The Best Critical Thinking Books for Teens
[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]
How do we know what we know? What is true and how can we be sure? Who can we trust? Just as there is a spectrum of quality when shopping for shoes, a similar spectrum exists for the quality of information we encounter. Books on critical thinking give readers the ability to recognize poor quality, know where high quality knowledge can be found, and serve as a toolbox for clear thinking and focused learning.
‘The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark’
Author and astronomer Carl Sagan famously rolled out his “Baloney Detection Kit” in “Demon.” It’s a distillation of strategies for separating good information from bad, with examples from familiar issues: the Lost City of Atlantis, UFOs and crop circles. He doesn’t simply debunk them — he explains how he does it. The book’s emphasis is on being skeptical, not taking everything at face value. Poking at information sources sometimes reveals holes. “Demon” tells you how to poke, and where.
‘How to Think about Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age’
Weird things stick easily in memory because they stand out from the ordinary. They come in forms such as astrology, which makes extraordinary claims of prediction. But proving these claims requires extraordinary evidence, and when examined closely, the claims of astrology fall short. This book is a guide on how to examine claims. It’s a textbook, but it is also read for pleasure because it covers the subject with clear and engaging prose.
‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’
Before we understand critical thinking, we might ask, “What is thinking?” There are different kinds, of course — the quick, sometimes instantaneous intuitive decisions we make daily and deeper, more analytical thought. It’s the difference between a reaction and a considered response. How we think matters at least as much as what we think about, and “Thinking, Fast and Slow” looks at how different thinking styles affect ourselves and the people we interact with.
‘Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts’
There’s critical thinking, thinking and the thinker. This book discusses how we delude ourselves, seeing objects or ideas that aren’t there and making choices we know we’ll regret. Thinking clearly becomes easier when we know our own weaknesses and biases and understand how to set them aside. Explanations come with examples, enabling the reader to step outside of oneself and see circumstances from another perspective.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan
GoodReads: How to Think about Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age, Schick & Vaugan
GoodReads: Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
GoodReads: Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, Tavris & Aronson
Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative: Logic & Proofs