Books that will change how you think about thinking—Part I

Books that would break a lot of myths, clarify a couple of misconceptions, and would force you to look at things differently.

The best books are those which hit you in the head with bricks, and reconfigure your entire understanding of reality, people, life, and even yourself.

These 9 books would break a lot of myths, clarify a couple of misconceptions, and most likely would force you to look at things differently.

If you look at things differently from the other person, you are already half way ahead. Let these books guide you.

Sunday Dispatches: This is the first part of a two part series. Get the next one delivered straight to your inbox: Subscribe here.

1. Thinking, Fast and Slow

| Audiobook | Kindle | Paperback |

What it’s about:

Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel prize-winning psychologist and possibly one of the most influential academics and thinkers in the past 50 years. Kahneman, along with his colleague Amos Tversky, are the godfathers of Behavioural Economics.

Thinking, Fast or Slow is a layman’s summary of their entire body of work. Kahneman takes us on a tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, deliberative, and logical.

Notable quotes:

“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”

“Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed.”

“The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained.”

Why you should read it:

If you are even remotely interested in behavioural economics, this book is for you. It is an astonishingly rich book, full of intellectual surprises and self-help value. It is consistently entertaining and frequently touching, especially when Kahneman is recounting his collaboration with Tversky, his late friend and colleague, who would have definitely shared the Noble with Kahneman, had he lived. This book will rearrange the way you think about how you think. This book will help you know who you really are — from a scientific point of view.

Kahneman is so unassuming and humble that you can’t but enjoy his writing. This is the best self-help book one might ever need to read, mainly because it is really not a self-help book, and hence has zero BS.

You’ll realise the dozens of ways your brain sucks. You’ll be a little bit less sure of yourself, a little bit more aware of your own biases and mental shortcuts, and a little more sceptical of all the BS being thrown your way — by other books and other people.

2. The Black Swan

|Audiobook | Kindle | Paperback |

What it’s about:

In this book, Nassim Nicholas Taleb introduces the concept of the Black Swan. A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was.

Notable quotes:

“Missing a train is only painful if you run after it! Likewise, not matching the idea of success others expect from you is only painful if that’s what you are seeking.”

“When you develop your opinions on the basis of weak evidence, you will have difficulty interpreting subsequent information that contradicts these opinions, even if this new information is obviously more accurate.”

“The problem with experts is that they do not know what they do not know.”

Why you should read it:

If you generally do not like reading books, and want to read only one book squeezing everything from psychology, statistics, life and human behaviour into one book, this is most probably the one to go ahead with.

Many people have written against Taleb’s tone of writing, but I admire him. When he scorns others, there is disgrace which makes his rare praises all the more believable.

Taleb’s writing reflects a true passion and dedication to the beliefs he expounds in the book — beliefs that are drawn from his own observations and experiences as a risk analyst, and worthy of all your attention. In life and in business, we deal with uncertainty all the time, this book is a good way to understand what that really means.

The Black Swan glides through deep philosophical discussions and clever humour as effortlessly as its namesake. You are likely to be deeply enthralled by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s erudition and wisdom concerning the philosophy of uncertainty.

As Bertrand Russell had famously said, “The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” This is real, practical, and the most brutal kind of knowledge.

3. Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

| Audiobook | Kindle | Paperback |

What it’s about:

This book is a powerfully moving & penetrating examination of how we live, and a breathtaking meditation on how to live better. Robert M. Pirsig addresses the question, “What is best?” while motorcycling with his son on a cross-country trip.

Notable quotes:

“If someone’s ungrateful and you tell him he’s ungrateful, okay, you’ve called him a name. You haven’t solved anything.”

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

“Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive”

Why you should read it:

Robert Pirsig’s genius in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is to insert classical forms of thought into the backdrop of a cross-country motorcycle trip. As a Chautauqua, this book is in a league of its own. As an exploratory bit of writing on a bike trip across the country, it has more weight than a mere philosophical writing.

