Effective Thinking Book Reviews

Poor Ash’s Almanack > Book Reviews  > Effective Thinking

The overwhelming majority of readers like yourself who derive value from Poor Ash’s Almanack use the links or pictures to purchase books.  I would appreciate it if you did too

It’s a win-win: it doesn’t cost you anything extra, and I get a modest commission from Amazon to help cover hosting costs and all the time necessary to create this valuable free content for you.

★★★★★★★ (7/7) (life-changing)

  Misbehaving  by Richard Thaler –  M review + notes 

Nobel laureate Richard Thaler delivers an extraordinarily learning-rich, supremely funny journey through cognitive biases and behavioral economics.  Mental models include: salience, contrast bias, hyperbolic discounting, opportunity costs, sunk costs, utility, overconfidence, hindsight bias, status quo bias, loss aversion and fairness.

 The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman –  DOET review + notes 

Renaissance man Don Norman lays out multidisciplinary design principles to make products and systems work effortlessly.  Mental models include: structural problem solving, humans vs. econs, memory, feedback, activation energy, multicausality, status quo bias, salience, and schema.

 Deep Survival  by Laurence Gonzales –  DpSv review + notes 

In survival situations, who lives, who dies, and what’s the neuroscience behind it?  Mental models include: cognition, intuition, habit, stress, agency, overconfidence, selective perception, memory, complexity, trait adaptivity, culture, multicausality, margin of safety, luck, process vs. outcome, and n-order impacts.

 How Doctors Think by Dr. Jerome Groopman – HDT review + notes

How do doctors combat cognitive biases while making diagnoses?  A fascinating exploration that will help you as a professional AND a patient, covering models including authority bias, reciprocity bias, recency bias, overconfidence, Bayesian reasoning, framing, cognition, intuition, action bias, man-with-a-hammer, and counterfactuals.

 Nudge  by Sunstein / Thaler –  Ndge review + notes 

What do you get when you cross behavioral economics with Don Norman style design thinking?  Structural problem solving solutions that help people save 3x for retirement and sign up to become organ donors. Models include: status quo bias, social proof, loss aversion, structural problem solving, and activation energy.

 Surviving Survival by Laurence Gonzales – SvSv review + notes

Say you survive a shark attack – or domestic violence. Your journey’s not over yet – survival is often the start of a longer, and more difficult journey.  How and why do some people achieve resilience – bouncing back stronger – while others never move past the trauma? Blending neuroscience and great storytelling, Laurence Gonzales investigates in a concise and impactful book.

 Poor Charlie’s Almanack  by Charlie Munger –  PCA review + notes 

The book that started it all – Munger’s “latticework of mental models” approach is the foundation of this site.  Highlights: incentives, multicausality, n-order impacts, rationality, incentives, ideology, inversion, luck, margin of safety, and scientific thinking.

 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People  by Stephen Covey –  7H review + notes 

A landmark classic: the single most influential impact on my personal development, and that of many others.  Models include: agency, schema, habit, local vs. global optimization, structural problem solving, utility, inversion, empathy, mindfulness, and social connection.

 Seeking Wisdom  by Peter Bevelin –  SW review + notes 

A compact book covering broad ground in elucidating some of the more common mental models, often via quotes from Munger and Buffett.  Highlights include: incentives, n-order impacts, overconfidence, probabilistic thinking, inversion, compounding, social proof, and margin of safety.

 The Happiness Advantage  by Shawn Achor –  THA review + notes 

This profound, research-backed (and hilarious) psychology book helped me realize that happiness was a choice, and set me on a path to where I am today. Models include: agency, schema, activation energy, stress, hedonic adaptation, contrast bias, and local vs. global optimization.

 Cognitive Behavior Therapy  by Dr. Judith Beck –  CBT review + notes 

A counterintuitive yet necessary and true realization is that our thoughts are just that: thoughts, that may or may not be true.  CBT provides an empirically-validated methodology for building more adaptive beliefs. Models include: empathy, agency, mindfulness, probabilistic thinking, a/b testing, contrast bias.

★★★★★★ (6/7) (standout for its category)

 The Up Side of Down  by Megan McArdle –  UpD review + notes 

An astonishingly broad-ranging, insightful book analyzing failure’s role in our lives – and how we can and should respond to it.  Models include: feedback, overconfidence, agency, salience, process vs. outcome, utility, loss aversion, arms race, commitment bias, trait adaptivity.

Mistakes were Made (but not by me)  by Tavris/Aronson –  MwM review + notes

Why can we see others’ mistakes clear as day… while completely overlooking our own?  A fascinating exploration of psychology and the follies of memory, including contrast bias, local vs. global optimization, incentives, hindsight bias, salience, confirmation bias, stress, and sunk costs.

 Superforecasting  by Philip Tetlock –  SF review + notes 

How can ordinary individuals like you and I make more accurate predictions than experts – in their own fields?  The specific thought process includes models like probabilistic thinking, multicausality / disaggregation, Bayesian reasoning, overconfidence, habit, and feedback.

