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about critical thinking and why they recommend each book.

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Beyond Feelings

By Vincent Ruggiero,

Book cover of Beyond Feelings: A Guide to Critical Thinking

Most people are led through life by their feelings. Feelings are fine, they enrich our lives, but as the sole guide for making decisions, they fall short. Ruggiero, a huge name in critical thinking, starts from this point, the point of being led by our feelings. And that alone makes this a very good guide to critical thinking.

Who am I?

Of all my university courses, the one that had the greatest impact on me was called "Informal Logic." Accurate, but misleadingly dry and academic. One of the assignments in that course—and the one I remember most, of all my university assignments—was to prepare a "Crapbook": a collection of ten bits of crap—ads, arguments, whatever—that were full of crap (essentially, incorrect reasoning/logical fallacies). I loved it. So when, twenty years later, I was hired by a small university to teach Critical Thinking …  

I wrote...

Critical Thinking: An Appeal to Reason

By Peg Tittle,

Book cover of Critical Thinking: An Appeal to Reason

What is my book about?

Content-wise, this is a pretty standard textbook for use in university critical thinking courses: it covers the nature and structure of argument, the many ways you can 'get it wrong,' and so on.  Simply put, it will help you make, understand, and evaluate arguments.  

What sets it apart is that the difficult bits are presented in baby steps (so you can use this text on your own); there are lots of opportunities for practice (critical thinking is, after all, a skill—you learn by doing); these opportunities are, for the most part, real-world ads, editorials, claims, conversations, speeches, etc.; and there is a 300-page appendix providing answers, explanations, and analyses for the forementioned practice bits (which means, instructors, I've done much of your work for you!).

Thinking Like a Lawyer

By Colin Seale,

Book cover of Thinking Like a Lawyer: A Framework for Teaching Critical Thinking to All Students

At first glance, you might not see why we think it’s a book for parents that addresses anti-racism. But digging deeper, you’ll see that one of the things we advocate for is developing the skills for introspection - to ask ourselves the tough questions, to challenge our own beliefs and assumptions, and think critically about the information that constantly surrounds us. Those skills are a fundamental part of our own anti-racism practices. Unfortunately, critical thinking is not a skill that’s been well taught, or evenly taught, throughout the schools in our country - so it’s important for each of us to help ourselves, and our children, learn this most foundational skill to succeed in the 21st century.

Who am I?

We are two biracial (Japanese and White) mothers with very mixed-race children, who believe that when we learn about our nation’s history and look more deeply at our personal experiences with race and identity, we gain the power to effect personal and systemic change. Some of that starts with the books that we read to, and with, our kids. We discuss these topics and more on our weekly award-winning podcast, Dear White Women. We hope that you love the books on this list as much as we do!

I wrote...

Dear White Women: Let's Get (Un)Comfortable Talking about Racism

By Sara Blanchard, Misasha Suzuki Graham,

Book cover of Dear White Women: Let's Get (Un)Comfortable Talking about Racism

What is my book about?

From the creators of the award-winning podcast Dear White Women, this book breaks down the psychology and barriers to meaningful race discussions for White people, contextualizing racism throughout American history in short, targeted chapters. Sara Blanchard and Misasha Suzuki Graham bring their insights to the page with concrete tips for addressing discrimination and microaggressions at home, in social groups, and elsewhere.

A 2021 Edelweiss Bookfest Editors’ Pick, Dear White Women challenges readers to encounter the hard questions about race (and racism) in order to push the needle of change in a positive direction. Blanchard and Suzuki Graham present contemporary advice rooted in cultural and historical insight, outlining the answers to questions so many of us have trouble answering ourselves.

Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots

By Michael Rex,

Book cover of Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots

I like a challenge, so I was drawn to how this concept picture book tackles a challenging topic, making it fun and accessible. While colorful robots dance and bicker, the text asks readers to evaluate statements to determine if they’re facts or opinions. Readers learn to question information and to respect the opinions of others, skills many adults haven’t mastered. The best thing about this book is that it fosters critical thinking.

Who am I?

I’m fascinated by robots. As a former computer programmer, systems analyst, and consultant, I’ve had an interest in technology since my first programming class in high school. I’ve been to robotics labs in Boston, Massachusetts, and Lausanne, Switzerland. My husband is a mechanical/software engineer, so STEM is a big part of our lives. In addition to Robo-Motion, I’m the author of a number of Minecraft books with STEM and coding sidebars. I’ve also published many magazine articles, one of which was the inspiration for this book. I wrote about the CRAM cockroach robot for the March 2017 issue of MUSE.