Pirsig talks about good design, peace of mind, the value of the right education, his pursuit of quality, human psychology, and a lot about how to maintain your motorcycle. Most of his ideas are presented as subtext, and hence doesn’t come off as a sermon. It reads like someone’s diary.

He essentially tries to break down the ways people make value judgments and how they reason. At the centre of this is how we view and react to aspects of technology. He splits it up into the classic (function) and the romantic (form) — all while narrating his trip with his son.

This is the kind of a book which needs more than a dozen readings. There is always something new to discover in the subtexts. Read it with patience — you’ll definitely enjoy it.

4. Algorithms to Live By

| Audiobook | Kindle | Paperback |

What it’s about:

In a dazzlingly interdisciplinary work, acclaimed author Brian Christian and cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths show how the algorithms used by computers can also untangle very human questions. They explain how to have better hunches, when to leave things to chance, how to deal with overwhelming choices, and how best to connect with others.

This book is a fascinating exploration of how insights from computer algorithms can be applied to our everyday lives, helping to solve common decision-making problems and illuminate the workings of the human mind

Notable quotes:

“Some of the biggest challenges faced by computers and human minds alike: how to manage finite space, finite time, limited attention, unknown unknowns, incomplete information, and an unforeseeable future; how to do so with grace and confidence; and how to do so in a community with others who are all simultaneously trying to do the same.”

“Even the best strategy sometimes yields bad results — which is why computer scientists take care to distinguish between “process” and “outcome.” If you followed the best possible process, then you’ve done all you can, and you shouldn’t blame yourself if things didn’t go your way.”

“The greater the uncertainty, the bigger the gap between what you can measure and what matters, the more you should watch out for overfitting — that is, the more you should prefer simplicity”

Why you should read it:

This book beautifully combines computer science, psychology, behavioural and applied economics, statistics and several other fields into one compelling and insightful book.

Algorithms to Live By is full of rich examples, and doesn’t bog the reader down with mathematical detail. I found it fascinating that actively using algorithms while making every day decisions will not only reduce stress, it will genuinely make us happier and free up more time to do productive things. Read it to make smarter decisions.

5. How Not to Be Wrong

| Audiobook | Kindle | Hardcover |

What it’s about:

The maths we learn in school can seem like a dull set of rules, laid down by the ancients, not to be questioned. In this book, Jordan Ellenberg shows us how terribly limiting this view is: Maths isn’t confined to abstract incidents that never occur in real life, but rather touches everything we do — the whole world is shot through with it.

Notable quotes:

“I think we need more math majors who don’t become mathematicians. More math major doctors, more math major high school teachers, more math major CEOs, more math major senators. But we won’t get there unless we dump the stereotype that math is only worthwhile for kid geniuses.”

“A basic rule of mathematical life: if the universe hands you a hard problem, try to solve an easier one instead, and hope the simple version is close enough to the original problem that the universe doesn’t object.”

“Knowing mathematics is like wearing a pair of X-ray specs that reveal hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of the world.”

Why you should read it:

How Not to Be Wrong is to Mathematics what The Design of Everyday Things is to Design. Like DOET, after reading it you don’t get to become a mathematician of course, but you learn enough to generate curiosity about the subject and start thinking of having a closer look at this fascinating field. You would wish mathematics was taught this way while you were in school— as an applied science.

Ellenberg shows that the boring certainty people associate with maths is often misplaced. A big chunk of mathematics is actually devoted to uncertainty, and that’s where things are really interesting. This book is also an excellent guide to the many ways our biased intuitions and poorly understood statistical training can lead us astray, especially in times of uncertainty.

This book takes us behind the numbers, equations, theories and abstruse concepts to show the practical applications of whatever we have been taught. Along the way, the history of these various ideas are explained with various anecdotes — which are both informative and amusing.

This is a smart, fun read. I highly recommend this book to all people who are even vaguely interested in maths, probability, logic, and their application in everyday life.


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