I disagree passsionately with Alan Jacobs about a number of very important things, but this indispensable book shows me how to take him by the hand while we argue, rather than the throat. In troublingly stupid times, it offers a toolbox for the restoration of nuance, self-knowledge and cognitive generosity.
Just when it feels like we’ve all lost our minds, here comes Alan Jacobs’s How to Think, a book infused with the thoughtfulness, generosity, and humor of a lifelong teacher. Do what I did: Sign off social media, find a cozy spot to read, and get your mind back again. A mindful book for our mindless times.
—Austin Kleon, New York Times bestselling author of Steal Like an Artist
As much as this book is a manual, it’s also a self-portrait of a particular mind, whose style and skills are ballast against the cognitive turbulence of our time. Reading How to Think feels like riding in a small but sturdy boat, Alan Jacobs your pilot through turbulent waters — and if you’re eager to get where he’s taking you, you’re also grateful for the chance to simply watch him do his thing.
We tend to regard thinking as an exclusively individual experience that operates at the intersection of neural activity and personal consciousness. But we miss the ways our thinking is shaped by the social environment we live in. In this slim and beautifully written volume, Alan Jacobs provides a courageous, erudite and deeply humane corrective.
For those who share Jacobs’s values—thinking self-critically about one’s own beliefs and being willing to empathize with those with whom one disagrees—this guide on how to navigate an intellectual landscape dominated by snap judgments and polarization will be a delight. Jacobs initially focuses on C.S. Lewis’s concept of the “Inner Ring,” which describes how the urge to belong to groups can promote conformity, but then branches out across the philosophical spectrum, tying in the ideas of Thomas Aquinas, Søren Kierkegaard, John Stuart Mill, and David Foster Wallace, among others. Interspersing the intellectual nuggets are colorful anecdotes, including on basketball great Wilt Chamberlain’s sex life, the Westboro Baptist Church and its abandonment by member Megan Phelps-Roper, and the landmark social-psychology book When Prophecy Fails, about the groupthink of a 1950s UFO cult. Witty, engaging, and ultimately hopeful, Jacobs’s guide is sorely needed in a society where partisanship too often trumps the pursuit of knowledge.