I wrote...

Robo-Motion: Robots That Move Like Animals

By Linda Zajac,

Book cover of Robo-Motion: Robots That Move Like Animals

What is my book about?

Animals skitter, scuttle, grip, and glide and so do robots. In this nonfiction picture book about biomimicry, a photograph of each animal is paired with a fascinating robot that mimics its motion. Details about each robot’s purpose convey how robots can benefit society. This STEM title includes back matter, a glossary, and information about biomimicry. Through Robo-Motion for Research, I’m donating a portion of the proceeds to support research on diseases and medical conditions that affect children.

Teaching to Transgress

By bell hooks,

Book cover of Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

This 1994 classic by the late bell hooks never ceases to inspire us. “To educate is a practice of freedom,” hooks writes. She means that to be truly educated means to be liberated: to understand the forms of oppression, coercion, and limits imposed on learners because of class, gender, racial, sexual bias, and in every other way. hooks points to the barriers that keep us from being our very best selves. She inspires every reader to self-educate, self-reflect, find and build communities of support in order to live a better life. She inspires every educator to make, as their objective, not just the teaching of content but transmission of the tools that allow each student to achieve their own best aspirations for their lives and their community. 

Who are we?

We are two college-level educators, one has had a long career, one a recent PhD. We share a commitment to lifelong learning, not just in the classroom but beyond. And we love learning from one another. We wrote The New College Classroom together during the pandemic, meeting over Zoom twice a week, discussing books by other educators, writing and revising and rewriting every word together, finding ways to think about improving our students’ lives for a better future even as the world seemed grim. The books we cherish share those values: hope, belief in the next generation, and a deep commitment to learning even in—especially in—the grimmest of times.

We wrote...

The New College Classroom

By Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis,

Book cover of The New College Classroom

What is our book about?

College teaching is stuck in the past. If a time traveler from a century ago arrived on today’s campuses, they would recognize only too well the listlessness of the lecture hall and the awkward silence of the seminar room. Yet we know how to do better. Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis, two of the world’s foremost innovators in higher education, turn to the latest learning science to tell us about inspiring, effective, and inclusive teaching. Davidson and Katopodis explain how and why their approach works and provide detailed case studies of educators successfully applying active-learning techniques in their courses every day, ensuring that their students are better prepared for the world after college. 

The Art of Logic in an Illogical World

By Eugenia Cheng,

Book cover of The Art of Logic in an Illogical World

The author explains the importance of abstraction in logic, demonstrating its three main components: paths made of long chains of logic, packages made of a collection of concepts structured into a new compound unit, and pivots to build bridges to previously disconnected places.

Eugenia Cheng does an excellent job of abstracting principles of logic to better understand challenging real-world societal issues such as affirmative action and cancer screening. I found it quite compelling to understand how and why she came to her positions on various issues, through her axiom that "avoiding false negatives is more important than avoiding false positives." I appreciated the expertise by which she weaved numerous hard topics, in both mathematics and social justice, into a coherent and compelling narrative.

Who am I?

I have devoted my entire career to mathematics, and have a life filled with meaning and purpose through my roles as an educator, researcher, and consultant. I teach at the Vancouver campus of Northeastern University and am the owner and principal of Hoshino Math Services, a boutique math consulting firm. 

I wrote...

The Math Olympian

By Richard Hoshino,

Book cover of The Math Olympian

What is my book about?

My book is about a small-town Canadian teenager named Bethany, who has an impossible dream: to represent her country at the International Math Olympiad. Through persistence, perseverance, and the support of innovative mentors who inspire her with a love of learning, Bethany overcomes numerous challenges and develops the creativity and confidence to reach her potential.

In training to become a world-champion "mathlete", Bethany discovers the heart of mathematics - a subject that's not about memorizing formulas, but rather about problem-solving and detecting patterns to uncover truth, as well as learning how to apply the deep and unexpected connections of mathematics to every aspect of her life. Through this journey, Bethany discovers that through mathematics, she can and she will make an extraordinary contribution to society.

Future Wise

By David Perkins,

Book cover of Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World

Perkins, like Mitra and Berger, is on my list of top educational gurus. All his books are worth reading, but Future Wise is one of the latest and best. It takes a long careful look at the contents of the conventional school curriculum, compares it with the real-world challenges that today’s kids will meet, and finds it seriously lacking as a preparation for real life. He goes on to explore the wealth of current knowledge that isn’t in the curriculum but ought to be, and demonstrates the kind of careful, creative thinking about education that ought to be happening but rarely is – certainly not by most academics and politicians. David is a Harvard professor, and is, as you would expect, deeply thoughtful and fair-minded, but he writes with a down-to-earth elegance and charm that makes his penetrating questioning all the more convincing.

