A Toolchest for Thinkers and Analysts

Okay, it’s my turn to be a curmudgeon (to read about a real, professional curmudgeon, see my upcoming review of Charlie Munger’s book). Virtually every time I turn on the cable news channels to which I am addicted, I get upset by the lack of clear thinking. It is amazing how few people can really look at even the most basic facts and sort them out in their heads. And often the “experts” they interview are no better; if they start talking to politicians it often goes even further downhill in a hurry. I am always keeping my eye out for good books about how to think, how to be logical, how to get real understanding out of the massive number of inputs and amount of data that streams past our eyes and ears every day. There are quite a few out there, but usually not comprehensive or not concise (a tough combination to pull off).

All is not gloom. I recently discovered this amazing book: Turning Numbers into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving, by Jonathan G. Koomey (Second edition, 2008, Analytics Press). It is a short, sweet catalog of methods for clear thinking, for solving problems and making decisions. Even decisions like picking stocks or evaluating public policies and figuring out who to vote for.
I consider this book a toolchest. It gives you many of the wrenches, hammers, and screwdrivers that the thinking person should have at their disposal – all the time, everywhere. It’s broken into 39 short, sweet, chapters in about 200 pages. The logic is clear, the illustrations vivid. If only every person read this book in high school! It is the best possible defense against being brainwashed or confused.
However many stars you give your favorite books, this one gets ‘em. 


  1. So true. And, when you have politicians and pundits intentionally taking advantage of people’s lack of critical thinking skills, it’s dangerous.

    I do slightly disagree, though-I think that even smart people can get fooled by intentionally misleading arguments and distorted statistics. We live in such a complicated world with such an onslaught of information, people have to make decisions and judgments without always having the time to really investigate.

    Thanks for the insights, I’m going to check out that book!

  2. There is no question you are right, Thomas.

    Some of the craziest ideas in history have been especially adopted by the intelligentsia and academcs. I am about to make my first trip to Russia, so I have been studying the history of the Bolsheviks, etc.. I did not realize what a hard time they had with the vast majority of Russian peasants, who wanted none of their BS. They really resisted collective farming, knowing they would be more productive keeping their family units intact. But the elites and thinkers crammed it down their throats or had them killed. Everybody thought they could do no worse than they had done under the Tsars, but in the end millions of people were slaughtered or worked to death. A history of mass slavery perhaps surpassed only by Chairman Mao.

    But we still have to put up the best effort to think things through that we can.

  3. Gary,

    I am suggesting you make up a Gary Hoover book rating system and start using it asap.

    Mavrick ON!

    Diane Carroll

  4. Thanks, Diane. I thought both about ranking books myself, and about having the public rank my posts. I may do the latter at some time in the future. I certainly am watching (via Google Analytics) which posts are most popular. But as to ranking the books, all my books are five stars! More seriously, each serves its own use. So I am more interested in what is the best book on Morocco or Mexico, rather than comparing whether the book on Morocco is better than the one on Mexico. I think that comes with being an information junkie. When I see a book that represents the best of its type, I will usually mention that in the post. But probably the best I could do is occasionally give a book five stars; it would be hard to break down the 3 and 4 stars. At this time I don’t plan on talking about books I do not like. Maybe I will do some posts like “Book of the Year” or something. Keep on readin’!