Thinking, Fast and Slow

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Danny Kahneman and his late partner Amos Tversky are the most important psychologists of the past several decades. Their research has exposed fallacies in human decision-making and many of the most basic assumptions of the field of economics. In short—humans are not rational beings, but instead intuitive ones with some weak control of reason at their disposal. Not only is this demonstrated in their experiments, but it can be subjectively experienced while reading the book. Throughout, Prof Kahneman will give you a couple of preference choices, you might pick them with all the logic you might muster, and he will still show you to be self-contradictory a few paragraphs later. He and Tversky brought to the fore the use of heuristics and mental models, and this has been their work of which I’ve been most appreciative.

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Algorithms to Live By

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Despite not professionally using my degree at all, I’m consistently happy for having studied Computer Science. The field is so rich in mathematical structures that underlay so many things in the world. It’s made me a better thinker in all respects. In this book, Brian Christian does a masterful job at sharing all the basics of an undergraduate CS level knowledge in terms useful for everyone. I don’t think you’ll need a CS degree to follow along, although it certainly helped with my speed of comprehension.

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How to Have Impossible Conversations

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve had the pleasure of having many contentious conversations over the past couple of years. This book dissects many of the problems and cognitive distortions present in these types of arguments and poses solutions to all of them.

All of the best techniques I’ve accidentally stumbled upon over the years (Rappaport’s Rules, understanding falsifiability, etc) are here, plus more. I particularly enjoyed its focus on epistemology: understanding why someone holds a belief gives more leeway to challenge its foundations. I also appreciated the use of scales: “On a scale of 1-10, how sure are you?”—These types of questions open room for doubt which can be explored without needing to force it. There is a lot of good phraseology and techniques for even the most advanced quarreler to learn from.

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The Undoing Project

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Kahneman and Tsversky collaboration produced some of the most interesting and consequential work in the social sciences of the past century. Michael Lewis is an excellent author, and told their story with enjoyable and exhaustive narrative. The reader gets to learn not just about what their psychological discoveries were, but how and why they came to be.

I found Michael Lewis’s framing of their psychological work particularly interesting. In Moneyball, the focus is on how decision making can be made perfect and logical. In Kahneman and Tsversky’s work, the focus is on why decision making is not that way.

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The Great Mental Models, Vol. 1

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Shane Parrish’s website Farnam Street is one of my favorite on the internet. His collection of mental models is large, clear, and concise. It is the inspiration for me to have begun collecting mental models. When I found out he was writing a book—or, more precisely, a series of books—I was ecstatic, and preordered this months ahead of time.

It was good. He spoke through a number of the important mental models, cognitive distortions, and more. I took many useful notes. I found his organization of writing unique in that he introduced all the characters up front at the beginning of each chapter, and this was a novel technique I appreciated. If I were to find fault in the book, it would be that some of his examples don’t fully represent the models he is trying to illustrate. Still, they worked well enough.

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