Who am I?

I’m a cognitive scientist, and I love reading, thinking, and researching about the nature of the human – and especially the young – mind, and what it is capable of. Even while I was still doing my PhD in experimental psychology at Oxford in the early 1970s, I was gripped by the new possibilities for thinking about education that were being opened up by science. In particular, the assumption of a close association between intelligence and intellect was being profoundly challenged, and I could see that there was so much more that education could be, and increasing needed to be, than filling kids’ heads with pockets of dusty knowledge and the ability to knock out small essays and routine calculations. In particular, we now know that learning itself is not a simple reflection of IQ, but is a complex craft that draws on a number of acquired habits that are capable of being systematically cultivated in school – if we have a mind to do it.

I wrote...

What's the Point of School?: Rediscovering the Heart of Education

By Guy Claxton,

Book cover of What's the Point of School?: Rediscovering the Heart of Education

What is my book about?

Education has become more and more soulless. With their emphasis on regurgitated knowledge and stressful examinations, today’s schools often do more harm than good. Of course, knowledge is useful – but what knowledge do young people actually need? And are there other things than knowledge – forms of expertise and even aspects of character – that schools should be paying attention to? In this book, I argue that cultivating characteristics such as perseverance, skepticism, and imagination is as important as reading, writing, math, and a bit of history – and that the two sets of aims actually support each other rather than conflict.

Mind in the Making

By Ellen Galinsky,

Book cover of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs

There are many opinions and schools of thought on how to best raise and care for young children. The author lays her discussion firmly on the solid foundation of research. Beyond academic skills or ability, Ms. Galinsky identifies seven skills that will lead to the child’s success in the future. Skills such as making connections or critical thinking need to be fostered for a child to do well in school as well as in interactions and endeavors later in life. This book is sometimes used as a text in college classes. And yet, parents will easily find this content accessible with concrete ideas to develop these essential life skills.

Who am I?

My passion has always been caring for and educating young children. I spent over 20 years in the classroom as a child care professional and much of that time was with toddlers. I discovered that the stereotype of the terrible twos was truly misguided. I chose books that will shed new light on why toddlers behave the way that they do. These books will show the reader what an important time this is in a child’s growth and learning. I believe that these books will help convince you that toddlers are not terrible; they are terrific!

I wrote...

365 Toddler Activities That Inspire Creativity: Games, Projects, and Pastimes That Encourage a Child's Learning and Imagination

By Joni Levine,

Book cover of 365 Toddler Activities That Inspire Creativity: Games, Projects, and Pastimes That Encourage a Child's Learning and Imagination

What is my book about?

With 365 Toddler Activities That Inspire Creativity, you can spark your child's creativity and maximize his or her potential every day of the year. Written by an experienced child-care expert, you will find hundreds of entertaining toddler activities, songs, games, and art projects that stimulate cognitive development and encourage inventiveness. You and your toddler will enjoy playtime with age-appropriate activities like: magic sun prints, treasure chest, sprout in a bag rainbow toast, fishing in the tub, all-about-me book, and so many more!

Featuring everything from outdoor activities to rainy-day fun, 365 Toddler Activities That Inspire Creativity provides hours of creative toddler play!

The Scout Mindset

By Julia Galef,

Book cover of The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't

If we want the ways that we try to help others to actually work, then we need to be able to see the world clearly and look at evidence in a clear-headed, unbiased way. Doing this isn’t easy, and Julia provides one really helpful tool to do so in this book. 

The book centres around the distinction between the ‘solider’ – who must defend himself and his tribe against attacks – and the ‘scout,’ who needs to see what’s really true about the territory in order to be of any use. When we communicate, too often we inhabit the solider mindset of defending our beliefs and ourselves, rather than being open to understanding what’s actually the case.

Who are we?

We’re a nonprofit that aims to help people have a positive social impact with their careers. Since you have, on average, 80,000 hours in your career, what you decide to do with that time might be your biggest opportunity to make a difference. Over the past ten years, we’ve conducted careful research into high-impact careers, and have helped thousands of people plan a career that has a high positive impact. 

We wrote...

