This is a book for business people, for people in a profession, and for people in any arena who simply want to learn how to live their lives in a more rational and ultimately more fulfilling way. In the authors' recurrent phrase, it contains abundant tools for taking charge of one's life. As such, it not only contains good business sense, it contains good sense for living a better life as well.
It's a crisp, clear, useful book. The authors consistently address the heart of each essential aspect of critical thinking in multiple domains. They explain each aspect clearly, trace out its implications, offer effective advice on how to deal with it both as an individual and as a professional. They even supply activities and questions-in inserts labeled "Test the Idea"-for applying that aspect of critical thinking to the reader's own unique circumstances.
The book combines strategic thinking, self-knowledge, fairness toward others, and a down-to-earth, usable ideal of justice. It shows not only how to advance in each, but how those qualities fit together with and further one another. So there is a sense in which the book is essentially about human fulfillment (though that isn't explicitly addressed as a main topic)-fulfillment for myself through understanding, honest self-assessment, and taking control of my life; fulfillment for others in ideals of fairmindedness and justice; fulfillment for the planet as a whole in how the qualities combine.
One of the most invigorating features of Critical Thinking is the way the book covers a whole range of topics clearly and explicitly. The coverage is brief and to the point, but it allows for a wealth of further application for those readers who are willing to incorporate the authors' guidelines into their day-to-day life.
For example, Paul and Elder devote only two pages to a clear, succinct discussion of understanding implications (one of the key elements of reasoning). Then there is a quick "Test the Idea" box. It asks the reader to describe a problem he or she is facing, to formulate alternative decisions to address that problem, and finally to think out the logical implications of each alternative decision. Notice two features of this that seem to go in almost opposite directions: first, how simple the activity is, how do-able, and second how life-transforming it would be if I consistently thought through my potential decisions in terms of a range of alternatives and a conscious awareness of the implications of each. The book consistently offers the same clarity coupled with profundity for each topic covered.
The actual topics covered in the book are just the ones people need to address to take charge of their lives:
-How to think realistically in a world full of change and danger.
-How to evaluate my own thinking across a range of dimensions:
* my skills and abilities
* my self-understanding
* my overall stage as a thinker
-How to improve my thinking-again in a range of dimensions, including:
* the parts of thinking
* the standards of good thinking
* making intelligent decisions
* thinking within corporate life
* increasing the level of my strategic thinking.
-How to deal with egocentrism and sociocentrism.
-How to think reasonably about and within the ethical dimension of our lives.
The book goes deep into the way our unconscious or barely conscious processes rule so much of our conscious thinking. It provides practical strategies for unveiling and confronting our irrational tendencies. Surprisingly in an age of extended therapies, the strategies are often simple and direct-and eminently useful. For example a "Test the Idea" section on "Unearthing Dysfunctional Egocentric Thinking" directs you to "think of a time when your desire to selfishly get what you wanted failed because of your egocentric behavior." It then asks you to describe the situation, to describe your resulting thoughts, wants and behavior, and then to describe a more rational way to think and behave in that situation.
This approach is related to Cognitive Therapy, except that the approach Paul and Elder take is more thorough-going and founded in a deeper and more robust conception of what healthy, reasonable thinking is. It is also a simple "visualization" technique, of the kind that is so effective in altering people's behavior. Only, instead of merely visualizing a healthier way to behave in a situation, I am directed now to use my whole mind (not just my visual imagination).
Another bright feature of the book is that the ethical dimension is covered so well. This is usually neglected in business-oriented books and even in personal-health books. The authors discuss and give "Test the Idea" activities in key aspects of ethical thought and action. The conception they teach is a profound one: being ethical is far different from simply accepting rules imposed on us from outside; it is also different from merely adhering to "codes of ethics" adopted by many professions. The authors' approach also shows what is wrong with simply looking inward to "find my values": "looking inward" is also guided by egocentric tendencies. It is very easy to consult my conscience and find there a justification for the actions that suit my self-interest: why it's all right to take out my anger at others; why my wants are ultimately more important than yours; why I seem so justified in feeling myself a victim of your actions. Paul and Elder consistently dispel such facile reasoning; they supply activities and thought experiments to guide the reader along, and they also provide numerous insights all along the way.
In sum, this is just the kind of book readers have come to expect from Paul and Elder, both of whom have worked for so long and in so many aspects of Critical Thinking. It contains the clear, distilled essence of the critical thinking concepts and tools for taking charge of one's life, professional and personal. The tools and concepts are presented always with an overview to keep the parts in context, full of lucid examples, references to more extended sources, and an abundance of applications.