 The Checklist Manifesto  by Dr. Atul Gawande –  TCM review + notes

A widely-read but often misinterpreted book on the power of a simple tool – a checklist – for reducing technical errors.  It delves into a lot of interesting models, including: memory, structural problem solving, culture, empathy, activation energy, utility, and margin of safety.

 The Success Equation  by Michael Mauboussin –  TSE review + notes 

Luck and skill can be difficult concepts to conceptualize; Mauboussin does a great job of providing clear visual metaphors for separating the two in business, sports, and beyond.  Models include: luck vs. skill, path-dependency, sample size, storytelling, social proof, and intuition.

 The Power of Habit  by Charles Duhigg –  PoH review + notes 

Habits have a strong gravity pull, shaping 40% of our daily decisions.  It’s important to have the right ones – Duhigg explores the habit feedback loop, and how we can control it.  Models include: feedback, agency, memory, incentives, intuition, and of course, habit.

 Before Happiness  by Shawn Achor –  BH review + notes 

The world confronts us with more information than we can possibly process; Achor synthesizes fresh research into practical, actionable conclusions with a healthy dose of humor.  Models include: utility, growth mindset, tradeoffs, sunk costs, social connection, selective perception, disaggregation.

 10% Happier  by Dan Harris –  10H review + notes 

Meditation gets a bad rap because of its association with hippies and Zen paradox nonsense.  So news anchor Dan Harris was a skeptic… until secular meditation, free of woo-woo bullshit, made him 10% happier.  Models include: mindfulness, hedonic adaptation, habit, and product vs. packaging.

 Daring Greatly  by Brene Brown –  DG review + notes 

Social connection is empirically validated as a powerful driver of our behavior (and our well-being).  Researcher-storyteller Brene Brown explores how connection and disconnection shape our lives, and how we can embrace authenticity and vulnerability.  Models include: social connection, mindfulness, culture, in-group vs. out-group behavior, and the growth mindset.

 The Seven Sins of Memory  by Daniel Schacter –  7SOM review + notes 

Our memories are designed to forget – it’s a feature, not a bug, surprising as that may sound when you’re looking for your keys for the third time in five minutes.  Exploring memory’s inner workings enhances our understanding of cognitive processes.  Models include: recency bias, memory, overconfidence, structural problem solving, association bias, and consistency bias.


★★★★★ (5/7) (solid for its category)

 The Pleasure of Finding Things Out – Richard Feynman –  PFTO review + notes

A delightful window into the thought process of beloved American physicist Richard Feynman – as talented a raconteur and teacher as a scientist.  Models include: culture / status quo bias, probabilistic thinking, commitment bias, product vs. packaging, disaggregation, process vs. outcome, and margin of safety.

How To Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie – HWFIP review + notes

A landmark classic that’s still popular a century later, HWFIP can lean Pollyanna-ish and theatrical but still teaches powerful lessons that have benefited me and many of my friends.  Models include: empathy, incentives, schema, local vs. global optimization, and agency.

“30 Lessons for Living” by Karl Pillemer
A unique methodology on finding the best worldview – seeking the perspective of the elderly – but predictable results and no “new” lessons.

★★★★ (4/7) (acceptable for its category)

“The Lonely American” by Olds/Schwartz.
An intriguing book with a strong first half about how local vs. global optimization leads our social connections to fray… but ultimately, not a lot of useful practical advice, and derailed by a lot of unsupported opinions.  Still worth reading!

“The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz.
I was looking forward to this one, but it disappointed.

“Mindware” by Richard Nisbett
A book with a lot of interesting points, but ultimately not a ton that’s unique, and a very incoherent / illogical discussion of “dialectical reasoning” in the second half.

★★★ (3/7) (mediocre)

Douglas Adams’ “How To Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”
Enjoyable to read (the first half, anyway) but ultimately doesn’t deliver a lot of learning potential.

“Mindset” by Carol Dweck
The growth mindset is phenomenally important, but Dweck goes down the egalitarian rabbit hole and concludes (directionally) that talent doesn’t exist – she fails to understand trait adaptivity.  Her research is great; her book, not so much.

“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
Vastly overrated and overrecommended – extremely poorly written, and superseded by many superior books on cognitive biases.

“Why We Make Mistakes” by Joseph Hallinan.
Too brief to be of any use to serious readers; good for someone who is a casual reader, but not for readers of this site.

Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer
An engaging narrative about one journalist’s journey to the national memory championship, but not one from which many useful lessons can be extracted.

★★ (2/7) (meaningfully flawed)

★ (1/7) (run, Forrest, run!)

Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”
The most painful book I’ve ever read to the end: an annoying narrative style with a complete absence of any interesting or applicable lessons.

Nassim Taleb’s “Antifragile”
Possibly the most self-absorbed and arrogant book I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter; long on chest-thumping and short on useful takeaways.

Angela Duckworth’s “Grit”
A book that promulgates a maladaptive, uninspired “work harder not smarter” philosophy that’s already far too common in the business world.  See instead Don Norman’s seven-star “Design of Everyday Things” (DOET review + notes) and the structural problem solving mental model for a more mature, thoughtful, logical approach to the world.