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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)

What listeners say about Rationality

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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.

11 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!

3 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.

2 people found this helpful

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A Great Book, But Hang in And Forget Your Bias

Absolutely outstanding listen. A couple of notes.

- The pdf that comes with the audio book helps. So does some knowledge of statistics.

- The author does a good job of explaining the difference between reason, logic, and rationality.

- Chapter 10 is what you're really waiting for. "Why are people the way they are? What is wrong with them?"

- If your feelings - both left or right - are easily offended, then Chapter 10 will trigger you. There are some political comments (pointing out flaws on both sides of the ideological spectrum) in the first 9 chapters, but they are not overly tough. The first 10 minutes of Chapter 10, however, will cause you to throw this one away unless you are willing to look past your own biases and listen... rationally.

- Highly recommend anyone that believes conspiracies give this one a listen, but only if you're willing to approach it with an open mind.

Excellent book. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Good, but not as expected

Pinker is one of the best writers of research-based nonfiction of our time. His last few books are simply masterpieces, so I had a high expectation for this one, which is a timeliest topic for a polarized world in which we are living. That said, the book fails to capture that. It reads like a book in which the author simple wants to regurgitate his old arguments in a new light without enlightening the readers with fresher insights. We are living in the age whereby people are distracted from the core argument because of structural noise and biases, which is the core argument of the book, and? I like the book anyway. It’s great, but not great.

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Get the book, skip the middle.

This is a wonderful short book with a long, boring undergraduate textbook stuffed in the middle.

It's really odd. Chapters 1, 2, 10, and 11 are a wonderful essay about why rationality is essential, why humans are not hopelessly irrational, and how to push for a more rational world. Chapters 3 through 9, meanwhile, constitute his notes from his undergraduate course on formal systems of logic and similar subjects. Any of this could be interesting if you want to read a textbook, but if you do, audio is not the right format. It's very hard to follow his reasoning without being able to see it spelled out on the page. And I'm not convinced that all of it is relevant to the average person who wants to think rationally.

So for most people, I recommend skipping chapters 3 through 8. (Chapter 9, on correlation and causation, is the most enjoyable of the textbook-style chapters). You can find more accessible treatments of many of these issues elsewhere, such as in Nate Silver's The Signal and The Noise.

It's a shame many won't get to the excellent final two chapters of this book because of all the sludge in the middle. They really are wonderful.

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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.

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My least favorite Pinker book

Loves me some Pinker but most def not this book. LOTS of abstract, hard to follow numbers, badly in need of editing and absolutely no fun. Ah well, even SP can drop a clunker now and again.

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A must read in a post truth world!

This book had such a profound impact on the way I have lived my life and how irational I have been even when I thought I was being rational. I will never be the same again after having read this book. The previous book of Steven Pinker was recommended by Bill Gates to be his new all time most favorite book, this book is certainly no different. Highly recommend!

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excellent book. Excellently produced

It was everything i expected and more. good coverage of critical issues. the reading was very good