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Best Critical Thinking Books
(Updated 2022)

Sven Woltmann
Sven Woltmann
February 7, 2022

How does human thinking work? How do we make our decisions? Why do we make not only rational but also often unreasonable decisions? How can we influence the way we think?

Below I present – in the context of books about personality development – some books well worth reading that attempt to answer these questions.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman

by Daniel Kahneman

Link to the book at Amazon

In this masterpiece, world-renowned behavioral scientist Daniel Kahneman summarizes the results of five decades of research on human decision making, for which he was awarded the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Using numerous surprising experiments, the author describes how irrational our mind often works and how cognitive biases lead us to illogical decisions.

At its heart are two systems of thought: System 1, which reacts quickly, intuitively, and emotionally – and System 2, which works slowly, deliberately, logically, and rationally.

System 1 makes our lives easier by making numerous instantaneous decisions throughout the day without us even being aware of it. However, System 1 is also susceptible to making poor decisions and can be easily exploited (often to our disadvantage). System 2, which can detect these flaws, is lazier and requires us to use it consciously, which exerts and exhausts us.

The book is engaging, entertaining throughout, and has great self-help value. For it teaches us to become aware of our decision-making and recognize when others (in advertising, for example) exploit it to influence us to their advantage.

That's why I immediately read it a second time and can recommend it to everyone without hesitation.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes!

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know

Think Again - Adam Grant

by Adam Grant

Link to the book at Amazon

Most of our decisions are based on our knowledge, beliefs, and ways of thinking. Once established, we find it difficult – even in the face of new knowledge – to change our way of thinking. We dismiss the opinions of others that do not match our own.

However, when we recognize and accept that there is much more we don't know than what we do know – when we question and rethink old assumptions and ways of thinking – when we consider alternative ideas and perspectives – and part with those that no longer serve us well, we can ultimately make better choices and live better lives.

We can see disagreements as opportunities to learn rather than as threats to our cherished own beliefs. Instead of refuting other peoples' arguments, we can ask questions and signal that we are willing to consider differing opinions, igniting a mutually constructive debate.

The book is entertaining and easy to read. It weaves together research findings, personal anecdotes from the author, and vivid stories, such as that of Daryl Davis, a black musician who makes friends with racists and gets them to give up their hatred.

A recommendation for anyone who wants to be intellectually open, flexible, and willing to change their mind as new facts become available.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes!

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Predictably Irrational - Dan Ariely

by Dan Ariely

Link to the book at Amazon

Most people believe that they make rational decisions by thoughtfully weighing their options.

However, we unconsciously behave irrationally and act against our interests in many situations. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely demonstrates this with numerous exciting experiments presented entertainingly and humorously.

Some examples:

  • We assign a higher value to things we own than to those we want.
  • Expensive medicines are often more effective than inexpensive ones, even if they contain exactly the same ingredients.
  • We add products we don't want to our virtual shopping cart - just to meet the threshold for free shipping.
  • We let the 30-day money-back guarantee convince us to buy a product - and then we don't want to give it away (even if we don't necessarily need it).

The author's goal is not to explore the psychology behind these behaviors in depth. Instead, he wants to show readers how predictable their irrationality is and that they are not helplessly exposed to it.

With this insight, we can develop an awareness of potentially harmful choices and not have to fall into the psychological traps set for us day after day.

A recommendation for anyone who wants to recognize how they are manipulated in their everyday decisions and behave a little more rationally.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes!

Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment

noise - daniel kahneman

by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, Cass R. Sunstein

Link to the book at Amazon

In their new book, Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate and author of "Thinking, Fast and Slow," Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein examine the phenomenon of "noise": 

People who are presented with identical information make different decisions – depending on external circumstances that have nothing to do with the subject at hand. This is true for different people as well as for the same person at different times.

We are not aware of it, but noise is widespread. It exists, for example:

  • In jurisprudence: for similar crimes, widely varying verdicts are given - both by different judges and by the same judge depending, for example, on the weather or the time of day.
  • In forensics: while one specialist evaluates two fingerprints as matching, another considers them different.
  • In medicine: two doctors make different diagnoses for the same symptoms or evaluate X-rays differently.
  • At school and in businesses: Teachers or supervisors evaluate similar performances of their students, employees, or job applicants differently.

The authors examine how noise emerges, what types of noise exist, what consequences (desired and undesired) it results in, how we can recognize it, and what options we have to minimize its negative influence on our decisions.

Noise is a well-researched, worth-reading, and insightful book for anyone who wants to understand decisions and make more equitable choices in their everyday and professional lives.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes!

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

Superforecasting - The Art and Science of Prediction - Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner

by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner

Link to the book at Amazon

"Superforecasters" are people who perform significantly better than so-called "experts" when predicting future events.

What makes superforecasters so unique? What characteristics and skills make their predictions more accurate than those of other people?

Philip Tetlock, professor of psychology and political science, has been investigating this question. In a large-scale research study, the Good Judgement Project, he and his team had laypeople and experts make predictions and used scientific methods to test their accuracy. In this book, he presents the results.

Superforecasters take in a lot of information before coming to a judgment. They are self-critical, aware of cognitive biases, and therefore always look at an issue from different perspectives.

They make concrete – and above all verifiable – statements such as "The event will occur in the next 24 months with a probability of 65%". Moreover, they are not afraid to constantly check their forecasts and correct them if necessary.

Nevertheless, they are not "superhumans". Forecasting is a skill that can be learned and constantly optimized.

Experts, on the other hand, use vague terms such as "certain", "probable", "seriously", and rarely specify a time horizon. In this way, they leave a lot of room for their predictions to be interpreted as correct in retrospect. However, this is usually not necessary since hardly anyone checks the expert statements afterward.

Thanks to many anecdotes, the book is very entertaining and reads smoothly. Even if it is not a classic self-help guide (presumably not every reader wants to become a superforecaster), it helps us critically examine the countless "expert forecasts" with which the media confront us daily.

After all, it is precisely the media-savvy experts, brimming with self-confidence, who are usually dead wrong.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely.

A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence

A Thousand Brains - Jeff Hawkins

by Jeff Hawkins

Link to the book at Amazon

Jeff Hawkins is the founder of Palm Computing and Handspring – and is widely credited as the inventor of handheld computers. He uses the fortune earned through his computer companies to fund his primary passion, neuroscience.

In almost two decades of research, he developed a new theory about the functioning of the brain, human cognition, and intelligence. After numerous publications in professional articles, the author presents his "Thousand Brains" theory to a broad audience in a highly readable, popular-science form.

Hawkins reflects on how his discoveries may lead to the next breakthroughs in artificial intelligence – from purpose-driven to general AI – and whether it may develop consciousness and pose a threat to humanity.

Last, he explores the extent to which human intelligence itself poses an existential threat – by causing disasters, such as climate change and potentially nuclear wars.

The book is easy to read; a thoughtful structure and regular summaries of the completed thoughts make the profound subject easily accessible to non-neuroscientists.

If you, like me, attended AI lectures before Hawkins' time and think you know how the brain works, you will be surprised at how much has changed since then.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.