Book by: Rolf Dobelli
Review by: Laura R. Pittman
Academic Advisor, University College
Ball State University, Indiana
Regardless of age, race, religion, or class, there are certainly seasons of life in which most people are making decisions that can heavily influence or sway the months, years, and decades ahead. Many would agree that the decision to pursue higher education of some kind is certainly a monumental choice. Also among the list of life-altering decisions could be pursuing a specific major, choosing to get married, having children, or accepting a job offer. And yet there are a million small decisions that are encountered daily that can also determine the ups and downs of the future. It is these choices and the thinking (or lack of thinking) behind them that has led Rolf Debelli to produce The Art of Thinking Clearly.
The author himself cautions the reader that this book is not a self-help guide with easy steps toward making wise decisions. Instead, it reads like a compilation of briefly, almost breezy, anecdotes of how people make decisions (in all areas of life), and how one can “learn to recognize and evade the biggest errors in thinking” (p. xviii). For example in chapter 2, Debelli asks if Harvard makes people smarter, essentially asking if people confuse selection factors (recruiting top students) with results (highly successful alumni). Labeling this phenomenon the “Swimmer’s Body Illusion”, the author encourages decisions that are based on sober and realistic judgment.
While this book is certainly not an academic instruction guide, it does contain information that may be helpful to academic advisors when working with students. For example, a student contemplating a major choice may exhibit multiple behaviors outlined by Debelli including; overestimating chances of success, a “herd instinct” or choices based on what “everyone else” is doing, and an “action bias” causing individuals to make a quick decision even in the midst of new and uncertain circumstances. Or perhaps a student is in need of changing direction academically and finds himself caught in Debelli’s “sunk cost fallacy” because he has already invested so much time or effort into the current major he is reluctant to pursue something new. Rational decision making requires people to forget about the cost incurred to date. No matter how much has already been invested, only the assessment of the future costs and benefits counts (p. 15).
A clear positive to the book, particularly when working with a more traditional student population that reads in sound bites, is that the chapters are concise and conversational, rarely longer than 3 or 4 pages. Should a student display a particularly negative error in thinking, it would be relatively easy to have him or her skim the relevant text or explain it rather briefly. On the other hand, while the information is easy to understand, it does, occasionally, seem unsubstantiated. While the author cautions against cause-and-effect mentality, there are assumptions given by the author that sometimes feel based on this same mentality. However, as a guidebook to give students occasional direction regarding academic decisions, it is accessible and informative.
In conclusion, Dobelli has authored a book that is interesting, easy to read, and encourages the art of rational thinking. It may be helpful for advisors to use with students in one-on-one advising situations and personally in thinking “more clearly and acting more shrewdly” (p. 299) in approaching decisions.
The Art of Thinking Clearly. (2013). Book by Rolf Dobelli. Review by Laura R. Pittman, Harper Collins. 384 pp., $25.99, (Hardback), ISBN 978-0-06-221968-8