Critical thinking is a skill that we all need but often isn’t taught explicitly.
With critical thinking, we can identify scams and fake news, analyse situations, and evaluate factual evidence. These are skills we need every day to be better, more successful people.
If you feel you need to improve your critical thinking skills, here are some of the best books on the topic.
Best Books on Critical Thinking
1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman’s book divides thinking into two systems. Within each system, Kahneman describes rational and non-rational motivations for thinking that way.
In short, System 1 is automatic thinking, whereas System 2 is conscious, calculating decision-making. Kahneman doesn’t prefer one to the other but labels them so we can identify them in our own thought processes.
The book’s second part then discusses biases that affect our ability to think statistically. He uses something called heuristics, which is the theory of quick-thinking.
Kahneman uses all of this to explain why we make bad decisions and suggests ways we can make better ones. It’s a summary of decades of Kahneman’s own research, and is clear, logical, and well researched.
However, it’s quite dense in places. Importantly, its language is aimed at people who probably have clear critical thinking skills but its points are aimed at people wanting to learn critical thinking. There might be easier books on the subject, but this is a good read nonetheless.
- Backed up with decades of research.
- Interesting system of thought proposed.
- Logical statements about bad decisions.
- Quite dense reading.
2. Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking by Neil Browne and Stuart Keeley
This book is written as a textbook for courses that teach critical and analytical thinking. As a result, it’s very clear and concise. It’s a great starting point for anyone unfamiliar with the subject.
It essentially teaches you how to think logically and then how to apply this to your personal decision-making. It favours the ideas of autonomy, openness, and curiosity, all of which require critical thinking.
Asking the Right Questions has been through multiple revisions (it’s currently on the 11th edition!). Updates have mostly adjusted examples to be more applicable to changing audiences, but older additions provide the same important core information.
The fact that it’s designed for an academic setting might be its best feature or its worst. Some sections go into very specific detail about how to do something, so members of the general public might find it a bit too in-depth.
But, if you’re entirely new to critical thinking, this is a good place to start.
- Clear writing designed for college courses.
- Teaches the reader how to think logically.
- Revisions keep examples and language fresh.
- Some sections might feel too in-depth for the general reader.
3. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan is a name you probably recognise, and for good reason. His work bringing science into the public sphere should never be overlooked. This book is no different.
Its purpose is to explain the scientific method to everyday people so they can use it to think critically. Sagan also describes this as “sceptic thinking”, something he was well known for.
The book explains how scientific thinking is critical thinking and offers something called the “baloney detection kit”. In short, this is the ability to recognise false arguments. He follows this up with the 20 logical fallacies, which you might already know.
The Demon-Haunted World is still seen as an important book in the sceptic movement and is very clearly written by Carl Sagan. Its information is interesting and important for anyone wanting to think critically using actual scientific methods.
Perhaps the only real critique is that it’s very rooted in the world of astrophysics, Sagan’s field. Its examples of myth-busting relate to UFOs, which is fine, but it could do with other examples from the rest of the scientific world.
- Contains Sagan’s typical humour.
- Teaches critical thinking in relation to scientific practice.
- An interesting and clear read.
- Quite a narrow view of the “scientific method”.
4. The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions by Rolf Dobelli
The Art of Thinking Clearly describes 99 examples of common thinking errors. It was originally published in newspaper columns, meaning the chapters are short and quite concise.
It clearly labels each error of judgement and suggests ways to avoid them in the future. Rather than teaching you critical thinking processes, the book just shows you thinking errors. This is helpful for people who might want a different outlook on the subject.
Considering chapters are around 2.5 pages long, it’s easy to pick up whenever for short reading bursts. This makes it a standout in a category like this, as many books are a bit clunky and dense.
That said, some of the chapters don’t really need explaining at all. Combined with some obvious examples, it might detract from its otherwise useful information. This would make a good supplement to another critical thinking book.
- Short, concise chapters.
- Different approach to critical thinking.
- Discusses errors in judgement rather than thinking processes.
- Some parts are almost too obvious.
5. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
This book works on the understanding that humans are irrational but in a predictable way. It uses this fact to teach you how to recognise and change irrational thinking habits.
It consists of 15 chapters broken down into modes of thinking and examples of when rationality breaks down. The book uses both rational choice theory and behavioural economics to do this.
Ariely is a Professor of Behavioural Economics at MIT, so he’s a pretty trustworthy source on the subject. Importantly, though, he knows how to write for the general reader. It’s a complex subject delivered clearly.
However, it’s written like Ariely is holding back some information because of the target audience. You get the sense that he knows he’s writing for the public and so doesn’t explain things to the full extent of his knowledge. Even so, the points he raises are interesting and useful for rational thinking.
- Interesting look at irrational thinking.
- Relies on behavioural theory.
- Written by an authority in the field.
- Sometimes feels a bit too edited.
Improving our critical thinking skills is vital to understanding how decisions can work for or against us. It’s something we use every day in work or home life, so is a vital skill to have.
Using a variety of books on critical thinking will provide different skills and understanding of what is an incredibly broad subject. So, don’t limit yourself to just one or two.