“Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
By Daniel Kahneman
499 pages. Audio: 20 hours and 2 minutes.
Okay. Let's go ahead and get this out of the way. I think this is one of the greatest books of the 21st century. Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Prize winner in economics. He also might be the greatest living cognitive psychologist.
This is a book about how people actually think. It helps us to understand how we make decisions in the real world. Along with his partner Amos Tversky, Kahneman created, through several decades, a series of brilliant experiments to discover how human beings decide things. I will not steal from you the joy of discovery by detailing them here. But they are shockingly insightful and a lot of fun to read about.
For the most part when we think, our fast system is doing most of the work. This is system one, and it’s intuitive and works remarkably well. This system was featured in Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink. It is the system you are using right now as you read these words. You are able to understand sentences you have never read before, and you are processing the information at remarkable speeds.
But occasionally system two must kick in for slower, more deliberative thinking. For instance, one of the common examples is this old mathematics quandary: “You want to buy a ball and a bat. The ball and the bat together cost $1.10. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball does. How much does each cost?” Of course, the math on this is extremely easy but if you do it quickly you almost certainly got it wrong. You have to slow down.
Using the paradigm of these two systems, Kahneman carefully shows us how our decisions are influenced in ways that we are not fully aware of. At the end of each chapter there are a series of practical statements that you can actually use as you navigate the complex world of decision-making.
The book is long, but I can assure you it is never boring. It will give you enormous insight into how others think as well as how you are making decisions. It is not a book with 10 simple suggestions on how to clarify your thinking and make better decisions. In fact, the book is somewhat pessimistic about our ability to put aside our prejudices and forms of irrationality that often color our thinking. Nevertheless, when you're done with the book you will be much more aware of how those unseen forces are impacting your decision-making and, inevitably, you will be a little more compassionate to those who are making decisions that you wouldn't.
Here is one tantalizing tidbit for ministers. Have you ever wondered why your elders are so cautious? Have you ever been frustrated with their unwillingness to take a risk? When you are done with this book, you will know that this has little to do with being an elder and even less to do with being a member of Churches of Christ. The answer is abundantly clear. They are cautious because they are human.
If you only read one non-theological book this year, it should be this book.