“Just Some Guy” wrote today:

I recently stumbled on an excellent online article authored by yourself entitled “Teaching Critical Thinking“. I was wondering if you could take a moment of your valuable time to suggest a couple of books on the subject. I would like improve my critical thinking skills so I suppose the focus sought would be adult learner skill(s) acquisition with emphasis on techniques and (lots of) practice. I have been trying to develop said skills on my own (without much success). I would really like to have find a proven program to apply. As you know there is tons of information available online however I am getting lost trying to sort out all the wheat from chaff. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

I used to be a regular academic, and one reason for heading off in a different direction was the experience most academics know all too well, which is that you’ll slave for months on a paper, have it published, and then… nothing happens. It seems you may as well not have bothered. So it is gratifying when some paper you wrote, and which seemed to have vanished without a trace, starts to get picked up, read, and perhaps even appreciated. In the case of the paper mentioned above, in past month I’ve heard that it is the subject of a faculty discussion group at the University of Pittsburgh (where I did my PhD), and read by administrators at a startup university campus in Singapore. Now it seems to have helped Just Some Guy. Maybe it was worth the effort that went into it.

Anyway, regarding JSG’s query, in workshops I used to hand out brief annotated “further reading” list. Here it is:

There are hundreds of books on thinking and how to improve it, ranging from airport junk to turgid academic treatises. Here is a short list of some of the best, focusing on critical thinking. All are accessible, entertaining, and contain many valuable insights. Listed in alphabetical order, so don’t necessarily start at the top.

Cialdini, R. B. (1984). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. New York: William Morrow and Co. Classic, eye-opening description of the tricks, ruses and deceptions others use to manipulate us into doing what they want.

Giere, R. N. (1996). Understanding Scientific Reasoning (4th ed.). Fort Worth: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Very clear overview of the fundamentals of scientific reasoning. Basic literacy in scientific methodology.

Heuer, R. J. (1999). Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. Center for the Study of Intelligence, CIA. Although intended primarily to assist intelligence analysts, there is a lot of good stuff here, on both the descriptive (how our minds work) and normative (rules for better thinking) sides. Plus, available free online!

Kepner, C. H., & Tregoe, B. B. (1997). The New Rational Manager. Princeton: Princeton Research Press. These are the people who first brought “critical thinking” to the business world and built out of it a multinational consulting firm. Very practical orientation.

Minto, B. (1996). The Minto Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing, Thinking and Problem Solving.  Minto Books International Limited (www.barbaraminto.com). [Note: this edition supersedes the earlier edition, published by Pearson.]  Barbara Minto was a McKinsey consultant and editor; this book is now the “Bible” in this area for major consulting firms. Some profound truths about good thinking and communication, cast in a way which makes sense for folks in the business community.

Myers, D. G. (2002). Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. New Haven: Yale University Press. “Europe in ten days” tour of the ways intuitive thinking can go wrong, according to serious psychologists. Pretty exhaustive coverage, but most of it will just wash over you.

Paul, R. W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Financial Times Prentice Hall. Paul and Elder are prominent critical thinking instructors. This book packages their insights as practical tools for personal and professional life. Stresses psychological and ethical issues, though often becomes a bit too “pop psychology”.

Piatelli-Palmarini, M. (1994). Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule our Minds. New York: Wiley. Very readable introduction to some of the most famous cognitive biases and blindspots. More diagnosis than therapy.

Salmon, M. (1989). Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking (2nd ed.). San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. The best of the standard undergraduate textbooks. A bit dull, but very sound.

Spence, G. (1995). How to Argue and Win Every Time. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Written by a criminal attorney who (according to the dust jacket) never lost a case. If you can look beyond the very “American” style, there is much wisdom here. It is a treatise in the art of rhetoric, but it is principled rhetoric rather than mendacious sophistry.

Whyte, J. (2004) Crimes Against Logic. McGraw-Hill. A short introduction to “fallacies,” i.e., common patterns of bad reasoning. Whyte runs through about a dozen, but there are dozens of others. Witty, fast-moving and brief.