The best books about thinking

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

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Small Teaching

By James M. Lang,

Book cover of Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning

Perhaps an unusual pick for product managers but this book breaks down how to teach successfully in a world of constant distractions. Think of it as “lean startup for classes.” Product managers are teachers, evangelists, and most of all communicators. Knowing how to break down ideas into pieces your teams and colleagues can digest is critical to your success.

Who am I?

Jeff has been a UX designer, team leader and product manager for over 20 years. His work in the field helped define some of the key practices product managers use today. Building a customer-centric practice is key to successful products and services and Jeff has demonstrated that not only in the products and companies he’s helped build but in the writing and thinking he’s contributed to the product managaement community.

I wrote...

Forever Employable: How to Stop Looking for Work and Let Your Next Job Find You

By Jeff Gothelf,

Book cover of Forever Employable: How to Stop Looking for Work and Let Your Next Job Find You

What is my book about?

After spending the first 10 years of his career climbing the corporate ladder, Jeff Gothelf decided to change his approach to staying employed. Instead of looking for jobs, they would find him. Jeff spent the next 15 years building his personal brand to become a recognized expert, consultant, author, and public speaker.

In this highly tactical, practical book, Jeff Gothelf shares the tips, tricks, techniques, and learnings that helped him become Forever Employable. Using the timeline from his own career and anecdotes, stories and case studies from other successful recognized experts Jeff provides a step-by-step guide to building a foundation based on your current expertise ensuring that no matter what happens in your industry you'll remain Forever Employable. 

Magic of Thinking Big

By David M. Schwartz,

Book cover of Magic of Thinking Big

Being a creative person is a journey, that’s for sure, and not an easy one. It’s tough and it takes courage, but you can get there. Along the way, how do you prevent yourself from getting discouraged, especially when you’re focused on bringing a big idea to life? Reading this timeless book on the importance of mindset never fails to motivate me. Follow its advice, and you will be able to climb the highest of mountains and pick yourself back up when you get knocked down. A must-read for inventors, entrepreneurs, and anyone with an idea.

Who am I?

The traditional way of commercializing an invention — patenting, prototyping, then marketing it — doesn’t work very well and never has. When I found an easier way to share my creativity with the world, it changed my life, because the feeling you get when you hold something in your hand that you first imagined in your head is second to none. My 10-step process breaks down barriers so that everyone who has an idea — young or old, rich or poor — can get in the game of bringing it to market. I’ve published 5 books, 1,000 articles, and more than 700 videos to help others take advantage of the power of open innovation.

I wrote...

One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams Into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work

By Stephen Key,

Book cover of One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams Into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work

What is my book about?

Do you have ideas for new products? Do you enjoy designing solutions to problems? Are you motivated to make improvements? Whether you’ve invented a must-have kitchen tool, pet toy, or automotive product, this book will teach you how to transform your creativity into recurring passive income. The beauty of the licensing business model is that you don’t need to write a business plan, raise money, or quit your day job to launch your product ideas onto the market.

Instead, One Simple Idea teaches you how to minimize risk and maximize your likelihood of success as you learn the right way of protecting, designing, marketing, and pitching your invention ideas quickly. This book is beloved by the inventing community because it’s enjoyable to read and offers detailed, practical strategies that work. It is based on the real-life successes of author Stephen Key, the inventor and IP strategist, and his many clients.

Rationality for Mortals

By Gerd Gigerenzer,

Book cover of Rationality for Mortals: How People Cope with Uncertainty

Gigerenzer is in some ways the un-Tversky-and-Kahneman, emphasizing the ways in which humans are more rational than they seem, and the ways that difficult problems can be made intuitive. This lively collection explains the surprisingly deep and perplexing question of what “probability” even means, and presents many puzzles form everyday reckoning of risk, including: What does the weathercaster mean when she says “There’s a 30 percent chance of rain”?

Who am I?

I’m a Harvard professor of psychology and a cognitive scientist who’s interested in all aspects of language, mind, and human nature. I grew up in Montreal, but have lived most of my adult life in the Boston area, bouncing back and forth between Harvard and MIT except for stints in California as a professor at Stanford and sabbatical visitor in Santa Barbara and now, Berkeley. I alternate between books on language (how it works, what it reveals about human nature, what makes for clear and stylish writing) and books on the human mind and human condition (how the mind works, why violence has declined, how progress can take place).

