• Rationality

  • What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters
  • By: Steven Pinker
  • Narrated by: Arthur Morey
  • Length: 11 hrs and 19 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (820 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Can reading a book make you more rational? Can it help us understand why there is so much irrationality in the world? Steven Pinker, author of Enlightenment Now (Bill Gates’ "new favorite book of all time”) answers all the questions here.

Today humanity is reaching new heights of scientific understanding - and also appears to be losing its mind. How can a species that developed vaccines for COVID-19 in less than a year produce so much fake news, medical quackery, and conspiracy theorizing? 

Pinker rejects the cynical cliché that humans are simply irrational - cavemen out of time saddled with biases, fallacies, and illusions. After all, we discovered the laws of nature, lengthened and enriched our lives, and set out the benchmarks for rationality itself. We actually think in ways that are sensible in the low-tech contexts in which we spend most of our lives, but fail to take advantage of the powerful tools of reasoning we’ve discovered over the millennia: logic, critical thinking, probability, correlation and causation, and optimal ways to update beliefs and commit to choices individually and with others. These tools are not a standard part of our education, and have never been presented clearly and entertainingly in a single book - until now. 

Rationality also explores its opposite: how the rational pursuit of self-interest, sectarian solidarity, and uplifting mythology can add up to crippling irrationality in a society. Collective rationality depends on norms that are explicitly designed to promote objectivity and truth. 

Rationality matters. It leads to better choices in our lives and in the public sphere and is the ultimate driver of social justice and moral progress. Brimming with Pinker’s customary insight and humor, Rationality will enlighten, inspire, and empower.

This audiobook includes a PDF of charts and graphs.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio. 

©2021 Steven Pinker (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“An impassioned and zippy introduction to the tools of rational thought… Punchy, funny and invigorating.” (The Times, London)

“An engaging analysis of the highest of our faculties and perhaps (ironically) the least understood.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“If you’ve ever considered taking drugs to make yourself smarter, read Rationality instead.” (Jonathan Haidt, New York Times best-selling co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind)

"Erudite, lucid, funny and dense with fascinating material... A pragmatic dose of measured optimism, presenting rationality as a fragile but achievable ideal in personal and civic life.... It’s no small achievement to make formal logic, game theory, statistics and Bayesian reasoning delightful topics full of charm and relevance." (The Washington Post)

What listeners say about Rationality

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    3 out of 5 stars

Kinda disappointed

This should have been an essay based on the last chapter. All of the points of Reason have been explained by Pinker in previous work and many other authors. Big fan, kinda disappointed.

16 people found this helpful

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Steven Pinker's Frozen Worldview from the 90s

In this book, Steven Pinker talks about all the different kinds of ways we can be rational and irrational, and does so in his entertaining and witty style that's quite enjoyable. I've personally started using a lazy version of Bayesian reasoning in my every day life to make a few decisions, and I might listen to this book again when it comes to some decision-making under certainty.

However, that's unlikely. Because I know this book will fail to change my behavior in any significant way. The same reason these secular-nihilistic-atheistic books have started to lose me -- they are not inspiring or motivating, enlightening or empowering.

They are merely informative.

I don't think Steven Pinker knows how to do such a thing as inspire others, and this book is no exception. Nobody wants to be known as "irrational". At the end of the book, his ultimate reason for why we should be rational is that it'll make you happy and it's good for "society"?

Here are some basic moral questions Pinker fails to address:

Why shouldn't I be brutally rational, and encourage others to be irrational so that I can take advantage of them?

Why isn't it rational to extract as many resources and take advantage of as many people as I can, and then simply ghost or abandon those relationships later?

Why isn't it rational to - say - embrace inflationary monetary policy at the expense of the American people for your own personal benefit?

Why not be selectively evil if it pays really well, and then never be evil again?

And so on.

In this day and age, it is rational to coldly and ruthlessly exploit and trick others if it'll make you millions to do so. Why not do it? Wall Street has numerous examples, especially if you understand naked short-selling and other countless loopholes.

Now, this only condemns the last chapters of the book, which were quite bad and not well-thought out. I'll stop lashing out.

