How to Think

by Alan Jacobs

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Last Updated on September 9, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 324

In How to Think, scholar, professor, and essayist Alan Jacobs attempts to dissect and articulate the intellectual process of the modern American, particularly when it comes to what George Orwell called "groupthink." Jacobs observed that many of the cultural and political divisions found in society today—whether in the US or beyond—are only divisive because the twenty-first-century person has grown accustomed to not using analytical thinking.

Jacobs posits that one of the reasons people don't like to think in today's age is because individuals want to fit in with groups who share the same values. There is a need to belong to a "tribe" that overrides the need to think logically and objectively. The internet also contributes to the modern person's decrease in thinking skills, or even the attempt to think. For instance, Jacobs gives the example of the "Twitter effect" of contemporary media. It is interesting, Jacobs opines, that the Information Age is filled with misinformation.

Additionally, despite the internet providing the public with easy access to knowledge and verifying the accuracy of media information, many people choose to remain ignorant in order to fit in with their peers. Jacobs uses anecdotes and quotes from multiple historical figures in a wide variety of fields—from basketball icon Wilt Chamberlain to author C. S. Lewis—to drive his thesis home, and his message is that we are emotional creatures who would rather feed our egos than think.

What Jacobs suggests is that people should try to relearn the way of thinking that older generations used to create constitutions, renaissances, and industrial revolutions. By simply using one's mental faculties and being able to step back to look at an issue objectively, people could avoid being manipulated by the media or divided by politicians.

Jacobs's book is humorous and witty, as well as filled with multiple references to provide foundation for his arguments, including references to neurological and psychological theories on the process of thinking.

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