I wrote...

Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters

By Steven Pinker,

Book cover of Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters

What is my book about?

How can a species that developed vaccines for Covid-19 in less than a year produce so much fake news, medical quackery, and conspiracy theorizing?

I reject the cliché that humans are just cavemen out of time, saddled with biases, fallacies, and illusions. Instead, we think in ways that are sensible in the low-tech contexts in which we spend most of our lives, but fail to take advantage of the powerful tools of reasoning our best thinkers have discovered over the millennia: logic, critical thinking, probability, correlation, and causation, and optimal ways to update beliefs and commit to choices individually and with others. These tools are not a standard part of our educational curricula and have never been presented clearly and entertainingly in a single book—at least until I had a go at it in this book.

Six Thinking Hats

By Edward de Bono,

Book cover of Six Thinking Hats

Officially “Six Hats” is a framework for group decision-making, marking out the major types of consideration (what are the facts? the dangers? how do we feel about this?...) into six roles denoted by differently colored hats. But the classroom impresario will immediately recognize it as a ready-made method for staging those hoary (and problematic) old “class discussions” in far more energetic and widely participatory forms. The genius is to give each participant a pre-made place to speak from, and to make it visible and compelling. Bring on the hats! as my students would say.

Who am I?

I’ve taught Philosophy graduate students at the same time as assisting in kindergartens when my kids were in community co-op schools... staging both classes the same way. Proud to be named Elon University’s 2002 Teacher of the Year, I have led classes “on the edge” ranging from “Millennial Imagination” and “Life in the Universe” (students just called it “Aliens”) to a Philosophy of Education course taught with a totally different pedagogy – embodying a different philosophy – every single session. I also work in environmental philosophy and am deeply involved in designing and building Common Ground Ecovillage in central North Carolina.

I wrote...

Teaching as the Art of Staging: A Scenario-Based College Pedagogy in Action

By Anthony Weston,

Book cover of Teaching as the Art of Staging: A Scenario-Based College Pedagogy in Action

What is my book about?

What I call “Impresarios with Scenarios” are teachers who make themselves class mobilizers, improvisers, and energizers, setting up self-unfolding learning challenges and adventures – off-beat and unexpected problems, unscripted dramas or role-plays, simulations that might take ten minutes or maybe a whole term – provoking and trusting students to run with them. Illustrated by detailed narratives from my own practice as well as others’, here is a conceptual framework as well as class-planning strategies for “teaching as staging”, in multiple settings and across the disciplines, differing sharply not just from “teaching as telling” but also from the supposedly opposite model of the teacher as facilitator or coach “guiding on the side”. Everyone active, no one on the side!

Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future

By John Brockman,

Book cover of Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future

John Brockman has composed 150 short essays on the dominant question of our time, how is the Internet changing the way you think? This sparked the basis of my book. 

From pessimistic to optimistic views, the experts bring together different perspectives in different fields.

Too early to tell? Is our thinking becoming more shallow? Some say the web is a work of genius and the greatest achievement of the human race.

Who am I?

During my life, I’ve been told that I was not a true engineer, not a true banker, not a true CEO, not a true entrepreneur, not a true teacher… But one day an executive told me: “I want to work with you because you’re not a true consultant.” I then realized it is was a privilege not to be a true something! I like to call myself a corporate philosopher. Fellow of the BCG Henderson Institute, and co-founder of Cartoonbase, I split my time between the worlds of academia and business. I have published several other books on various subjects such as language, mathematics, humor, or fallacies.

I wrote...

Be Logical, Be Creative, Be Critical: the Art of Thinking in a Digital World

By Luc de Brabandere,

Book cover of Be Logical, Be Creative, Be Critical: the Art of Thinking in a Digital World

What is my book about?

AI and human intelligence. Fine, but who is programming who? The power of the computer should not come as a surprise since it was designed with the purpose of enabling humans to amplify their reasoning skills. But we should be aware that, if it allows us to think ahead, the computer influences our way of thinking as well. Thinking is clearly no longer what it used to be and, in my new book coauthored with Lina Benmehrez, I invite you to rediscover the art of thinking in a digital world through logic, creativity and sound argumentation!

This essay takes us back to ancient Greece where logical and critical thinking were first formalized. It also reminds us of more recent developments in cognitive sciences that include creative thinking. 

