Reviews for Rationality

by Steven Pinker

Library Journal
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Features editor and a tech reporter at Bloomberg Businessweek, Chafkin tells the story of The Contrarian, that is, billionaire venture capitalist and entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who has significantly influenced the course of Silicon Valley. Columbia history/journalism professor Cobb and New Yorker editor Remnick illuminate The Matter of Black Lives in pieces collected from the magazine, starting with Rebecca West's account of a lynching trial and James Baldwin's "Letter from a Region in My Mind" and moving on to embrace works by Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Zadie Smith, Hilton Als, Jamaica Kincaid, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., among others (100,000-copy first printing). Having left behind her hometown in England's declining coal-mining region when her father declared There's Nothing for You Here, Brookings senior fellow Hill—now an American citizen and a former member of the National Security Council—draws on her extensive national intelligence work in Russia to warn that America's rocky situation today mirrors circumstances that led to Russia's socioeconomic decline (100,000-copy first printing). Rejecting the view that humans are irredeemably off-the-wall in their thinking (we have elucidated the laws of nature, for instance), two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Pinker argues in Rationality that we don't avail ourselves of logic in many everyday situations because we don't really need to. But we can learn how to think more logically, even as we recognize that some rational acts (he cites self-interest) can lead to damaging irrationality for society. Oxford professor Srinivasan's The Right to Sex talks about talking about sex in the #MeToo era, stating, for instance, that we need to deepen the prevailing concept of consent into something more nuanced (50,000-copy first printing). Award-winning journalist Streep's Brothers on Three revisit the players, families, and community that celebrated when the Arlee Warriors brought home the high school basketball state championship title to the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana (75,000-copy first printing).


Publishers Weekly
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In this revealing pop take on the mind and society, Harvard psychologist Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature) investigates the nature of straight-thinking and the many ways it goes crooked. He lays out the basics of formal logic, probability, and statistics, and dissects common fallacies that violate them. The “argument from authority,” for example, takes pronouncements by “experts” as unquestionable gospel, while “availability bias” makes people falsely believe that nuclear accidents that garner huge news coverage are more dangerous than less-covered coal-fired power plants, and the Texas sharpshooter fallacy—drawing a bulls-eye around a bullet hole after one shoots at a barn—is widespread as a way of passing off random data points as accurate predictions. Pinker skewers all manner of misguided thinking, myths, and “cockamamie conspiracy theories” across the ideological spectrum, from the Stop-the-Steal right to the “left-wing monoculture” that makes universities “laughingstocks for their assaults on common sense.” He manages to be scrupulously rigorous yet steadily accessible and entertaining whether probing the rationality of Andrew Yang’s presidential platform, Dilbert cartoons, or Yiddish proverbs. The result is both a celebration of humans’ ability to make things better with careful thinking and a penetrating rebuke to muddleheadedness. (Sept.)


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Much-published psychologist Pinker looks at the not-so-common roots of common-sensical thinking. Rationality, writes the author, “emerges from a community of reasoners who spot each other’s fallacies.” In other words, it has a social dimension, and it invites good company in order to wrestle with big problems such as climate change. Unfortunately, “among our fiercest problems today is convincing people to accept the solutions when we do find them.” That’s because so many people are so—well, irrational, or at least encumbered by bad habits of thinking and presuppositions. Discussing beliefs in ghosts and haunted houses, the author wryly points out that 5% more people believe in the latter than in the former, which means “that some people believe in houses haunted by ghosts without believing in ghosts.” Rationality is not the same thing as logic, Pinker argues, though there are points in common. Along the way, he examines the differences between propensity and probability, the maddening habit of falling victim to confirmation bias (believing what we want to believe and never mind contrary evidence), the workings of the conjunction rule (by which we conflate suppositions about people and events based on little or no factuality), and our tendency to mistake coincidence for pattern. Pinker serves up plenty of mental exercises that are intended to help us overcome the tricks our minds play on us—e.g., Prisoner’s Dilemma game-theoretic scenarios that help expose the reasons so many people are content to be “free riders” in using public goods; or stupid conspiracy theories advanced by people who believe they’re being suppressed, which, as Pinker notes, is “not the strategy you see from dissidents in undeniably repressive regimes like North Korea or Saudi Arabia.” The author can be heady and geeky, but seldom to the point that his discussions shade off into inaccessibility. A reader-friendly primer in better thinking through the cultivation of that rarest of rarities: a sound argument. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Much-published psychologist Pinker looks at the not-so-common roots of common-sensical thinking.Rationality, writes the author, emerges from a community of reasoners who spot each others fallacies. In other words, it has a social dimension, and it invites good company in order to wrestle with big problems such as climate change. Unfortunately, among our fiercest problems today is convincing people to accept the solutions when we do find them. Thats because so many people are sowell, irrational, or at least encumbered by bad habits of thinking and presuppositions. Discussing beliefs in ghosts and haunted houses, the author wryly points out that 5% more people believe in the latter than in the former, which means that some people believe in houses haunted by ghosts without believing in ghosts. Rationality is not the same thing as logic, Pinker argues, though there are points in common. Along the way, he examines the differences between propensity and probability, the maddening habit of falling victim to confirmation bias (believing what we want to believe and never mind contrary evidence), the workings of the conjunction rule (by which we conflate suppositions about people and events based on little or no factuality), and our tendency to mistake coincidence for pattern. Pinker serves up plenty of mental exercises that are intended to help us overcome the tricks our minds play on use.g., Prisoners Dilemma game-theoretic scenarios that help expose the reasons so many people are content to be free riders in using public goods; or stupid conspiracy theories advanced by people who believe theyre being suppressed, which, as Pinker notes, is not the strategy you see from dissidents in undeniably repressive regimes like North Korea or Saudi Arabia. The author can be heady and geeky, but seldom to the point that his discussions shade off into inaccessibility.A reader-friendly primer in better thinking through the cultivation of that rarest of rarities: a sound argument. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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