“My job is not to tell you what to think; it is to teach you how to think.” That statement first heard from one of my professors during my undergraduate years, rings true. True learning does not happen by telling people what to think but by showing them how to think. This is something our current culture needs to hear. All one needs to do to be convinced of this is to observe our political climate. Politicians and partisans cloud our conversations as we argue with open mouths and shut ears. It is just one proof we like to tell others what we think but are unable to display how to think. In his book How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, Alan Jacobs offers a diagnostic of this problem while offering a few prescriptions and strategies to equip the humble to grow as thinkers.
Many books on reading tend to elicit depressed sentiments and address the science of thinking. Lacking is a book on the art of thinking. Alan Jacobs provides just that in How to Think. He opens by defining what he means by thinking (introduction), clarifies by stating we do not think for ourselves but we think with others (chapter 1), and reveals how that clarification impacts our thinking through the people we connect with (chapters 2-3), the words we use and hear (chapter 4), the views we take and hold to (chapter 5), and how we respond to those who differ (chapters 6-7).
Alan Jacobs presents a well-researched, fairly-balanced, and eye-opening guide on how to think in an age of real thoughtlessness. As a professing Christian and academician, he has witnessed groups talking past one another without hearing each other and thinking through things. His own writing displays true thinking and his usage of real-life stories on thinking provide hope a thinking mentality can be cultivated. How to Think informs the reader of the context where thinking takes place and equips the thinker with content to encourage them to think. Thinking is social and true learning occurs in social contexts. Being aware of yourself, of where you belong, of your biases, and of others contribute to this point. Because of its social fabric, thinking is more complicated than it is simple. Therefore, Jacobs description of concepts like “inner ring”, outgroup, and ingroup highlights the context where we think and sheds light on how we think.
While Alan Jacobs does a wonderful job sharing solid content and describing our thinking contexts, the character behind thinking is found wanting. The book makes mention the importance of listening for thinking and comments on character are interspersed through the book, yet not until chapter 7 does the character trait of humility get attention. Essential to the art of thinking is the character of the thinker. The act of listening that contributes to thinking requires humility. Though Jacobs finally addresses the need for humility, the priority of character must be among the first matters mentioned in learning how to think. Even with this critique, How to Think still accomplishes its purpose. Alan Jacobs takes the reader from ignorance of thinking to informed in thinking. Simply put, this book on thinking makes you think.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.
You can visit the author’s (Alan Jacobs) website, here.