Book review: The art of thinking clearly

I don’t really remember how this book landed in my iBooks collection, but I am quite glad it did. The book features 100 common thinking errors that we usually encounter in real life. Each chapter is dedicated to one particular error. A chapter consists of one or more anecdotes that we can easily relate to, a brief explanation on the error at hand, some insights into why the error takes hold of us and some advice to avoid it in the end. Unlike other books in this genre, this book, fortunately, doesn’t bombard readers with tons of examples that basically make the same point. Each chapter is only 3-5 pages and is written to keep readers engaged. However, 99 chapters with a lot of errors can wear readers out as the book progresses. You may have a feeling: well, how can I live error-free? The author specifically addresses this question in the end. His approach which I think makes sense is that he spends a lot of time thinking about a problem if the problem is serious and the consequences can be huge. With trivial matters, he acts intuitively.

Overall, I think the book is really helpful. If you are interested in how to improve your thinking, this book is a great start. It offers a helpful selection of common thinking errors; a foundation from which you can dive more into each error. I will likely read it again. A few highlights that I noted for myself below

Hindsight bias

“So why is the hindsight bias so perilous? Well, it makes us believe we are better predictors than we actually are, causing us to be arrogant about our knowledge and consequently to take too much risk”

“If you’re still with me, I have one final tip, this time from personal rather than professional experience: Keep a journal. Write down your predictions—for political changes, your career, your weight, the stock market, and so on. Then, from time to time, compare your notes with actual developments. You will be amazed at what a poor forecaster you are. Don’t forget to read history, too—not the retrospective, compacted theories compiled in textbooks, but the diaries, oral histories, and historical documents from the period. If you can’t live without news, read newspapers from five, ten, or twenty years ago. This will give you a much better sense of just how unpredictable the world is. Hindsight may provide temporary comfort to those overwhelmed by complexity, but as for providing deeper revelations about how the world works, you’ll benefit by looking elsewhere.”

Excerpt From: Rolf Dobelli. “The Art of Thinking Clearly.” Apple Books.

Chauffeur Knowledge

“According to Charlie Munger, one of the world’s best investors (and from whom I have borrowed this story), there are two types of knowledge. First, we have real knowledge. We see it in people who have committed a large amount of time and effort to understanding a topic. The second type is chauffeur knowledge—knowledge from people who have learned to put on a show. Maybe they have a great voice or good hair, but the knowledge they espouse is not their own. They reel off eloquent words as if reading from a script.”

“To guard against the chauffeur effect, Warren Buffett, Munger’s business partner, has coined a wonderful phrase, the “circle of competence”: What lies inside this circle you understand intuitively; what lies outside, you may only partially comprehend. One of Munger’s best pieces of advice is: “You have to stick within what I call your circle of competence. You have to know what you understand and what you don’t understand. It’s not terribly important how big the circle is. But it is terribly important that you know where the perimeter is.” Munger underscores this: “So you have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose. And that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence.”

“True experts recognize the limits of what they know and what they do not know. If they find themselves outside their circle of competence, they keep quiet or simply say, “I don’t know.” This they utter unapologetically, even with a certain pride. From chauffeurs, we hear every line except this.”

Excerpt From: Rolf Dobelli. “The Art of Thinking Clearly.” Apple Books.


“Induction seduces us and leads us to conclusions such as: “Mankind has always survived, so we will be able to tackle any future challenges, too.” Sounds good in theory, but what we fail to realize is that such a statement can only come from a species that has lasted until now. To assume that our existence to date is an indication of our future survival is a serious flaw in reasoning. Probably the most serious of all.”

Excerpt From: Rolf Dobelli. “The Art of Thinking Clearly.” Apple Books.

Twaddle tendency

“In conclusion: Verbal expression is the mirror of the mind. Clear thoughts become clear statements, whereas ambiguous ideas transform into vacant ramblings. The trouble is that, in many cases, we lack very lucid thoughts. The world is complicated, and it takes a great deal of mental effort to understand even one facet of the whole. Until you experience such an epiphany, it’s better to heed Mark Twain: “If you have nothing to say, say nothing.” Simplicity is the zenith of a long, arduous journey, not the starting point.”

Excerpt From: Rolf Dobelli. “The Art of Thinking Clearly.” Apple Books.

News illusion

“I would predict that turning your back on news will benefit you as much as purging any of the other ninety-eight flaws we have covered in the pages of this book. Kick the habit—completely. Instead, read long background articles and books. Yes, nothing beats books for understanding the world.”

Excerpt From: Rolf Dobelli. “The Art of Thinking Clearly.” Apple Books.

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