Alan Jacobs's HOW TO THINK is "witty, engaging" and "endlessly entertaining"
Alan Jacobs’s HOW TO THINK, a guide to how we can reclaim our ability to think critically and engage with today’s social landscape, is out October 17th from Penguin Random House. Pre-order your copy today!
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.
Early Praise for HOW TO THINK:
“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…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.”
“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, bestselling author of Steal Like an Artist
“I disagree passionately 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.”
—Francis Spufford, author of Golden Hill and Unapologetic
“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.”
—James Davison Hunter, professor at University of Virginia, author of Culture Wars and To Change the World