Customer Reviews: The Art of Thinking Clearly
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on May 20, 2013
First, let me tell you what this book is not:

It is not "art", neither "thinking", neither "clearly". In fact, let me quote from the "Introduction":

"This is not a how-to book. You won't find "seven steps to an error-free life...Although this book may not hold the key to happiness, at the very last it acts as insurance against too much self-induced unhappiness...If we could learn to recognize and evade the biggest errors in thinking...we might experience a leap in prosperity."

Fair enough.

So the title should be "How to recognize mistakes that cause us to act irrationally".

Then you would search for the "Art of Recognition". How do I prevent myself from committing these errors, how do I recognize that my thinking is indeed influenced by cognitive errors, fallacies, biases? Here you find no help. Say, you finish reading the book and then face a decision that could be crucial, yet you instinctively sense (gut feeling is at work here) the danger of a thinking error. Would you quickly go over every one of the 99 listed biases to check for these errors? What kind of quick check could you use to ensure you are acting rationally? What would warn you? What is the art?

Second, let me tell you what this book is:

A list of 99 fallacies, biases that influence our thinking and actions (i.e. "personification, confirmation bias, hindsight bias, etc.) and in fact, if the title would be "Fallacies and biases" I would give it a five star.

But shortly after you start reading this book, you realize that it is indeed "just" a list of errors, with brief explanations of their nature, occurrence and evolution. Yes, there are the stories and facts to back them up. Yet there is not a hint to know or recognize the risk when you face them.

At the end the book is a good read. But the practical use of such lists is quite limited. It is a database, but not an algorithm.
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on April 28, 2013
I am interested in the concept of "self help" books. Most of them follow the formula - "do as I say, and you'll be happier, wealthier, more productive, etc."

This book is a departure, a welcome departure, from such reads. It is a true "self help" book, with the emphasis on self, because the author does not seek to stuff ideas down your throat. Instead, he presents a series of short, cogent articles that clearly illustrate fallacies and shortcomings in our thinking today. By supporting them with real life examples, he provides the thinking reader with some new ammunition in cutting through some of the "fluff" that defines modern communications.

I have really taken my time reading this book, and now that I am at the end I will start again. Each short chapter deserves your full attention if you are to get the most from it. You will find yourself asking - but how does this idea relate to a previous one that seems, at first glance, to be contradictory? Helpfully, the author calls out any apparent paradoxes and explains their coexistence quite rationally - I found that I was not dissatisfied with any of his explanations.

Back to the "self" aspect - the end of each chapter contains some small advice to assist you in dealing with the fallacy that has been exposed in the chapter, but I find that the greatest value is in relating the subject matter of the chapter to your own experience before reading the advice - you will get much more out of it that way.

My final piece of advice? Read this book like a child using a playground - dip in again and again and again. You are never really finished reading it - instead I recommend turning it into a habitual read - something you continually refer back to.

I am looking forward to being able to see more clearly as a result of applying the lessons in this book.
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on June 4, 2013
I'm not sure why so many readers enjoyed this book. First of all, if you act how the book tells you to act, you are going to be a jerk. Second, I possess only the most basic familiarity with Bayesian statistics, economics and heuristics and I found this book to not only oversimplified but patently wrong in many places. Amazingly, this book falls victim to many (if not most) of the fallacies of which it attempts to disabuse the reader. Three examples:

1. The chapter explaining Base Rate Bias (which says we systematically fail to account for the base rate of an event's occurrence) uses the example of Mike, a fan of Mozart. Is Mike more likely to be a truck driver or an English professor? If you said "professor" you're wrong because you fell victim to the "base rate bias." Hahahaha. Isn't irrationality funny? There are 100 times more truck drivers than English professors so it's statistically more likely that Mike is a truck driver, right? WRONG. We actually don't know the answer. This example succumbs to the very bias it ostensibly reveals. Mike-is-a-truck-driver makes sense as an answer only if the incidence of Mozart-liking in English Professors is less than 100 times greater than the incidence of Mozart-liking in truck drivers. In other words, we cannot say whether Mike is more likely to be a truck driver unless we know the BASE RATE of Mozart-liking. If the incidence of Mozart-liking in English professors is 75% but only .001% in truck drivers, it's more likely that Mike is an English professor even if there are 100 times as many truck drivers as English professors. Yet, the author sticks by his "rational" conclusion that Mike is more likely to be a truck driver.

2. Dobelli stretches his "visionary" thinking to unfathomable depths of stupidity when discussing how humans (don't) understand probabilities. In an example, he claims that Water Treatment 1 is better than Water Treatment 2. Why? Because WT1 reduced the risk of death from 5% to 2%, a 3% drop. Shoddy WT2, on the other hand, only reduced the risk of death by 1%, from 1% to 0%. I'm not making this up. Dobelli claims WT1 is 3 times better than WT2! If that's the case, why aren't we all excited about hypothetical WT3 which reduces the risk from 100% to 70%?!? It's 10 times better than WT1 and 30 times better than WT2! We are not excited about WT3 because no one would choose a 70% (or even a 2%) chance of death over a 0% chance of death. (Oh wait, I shouldn't say no one because another chapter told me I'm supposed to expect improbable events - you know those events that, by definition, happen rarely.) Yet, Dobelli uses the rate of reduction as the primary measure rather than the obvious and preferable total probability of death. That's stupid and displays unclear thinking. Astonishingly, later in that same water treatment chapter, he says the only time it's worth considering small probability events is when their occurrence would be catastrophic. You mean "catastrophic" like death from drinking unsafe water?!? Apparently not.