80,000 Hours: Find a Fulfilling Career That Does Good

By Benjamin Todd,

Book cover of 80,000 Hours: Find a Fulfilling Career That Does Good

What is our book about?

Based on years of research alongside academics at Oxford, this book aims to help you find a career you enjoy, you’re good at, and that tackles the world’s most pressing problems. 

Our book is full of practical knowledge and tools to help you plan a career that's fulfilling and does good, including: what makes for a dream job, and why “follow your passion” can be misleading; how to set yourself up for success at every stage of your career; how to compare global problems in terms of their scale and urgency; and when to challenge the conventional wisdom to achieve maximum impact.

Get a free paperback copy on the 80,000 Hours website here. 

How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass

By Christopher Dicarlo,

Book cover of How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Asking the Right Questions

If there is one book I wish I’d written myself, it is How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass. One of the things I admired most about the people who shaped my education and career path most was their ability to listen carefully and ask critical questions that uncovered even more than what was first expressed. Christopher DiCarlo’s book is a manual to practicing these traits. The book provides all of the tools needed to question beliefs and assumptions held by those who claim to know what they’re talking about, while at the same time providing practical solutions for today’s world of misinformation. The book also convinced me that faulty reasoning can be spotted by asking the right sorts of questions—what better gift to give someone? 

Who am I?

As an experimental social psychologist, who has conducted years of empirical research on bullshitting behavior and bullshit detection, I’ve found compelling evidence that the worst outcomes of bullshit communications are false beliefs and bad decisions. I’m convinced that all of our problems, whether they be personal, interpersonal, professional, or societal are either directly or indirectly linked to mindless bullshit reasoning and communication. I’m just sick and tired of incompetent, bullshit artists who capitalize by repackaging and selling what I and other experimental psychologists do for free. It’s time the masses learn that some of us who actually do the research on the things we write about can actually do it better.    

I wrote...

The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit

By John V. Petrocelli,

Book cover of The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit

What is my book about?

Bullshit is the foundation of contaminated thinking and bad decisions that leads to health consequences, financial losses, legal consequences, broken relationships, and wasted time and resources. No matter how good we think we are at detecting bullshit, we’re all susceptible to its unwanted effects. While we may brush it off as harmless marketing sales speak, it’s actually much more dangerous. It’s how Bernie Madoff swindled billions of dollars from experienced financial experts with his Ponzi scheme. It’s how Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward resulted in the deaths of 36 million people from starvation. 

But with doses of skepticism and commitment to truth seeking, you can build your critical thinking and reasoning skills to evaluate information, separate fact from fiction, and see through bullshitter spin.

Bad Dog

By Mike Boldt,

Book cover of Bad Dog

One of the best things about this book is the fabulous illustrations! Bold, bright, and very silly, they totally capture the essence of this very funny story about a little girl who desperately wants a dog. She is overjoyed with the ‘dog’ she gets for her birthday except, he won’t do anything dogs are supposed to do! He won’t come when he’s called, won’t go for walks, doesn’t like other dogs, etc. However, he is very good at climbing trees, (but won’t come down), likes to play in the fish water…doesn’t bark at the mailman, doesn’t have accidents on the floor… maybe that’s because this dog is actually a…cat

I definitely understand why this book is a five-time award winner!

Who am I?

I’m a semi-retired music teacher and grandmother of two. When my kids were little, we would devour books like they were delicious candy, reading our favourites over and over again. I still love reading out loud, using various inflections, accents, and voices for the different characters. I’ve read hundreds of children’s books and the ones I enjoy most have a great message, are fun to read out loud, and also make me laugh. And they must have beautiful, colourful illustrations! My first book is a spoken word piece from my WCMA-nominated CD, Too Much Work To Do. It’s been asking me to dream it into a book for years! 

I wrote...

Please Don't Go in the Dryer!

By Judy Lea, Anita Ho (illustrator),

Book cover of Please Don't Go in the Dryer!

What is my book about?

A young girl with an active imagination (shall we say “overactive”?) is worried about her very cute kitten who doesn’t listen and keeps getting into everything! With increasingly precarious (and comical) possible outcomes (stuck in the dryer, mistaken for socks, used as dental floss by the Sock Monster!), this is a highly entertaining spoken word piece with lots of repetition, and is perfect for early readers, ELL readers or anyone who loves to read out loud.

“Young readers (and their parents) will laugh out loud at this whimsical cautionary tale about a mischievous kitten and its overly imaginative owner. The delightful text and beautiful, hilarious illustrations will make this a “read it again!” favourite”.

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