Book Recommendations: Thinking Books

This post isn’t ready, but a friend was asking me, so… Here is a list of books that are vaguely about how we think and act. I covered a few of these back in 2009.

  • Thinking Fast and Slow: Daniel Kahneman basically invented behavioral economics. A bit long, but will consistently blow your mind. Many other books steal all these ideas, you might as well get it from the source.
  • Nudge:A classic by Cass Sunstein, who served in the Obama administration and still runs an excellent blog. The topic is about how to use simple aspects of human psychology to “nudge” people into better actions. For example, changing the default status on 401(k) contributions from opt-out to opt-in.
  • Blink: It’s Malcolm Gladwell. What else do you need to know.
  • Predictably Irrational: By Dan Aierly. Continuing the theme from Kahneman, some of the many ways in which we are not perfectly rational. We are irrational, but irrational in very predictable ways.
  • Rational Optimist, How Prosperity Evolves: by Matt Ridley. This may not belong on this list. This is essentially a history of our species seen through the lens of trade and reciprocity, and how things keep getting better and will continue to do so.
  • The Angels of Our Better Nature: by Steven Pinker. It is big and thick, but it will change the way you look at our species. The core thesis is very simple, that we are becoming a better more moral species/society/culture. It’s the strength of the argument that will convince you.
  • How we Decide, Jonah Lehrer
  • Influence and Pre-suasion, by Robert Cialdini. A bit like Malcolm Gladwell, with less anecdotes and more hard data.

Oh, I almost forgot. I published this early because a friend asked me about game theory books. Many of these books touch on game theory, particularly Kahneman, but I haven’t read many that are specifically devoted to game theory. The ones I have read are mostly mathematical, sort of the opposite of a Malcolm Gladwell book. A good one is The Strategy of Conflict by Thomas Schelling, which helped inform mutually assured destruction. Any others out there folks like?

One thought on “Book Recommendations: Thinking Books”

  1. Since I’ve gotten you started on quality free Web fiction, have you tried “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality”( ). “Worm”, which I already started you on, is considered ‘rational’ fiction: “Nothing happens solely because ‘the plot requires it’. If characters do (or don’t do) something, there must be a plausible reason. / Any factions are defined and driven into conflict by their beliefs and values, not just by being “good” or “evil”. / The characters solve problems through the intelligent application of their knowledge and resources. / The fictional world has consistent rules, and sticks to them.”

    ‘Rationalist’ fiction, which HPMOR may have been the founder of the subgenre, is “As well as the above, Rationalist and scientific methods are used to demystify mysterious phenomena. / The story shows rationalist techniques, which can be applied by readers. / The story is like a puzzle; readers can reach the same solution as the characters by using the information provided earlier in the story.”

    HPMOR includes game theory, and the characters take the time to explain it. It also points out and cleans up a number of loose threads from the original in very entertaining ways. And, while it is about 80% long as the original HP series, it all takes place in the first year, and Quirrell is a much stronger character. You would want him as a teacher.

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