How to Think Like Shakespeare

By Scott Newstok,

Book cover of How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education

I can’t seem to recommend one book without recommending two but a teacher once told me, Shakespeare never said one thing when he could say two, and never two things when he could say three. I admit I’m a Shakespeare ‘pusher’ because I believe the works instill wisdom, humanity, and critical thinking skills—attributes that are disappearing as much as some of the natural world mentioned above. Having these tools are essential to saving ourselves and the world around us. We seem to forget how to be human in the same way exercise instructors tell us: Don’t forget to breathe. Newstok serves up a rich menu to digest the delicious process of thinking, so that ‘smarting up’ is as easy as breathing. But I also loved How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, by Ken Ludwig for similar reasons (and it works well for adults too!).

Who am I?

I’ve had myriad careers in my life but the through-line has always been Shakespeare. I became smitten with the “words, words, words” seeing a production of Twelfth Night in 3rd grade and it’s been a passion ever since. Acting led to being a “Journalist, Editor, Speaker, Spy” but everything I’ve done was to fund my secret joy of being in a dusty old archive, transcribing manuscripts. Even though my first favorite book was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (that was already taken here!), I wasn’t that ‘outdoorsy’, but when the wonderful Japanese artist Sumié Hasegawa showed me her Botanical Shakespeare drawings, I got excited about approaching Shakespeare in a totally new way.

I wrote...

Botanical Shakespeare: An Illustrated Compendium of All the Flowers, Fruits, Herbs, Trees, Seeds, and Grasses Cited by the World's Greatest Playwright

By Gerit Quealy, Sumié Hasegawa Collins (illustrator),

Book cover of Botanical Shakespeare: An Illustrated Compendium of All the Flowers, Fruits, Herbs, Trees, Seeds, and Grasses Cited by the World's Greatest Playwright

What is my book about?

The shorter the title, the longer the subtitle it seems. Over the centuries, folks have focused on Shakespeare's flowers, and occasionally some herbs, but no one seemed interested in the lowly bean, the ripe imagery of corn (a generic term for all grains: wheat, rye, oats, barley), that factions were fighting with flowers, or that naughty meanings hid behind innocent fruit. The book takes the Bard out of a dusty past and plants it in the verdant now, as nothing is more present that a growing flower. Plus, it layers the nature with literature, history, poetry, plots, & characters… Botanical Shakespeare creates a fresh and delicious path in, but that’s where the voyage of discovery starts!

Metaphor and Thought

By Andrew Ortony (editor),

Book cover of Metaphor and Thought

This collection contains articles by many of the leading writers on metaphor and provides an excellent overview of its psychological and philosophical ramifications. Metaphor is discussed in relation to language, thought, meaning, society, science, and education. For example, metaphor contributes to science through fertile new concepts like natural selection, and to education through ways of connecting new concepts with old ones. 

Who am I?

I became interested in metaphor and analogy as a graduate student in philosophy of science in the 1970s. Important scientific ideas such as natural selection and the wave theories of sound and light were built from metaphors and made to work by analogical thinking. In the 1980s, I started building computational models of analogy. So when I got interested in balance because of a case of vertigo in 2016, I naturally noticed the abundance of balance metaphors operating in science and everyday life. Once the pandemic hit, I was struck by the prevalence of the powerful metaphor of making public health decisions while balancing lives and livelihoods. 

I wrote...

Balance: How It Works and What It Means

By Paul Thagard,

Book cover of Balance: How It Works and What It Means

What is my book about?

Ordinary activities like walking or riding a bike require the brain to keep the body in balance. Language abounds with expressions and figures of speech that invoke balance. The concept crops up from politics—checks and balances, the balance of power, balanced budgets—to science, in which ideas of equilibrium are crucial.

Paul Thagard describes the neural mechanisms that keep bodies balanced and explains why their failures can result in nausea, falls, or vertigo. He analyzes balance metaphors across science, medicine, economics, the arts, and philosophy, showing why some aid understanding but others are misleading or harmful. In both literal and metaphorical senses, balance is what enables people to solve the puzzles of life by turning sensory signals or incongruous comparisons into a coherent whole.

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

By Wayne W. Dyer,

Book cover of Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

In a yearlong journey of discovery, psychologist and author Wayne Dyer steeped himself in the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching. The result is this book of 81 chapters, offering his reflections on the 81 chapters of the Tao. Combining meditations, exercises, and personal examples, each chapter encourages readers to release their preconceptions, transcend duality, recognize their oneness with all creation, and discover their deepest sense of themselves as the wisdom of Tao becomes a living presence in their lives.