For the beginning Chapters, I can't give it as high of a rating as I want to for a very simple reason: I'm lazy. I'm very rational in select fields (i.e. my specialization and where I take a personal cost, psychic or financial), but happily irrational elsewhere.

Unless I have HEURISTICS to guide me. Which I do use to keep me out of trouble. However, the power of heuristics is the WISDOM from "Antifragile," Nassim Taleb's book which I highly recommend over Steven Pinker's "Rationality." Steven Pinker unwisely leaves all the complexity that comes with good rational reasoning in the book, ultimately ensuring that it'll never spread or make an impact in the world.

But overall, I'm disappointed. Steven Pinker's thinking hasn't grown in depth of understanding over the decades. I mean, he's still casually bashing evolution-denying creationists as if they're relevant. He denies, denigrates or discounts any value from art (popular or otherwise), myths, religions, the wisdom of myths or what it means to live a meaningful life or why we should, the power of having a good story to motivate oneself, or any motivating power.

It's a shame, because it seems as though he hasn't seen the world changing around him. He's stuck in the 90s and out of touch.

I give three stars: it's an easy read, and a good refresher on critical thinking and clever reasoning. With some homework on your own, you can certainly get more value of it. But it is nothing more than informative. I can't recommend it in good faith.

11 people found this helpful

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"Excellent, in spite of them political hatred"

I have read, I think, three books by Steven Pinker over the years and have always found him intelligent, interesting, and insightful. But the last two books have been contaminated for me by an apparent intense hatred 0f Donald Trump. I suppose it would be unreal to expect a Canadian Harvard Professor to be anything but on the political left, (Jordan Peterson being an exception) but I had hoped that since Enlightenment Now he would have mellowed on his hatred of the American system a bit, especially with the truths that are being finally revealed.
But if you set that aside, as you most likely will, it is well worth reading. When he is not getting carried away about American politics, he is excellent, and this book is not really about politics. I will most likely read his next book too, but will be very disappointed if he still holds this grudge that I find very out of place.

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robotic reading

I've heard Steven Pinker many times. I wish he had read his own book. This reader is robotic, too precise, dare I say, read too rationally. I found it distracting and detracting. Still, even badly read Steven Pinker is better than most contemporary literature. This is a miscast, not a condemnation of the reader.

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Sagan, Kahneman, and now Pinker

This book was a much needed 21st century update to Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted World. If you've read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, the only downside is you may find the information repetitive from that book. However, I think even Kahneman would argue the only way to train our critical thinking skills is by reinforcing them, and many of Kahneman's ideas are presented in new light that only Pinker could shine on this Demon Haunted World. Pinker takes perfect examples from his own work Sense of Syle: the Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century to nail home the 2 final chapters (what he correctly recognizes most will be reading this book to get to) and demonstrates why there seems to be so much irrationality in today's world. He also has some excellent suggestions for what we can do to create lasting change, and why his 2 books on Progress require an explanation. That explanation is all in the title of the book: Rationality.

5 people found this helpful

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Deeply Thought Provoking

Great read! Stimulating, thought provoking, and of course FEELING provoking. Pinker, as usual, at his best!

5 people found this helpful

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Another gem from Pinker

The book is great, of course, but God bless Arthur Morey! It'd been a while since I'dd heard him narrate, and man oh man, was it refreshing to hear a reader that actually knows how to narrate! I'd be fine with Morey narrating every book written from now to the end on time.

3 people found this helpful

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Informative

My innumeracy was on full display at moments and I probably should have taken better advantage of the pdf visuals but I listen to audiobooks as I walk, so…but overall this is a wonderful explanation of how rationality, when we can muster the discipline to engage it, has helped to improve the human condition and can do so in the future.

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Difficult to know the direction on the first read.

This is another well written book by Pinker. But because the nature of the topic is sometimes difficult to define, having the PDF to refer to during the read would be very helpful for detail retention.

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clear, useful, and important

The contents of this book would be most useful to those who will never read it, unfortunately. But we all evolved irrational heuristics and need to consciously assist our thought patterns to get things right. Pinker lays out a guidebook of sorts to assist in thinking more clearly. Good reminders and a good read.

1 person found this helpful

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