Books Reviews

How To Think

How to Think by Alan Jacobs


How to Think is a contrarian treatise on why we’re not as good at thinking as we assume – but how recovering this lost art can rescue our inner lives from the chaos of modern life.
As a celebrated cultural critic and a writer for national publications like The Atlantic and Harper’s, Alan Jacobs has spent his adult life belonging to communities that often clash in America’s culture wars. And in his years of confronting the big issues that divide us–political, social, religious–Jacobs has learned that many of our fiercest disputes occur not because we’re doomed to be divided, but because the people involved simply aren’t thinking.
Most of us don’t want to think, Jacobs writes. Thinking is trouble. Thinking can force us out of familiar, comforting habits, and it can complicate our relationships with like-minded friends. Finally, thinking is slow, and that’s a problem when our habits of consuming information (mostly online) leave us lost in the spin cycle of social media, partisan bickering, and confirmation bias.
In this smart, endlessly entertaining book, Jacobs diagnoses the many forces that act on us to prevent thinking–forces that have only worsened in the age of Twitter, “alternative facts,” and information overload–and he also dispels the many myths we hold about what it means to think well. (For example: It’s impossible to “think for yourself.”)
Drawing on sources as far-flung as novelist Marilynne Robinson, basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, British philosopher John Stuart Mill, and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis, Jacobs digs into the nuts and bolts of the cognitive process, offering hope that each of us can reclaim our mental lives from the impediments that plague us all. Because if we can learn to think together, maybe we can learn to live together, too.


When I first heard the name of this book, I thought to myself: Oh yeah? Now you need to be told how to think?
Although I have been influenced by many, I have always been my own woman; I always think for myself. Just the other day, my mother commented on how different I was from some of my friends.
So, as I started reading it in January, I approached this book with a lot of skepticism. It took me until now to read it and mull over it. I liked the book so much that I ordered a print copy immediately after I finished reading it.
This book is not a step-by-step method on how to think. Nor is it a definitive book on logical thinking. It discusses logical fallacies and the formation of biases. It warns you that the myths and metaphors that you surround yourself with can be helpful as well as harmful. It suggests ways in which you can identify what is what and develop good thinking habits.
These may seem rather serious topics. They are, and Jacobs draws on classic literature, philosophy, and even the latest research to make his points. However, he does so in an engaging and conversational manner.
This was the perfect time for me to read this book. As the pandemic is on the rampage around me (I live in India), everyone is actively looking for and finding ways to demonize their RCOs (Repugnant Cultural Others).
I initially thought of sending this book to a few others who I felt needed to read this. However, I realized that I was falling into the trap of thinking that those who don’t agree with me are wrong. It would mean I was giving up on honesty, kindness, and empathy, which constitute some of the good thinking habits that Jacobs discusses in the book.
I loved the 12-point checklist for good thinking at the end of the book. Jacobs says that although it is not a fail-safe method, the willingness to make and use such a checklist, by adapting it to your circumstances, will help you think better.
This year I wanted to read books that made me think and learn. How to Think did exactly that.

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