Who am I?

Diane Dreher is the author of The Tao of Inner Peace, The Tao of Personal Leadership, and The Tao of Womanhood. She has been fascinated by Eastern philosophy since her childhood in the Philippine Islands. In addition to her doctoral degree in English from UCLA and master’s in counseling from Santa Clara University, she has studied Taoism, trained in aikido, and become a reiki master. She enjoys applying the lessons of Tao in her teaching, consulting, and international coaching practice.

I wrote...

The Tao of Inner Peace

By Diane Dreher,

Book cover of The Tao of Inner Peace

What is my book about?

Drawing upon the vital lessons of the Tao Te Ching, The Tao of Inner Peace shows readers how to create greater peace in their lives by honoring their own inner rhythms, part of the overarching rhythms of nature. They will learn to see beyond current conditions, recognize the Tao’s dynamic balance of yin and yang, resolve conflict within and around them, discover new possibilities, and create greater harmony in their world.

The Knowledge Illusion

By Philip Fernbach, Steven Sloman,

Book cover of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone

This book focuses on the psychology of decision making, but is highly relevant to consumer decision making. Humankind’s greatest strength is the ability to share knowledge. However, one side effect of this strength is the inability to distinguish between what one knows and what others know. This can lead to a surprisingly large array of decision-making biases and errors. Most of these errors pertain to the overestimation of how much one knows about a topic and the overconfidence that results.

Who am I?

Frank R. Kardes, Ph.D. is the Donald E. Weston Professor of Marketing and Distinguished Research Professor at the Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati. He is a recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award of the Society for Consumer Psychology, and a Fellow of five national professional societies. His research focuses on omission neglect, consumer judgment, and inference processes, persuasion and advertising, and consumer and managerial decision making. He was Co-Editor of Advances in Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Psychology, the Handbook of Consumer Psychology, and Marketing Letters, and serves or has served on seven editorial boards. He has published nine books and over 100 articles and chapters on consumer psychology.

I wrote...

Handbook of Research Methods in Consumer Psychology

By Frank R. Kardes,

Book cover of Handbook of Research Methods in Consumer Psychology

What is my book about?

What impact can various research methods have on consumer psychology? How can they help us understand the workings of the consumer mind? And how can the field of consumer psychology best utilize these methods? In the Handbook of Research Methods in Consumer Psychology, leading consumer psychologists summarize key aspects of the research process and explain how different methods enrich understanding of how consumers process information to form judgments and opinions and to make consumption-related decisions.

Out of Our Minds

By Felipe Fernández-Armesto,

Book cover of Out of Our Minds: What We Think and How We Came to Think It

Much of what we do and think comes from imagination, generated by our minds rather than by the physical world. This includes art, literature, music, religion, even science. Our dreams are spontaneous acts of creativity, and even memory itself can be distorted by the restless mind.  Fernandez-Armesto argues that many animals have better memories than we do, because the human system produces spontaneously creative thoughts at the expense of fidelity. That’s why memories are often false. The author is a historian with an interest in how the mind works, and his book is an amazingly comprehensive history of the human imagination.

Who am I?

Michael Corballis is a psychologist and brain scientist. His interests lie in how the mind works, how it maps onto the brain, and how it evolved. Much of his work is published in books and scientific articles, but he has also written books aimed at a general readership. These include Pieces of Mind, The Lopsided Ape, The Recursive Mind, The Wandering Mind, and The Truth about Language.

I wrote...

Adventures of a Psychologist: Reflections on What Made Up the Mind

By Michael C. Corballis,

Book cover of Adventures of a Psychologist: Reflections on What Made Up the Mind

What is my book about?

The book is an autobiography of my life, from growing up on a sheep farm in New Zealand, to several attempts to find a career, to eventual employment in Canada and New Zealand as an academic psychologist and researcher. Over the past 60 years, I saw scientific psychology transform, from behaviourism, to the cognitive revolution, then to the discovery of the brain. I worked with pigeons, long-suffering undergraduate volunteers, and split-brained patients. I pondered the various aspects that make up the mind: memory, imagination, the two sides of the brain, language, and its evolution. Four of the books recommended below feature in this book; One of them (the fourth) appeared too recently for inclusion.

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