Critical Thinking Books

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

- Aristotle

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman - 10/10

This is the most influential book I have ever read. It completely changed the trajectory of my career. It opened a new world of understanding how patients and providers think and how they respond to the information they receive on a daily basis. This book provides a comprehensive overview of heuristics and biases. If I can recommend a single book to you, it is this one. It is thick and will take time. I recommend setting aside time and marking up the book. Then go back and review your notes. It is the most common book I refer to in my commonplace books.

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg - 10/10

If I used a 100 point scale, Thinking, Fast and Slow would be a 100 and How Not to Be Wrong would be a 98. I love Ellenberg's style of blending the art of writing and telling a perspective with the science of mathematics and behavioral psychology. Ellenberg makes statistics and mathematics approachable to the lay individual and causes the clinician to challenge their assumptions. I view research and statistics in a new light since reading this book.

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman- 9.5/10

The only reason it did not receive a 10/10 is some sections were very technical (physics lectures) and did not provide value. Otherwise, this book is incredible. The theme of doubt and scientific curiosity provides value to anyone in any profession. Questioning everything does not mean we lack commitment; the aim is not to be a perfectionist. Frequently expressing doubt and maintaining a high level of scientific curiosity is the single most important quality for any professional aiming to constantly improve. We will never have all the answers, but we can keep refining and layers on new concepts, new perspectives, and new information.

Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Taleb- 9/10

This is easily the most frustrating book I have ever read. On the one hand, Taleb provides a  raw and authentic viewpoint regarding the challenges with forecasting and preparing for future events. On the other hand, he can be a real jackass. Granted, he acknowledges it in his book and is unapologetic about it (he didn't call himself a jackass but understands he can be off-putting). You have to respect that. There are several views Taleb holds that I disagree with, but that isn't a bad thing. You can't agree with everything you read. This book will challenge your mindset around preparing for the future and how you develop yourself personally and professionally.

The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose - 9/10

The End of Average showcases the importance of individual approaches to treating, teaching, managing, and training. The book highlights the flaws of applying averages and mean values from statistics to individual people. If you design a "one size fits all" approach then you design an approach that fits no one. This is applicable to clinicians, managers, researchers, and educators. We learn at different paces and the context of a situation impacts our emotions and actions. Our individual characteristics differ but when lumped into an average outcome may be the same. This book provides strategies to avoid the fallacies of ignoring context and individuality. It uses research and case studies to demonstrate that complex characteristics, such as intelligence and personality, cannot be measured by single values or terms. It has reshaped my thinking about how I design treatment plans and lectures. It is a must-read for any clinician.

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner- 9/10

This book is the antithesis of Antifragile in many ways. Superforecasting does not propose one cannot be antifragile per se, but it does embrace the notion we can improve our forecasting abilities. Rather than abandoning forecasting, as Taleb suggests, Tetlock and Gardner outline various strategies to improve forecasting skills. For clinicians, these skills are valuable for the development of a plan of care. For all professionals, they can help with the planning fallacy that often accompanies projects. You can be both antifragile and use the strategies of a superforecaster.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell - 9/10

Blink explains the power and limitations of intuition. How do we decide when to trust our gut reaction? When do we need to slow down and critically think? When is critical thinking more costly than helpful? Experience and training are necessary to build trustworthy intuition. This allows us to make accurate rapid decisions. Throughout life, rapid decisions are necessary and excessive information becomes a distraction. Gladwell breaks down the research of fast and frugal decision-making to help us understand how and why we make rapid decisions. He provides strategies for improving our decision-making that can be applied to any career. This book is a great compliment to Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner- 9/10

Freakonomics causes you to think critically about cause and effects. Levitt's research draws fascinating conclusions that make you question your depth of analysis of work problems. The book will not give you the knowledge to memorize and immediately apply, with no business or development strategies. Instead, it makes you wonder about hidden variables that influence everyday outcomes. I recommend having a basic understanding of statistics before reading the book so that you can appreciate the conclusions he draws (including the issues with observational studies and correlation data).

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely- 8.5/10

This book uses research the author, Dan Ariely, completed in his career to showcase how frequently we are irrational in our decision-making. Whether it be the circumstances in which we will cheat, the value we place on a given job, or our ordering decisions at a restaurant, our actions do not align with rationality. But these irrationalities are commonplace. Research can give reasons for why we fail to act rationally and when we are susceptible to irrational thinking. Understanding these irrationalities, like our biases influencing snap decisions, can help us recognize their use in future decisions.

How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman- 8.5/10

How Doctors Think discusses the common cognitive fallacies that impact physician decision-making. It covers several heuristics that can both help and hinder assessment and treatment decisions. Groopman uses clinical stories, primarily from physicians he interviewed, to highlight key concepts. He then uses the interviews to provide a reflection on the mistakes physicians make. He uses some research to support the errors in thinking and what should be used.  He is focused on empowering the patient to ask the right questions. A valuable read for both clinicians (not exclusively doctors) and non-clinicians.

 

Your Medical Mind - How to Decide What is Right for You by Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband - 8.5/10

Your Medical Mind highlights the challenges patients face when making medical decisions. It covers many cognitive biases that influence patient decisions. It conveys the importance of understanding a patient’s values and circumstances. These patient variables are the primary drivers of a treatment decision, not necessarily what the research states. Often, as healthcare providers, we are taught to use the research base rates and layer in patient preferences to make a decision. This book challenges this approach and suggests that in some situations the reverse should occur.

 

Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong by Eric Barker - 8.5/10

Eric Barker designed his book the way any debate should be designed; he provided both sides of the argument. Charlie Munger once said, “I never allow myself to hold an opinion on anything that I don't know the other side's argument better than they do.”Barker went through this exercise for every chapter in his quest to uncover what the research informs us about success. From "nice guys finish last" to work-life balance, Barker provides the evidence supporting and refuting each side of the debate, allowing the reader to decide what they believe is the secret to success.

 

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell- 8/10

Gladwell is an outstanding storyteller. Like Levitt did in Freakonomics, Gladwell explores hidden influencers of success. He does not accept the simple answers of talent, hard work, and intellect as the sole reasons for success. He makes the argument that opportunity is one of the primary factors for success. I agree, but I think he takes it too far. The reason I only gave this book an 8 is Gladwell discredits people for taking the opportunities. Some opportunities are created by our efforts while others are gifted, either way, we have to make the leap. Additionally, he misunderstands the deliberate practice research and popularized the 10,000-hour rule which is not a magic threshold for mastering a craft. The book is still well worth the read for the stories and the viewpoint. Also, like any viewpoint, you may disagree with my assessment.

 

Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick- 8/10

This book is dense and at times highly technical. I do not have the background in mathematics to calculate fractals and follow along with much of the hard science. Yet, this book was an outstanding foray into the development of a new field of science. It highlights the importance of studying and pursuing education outside your specific field or profession. It showcases the challenges we face when presenting an idea that flies in the face of the established norm. The scientists who pioneered chaos theory were met with incredulity and told to stick with the established sciences. Doubt and uncertainty are uncomfortable mindsets and high levels of intelligence and expertise can make them more challenging mindsets to grapple with. This book is a great lesson in the power of uncertainty and the benefits of exploring uncharted territories, even when the rest of the world implores you to "stay in your lane."