3. The chapter on Groupthink references a study that used a methodology clearly falling under the Survivorship Bias (Chapter 1). The study looked at all the major groupthink errors, found common characteristics and assumes those common characteristics caused the failures. That is almost the exact definition given in Chapter 1 of the Survivorship Bias. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills here. I can't be the only one who sees this.

If you are serious about learning about our biases and fallacies, read Fooled by Randomness and Black Swan by Nassim Taleb, The Undercover Economist by Steven Landsburg, and blogs like Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong. Then go on iTunesU and find a basic probability and statistics course. You will be much better off than wasting your time "learning" how to spot your own irrationality from this book.
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on October 2, 2013
I'm about half way through, and it's okay. But I refuse to read anymore out of principle after seeing two very compelling accusations from Nassim Taleb (Black Swan Theory) and Christopher Chabris (Invisible Gorilla) that several parts of the book was plagiarized from them without attribution. You can google "Dobelli plagiarize" or maybe the links below work. Judge for yourself:
I feel duped and wish I could get my money back.
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on September 13, 2013
How can you learn clear thinking from a plagiarist? Christopher Chabris (The Invisible Gorilla), Kathryn Schulz (Being Wrong) and Nicholas Nassim Taleb (Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan) have all publicly pointed out numerous passages in this book lifted verbatim without attribution from their work.

Clear thinking begins with intellectual honesty and due care and attention - it seems as if Rolf Dobelli is not capable of these basic virtues.
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on September 23, 2013
A simple search for, dobelli taleb similarities, and, dobelli The Invisible Gorilla, will turned up information showing that this book has, to put it kindly, heavily borrowed without attribution.

Don't take my word for it, run those searches, determine it for yourself.
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Many know that Wikipedia has a "mistake" list of potential cognitive errors and biases that links to nearly infinite mistakes these poor brains can make! This is like the little book of 100 things that can go right vs. the 2,000 page book of clinical maladies that can descend upon us each unsuspecting day.

This read is truly an eye-opening joy ride! Even though the author claims happiness is genetic and not to expect too much, hey, get this, it's enlightening AND entertaining! How is it better than the plethora of error books and self help sites out there, as well as Wiki's extensive list? Wow, no comparison. Dobelli uses short, punchy "chapters" that are almost just a few paragraphs to explain, define, exemplify and illustrate each cognitive trap, error and bias-- astonishing. The humor is dry but everywhere, especially his many "aha" insights about how these errors helped us keep from being killed as cave folk but do us disservice now. He wryly shares that the guy who questioned the herd mentality probably didn't contribute to the gene pool if he did so while all his buddies were running from a lion! This author's sense of humor is too contagious.

As you get through the first few "chapters" your mind will be reeling with the insights-- they really are more subtle than the fun tone suggests at first. Then, you look at the 300 pages that remain and realize how PACKED this book is with eye opening insights-- wow. This is one of those rare books after which you never look at the world, your life, or your relationships the same, EVER again!

Even if you've studied these mistakes and biases for years, or are an expert in the field (an "authority?" oh, oh), Rolf's "multiple angle" style of illustration, story telling, examples, descriptions and taxonomy really drives the trap home in deeply understandable, gut ways you might not have experienced with other authors. A dry topic like exit barriers is generalized with an error about sunk costs, and examples given for everything from relationships to habits, never mind investments! Though he is a friend of Taleb's, don't believe the hype that this is a "business" or investing book-- its examples and applications range much farther than that universe, down to our daily unconscious choices and patterns.

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys seemingly light page turners that turn out to be much deeper and life changing. NOT a self help tome, in fact he makes great fun of self helpers, showing them the covariate mirror where they ignored their own genetics and luck to get there, having nothing to do at all with the "techniques" they are now espousing and promoting. Best of all, this is a guy who continually makes fun of himself and tells many stories about his own "stupidity" -- subtly teaching us he's caught on to the subtlest trickster of all-- ego.

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on September 14, 2013
This book is a collection of unattributed writings by authors such as Kathryn Schulz, Nassim Taleb, Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons, edited together rather poorly by some hack called Rolf Dobelli resulting in a shallow whole, the very existence of which defies its purported premise.

But the word "Thinking" is upside down on the front cover so maybe I missed an intentional clever inversion.
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on April 7, 2015
Probably one of my favorites that I will keep with me for a long time. This is one of those books that after reading it keeps you from seeing the world in the same way beforehand. I will be keeping this with me when making any major rational decisions in life as it has already help reframe my thinking a day after reading it. Changed my perspective on a (mostly emotional) decision I was going to make and saved me from an alternative path that I may have regretted down the line. Though in another review I said this is comparable to "Everything Is Obvious" by Duncan J. Watts, this book by far gets the upper hand as it is ideal for a reference guide on decision making with its very straight to the point method of delivery.
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on February 7, 2014
It may seem a bit strange that I give this book a two star rating and not more than that. The book is fascinating in many ways, and it does a great service in revealing many of the fallacies that we live by. This is, however, a part of our character. This is us!

There is enough human stupidity that exists in the world, and the 99 bite sized chapters do expose many of the myths that we live by. Yet, the book does not reveal anything of the art of thinking clearly. This is a clever title, and this is one of the reasons I bought the book.... one of the great fallacies of our times. If the book was called, The Book of Human Fallacies, I probably would not have bought it.

Yet, there is enough in the book to enthrall, and keep you engaged. The writing style is simple and down to earth. I like this.
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