best-books-on-mental-models

The 10 Best Books on Mental Models to Provoke New Ways of Thinking

If you were lucky when you were young. You probably had a carefree childhood. What you called a difficult choice was deciding on an ice cream flavor or what video game to play. And if these felt daunting. Wait until you have a kid, a job, a wife, and at the same time you are trying to stay sane while browsing the endless abyss of online information now mainly composed of trashy content.

Life feels good. But living is rather complex.

Not because the available options are bad. But because we often choose poorly.

Why?

Plainly, we try to be specialists in a world that requires us to be ever-learning generalists.

You can’t thrive in the universe unless you have a team of people who are experts in different disciplines. Or at least that’s what we are told.

There is another solution besides outsourcing thinking to other, smarter folks.

That is, becoming smart yourself.

Transform your mind into a Swiss army knife. Or in other words, become a good thinker. But not only good in one area. But good in a lot of disciplines.

That’s why creating a latticework of mental models in your head is wildly important. As Charlie Munger famously said: “You need the mental models – not just from one or two disciplines, but from all the important disciplines.”

These cognitive instruments gaining popularity are getting more and more attention for a simple reason… you are not living in the vacuum of your field of choice. Meaning that you need to be a good decision-maker in all the fields – business, finances, health, habits, etc. – at the same time if you want to continuously progress in life.

Mental models enable just that. They give you ways to think well. Ways to navigate even if life puts us in a foreign territory.

The mental models we have in our heads help us make sense of the world. Like cognitive shortcuts that help us orient ourselves better when facing unfamiliar situations. But the problem is that the mental models in our heads are not enough to thrive.

Fortunately, there are plenty of books on mental models now.

Equip your mind with enough mental models and you will have an adequate strategy regardless of the problem standing your way.

If you feel unqualified. You are a victim of the impostor syndrome. Or you simply want to attune the way your brain operates to a much tolerable level of thinking… read further.

The books below. Are the best books on mental models.

The 10 Best Books on Mental Nodels:

1. The Great Mental Models Volume 1 by Shane Parrish

The Great Mental Models Volume 1 book cover

What’s the book about?

Technically, the book is part of an ambitious series called: The Great Mental Models Series. Created by Shane Parrish, this book – along with all the other books in the series – aims to categorize and document the most useful mental models in the world. Volume 1, in particular, is presenting some general thinking concepts that when mastered, will enhance your decision-making skills and significantly improve the way you handle opportunities coming your way.

Also, I highly recommend subscribing to the FS.blog – if you haven’t already. And immersing yourself in the wonderful world of thinking concepts. So far, I’ve read and summarized Volume 1 and Volume 2.

Who is it for?

If you are only holding a hammer. You will treat everything as a nail. This book will equip your mind with more than just a hammer. It will give you 9 of the most essential mental tools you need to tackle obstacles and as the author puts it, “master the best of what other people have already figured out.”

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“The second thing we can do is to learn how to fail properly. Failing properly has two major components. First, never take a risk that will do you in completely. (Never get taken out of the game completely.) Second, develop the personal resilience to learn from your failures and start again. With these two rules, you can only fail temporarily.” Shane Parrish

Get the book | Read my summary

2. Super Thinking by Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann

Super Thinking by Gabriel Weinberg book cover

What’s the book about?

Gabriel Weinberg, the founder, and CEO of DuckDuckGo, give us something which we can liken to an encyclopedia of mental models. Super Thinking is chock-full of thinking concepts. And while this is a good thing. It’s also kind of a curse because you are literally bombarded with information and it’s kind of hard to make sense of it all.

Who is it for?

The elaborate collection of mental models prepares you for all kinds of situations. The author is masterfully describing how the presented mental models can be used in an actual situation, giving you a taste of how you can use them in your life. It’s (fortunately) not a boring academic listing of the thinking concepts. Rather, an understandable and approachable collection of cognitive tools that everyone capable of holding a book will understand.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“Unfortunately, people often make the mistake of doing way too much work before testing assumptions in the real world.” Gabriel Weinberg

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3. The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

the art of thinking clearly by rolf dobelli book cover

What’s the book about?

Rolf Dobelli tries to list all mental models under the sun to prevent us from making mistakes. The goal, as the titles hints, is to improve thinking – transition from foggy to clear. While the information for each mental model is rather vague. The book does a good job of presenting a large part of the available mental models in the world.

Who is it for?

People who are new to the field of mental models will find this book a joy to read. The short chapters and the accessible language will help you get the main ideas and give you a sense of mental power. However, for people who are already familiar with the world of mental models. I suggest skipping this book and reading something more advanced – Thinking Fast and Slow, for example.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“We are drunk on our own ideas. To sober up, take a step back every now and then and examine their quality in hindsight. Which of your ideas from the past ten years were truly outstanding? Exactly.” Rolf Dobelli

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4. Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin To Munger by Peter Bevelin

Seeking Wisdom by Peter Bevelin book cover

What’s the book about?

As Charles Munger said, “All I want to know is where I’m going to die so I’ll never go there.” The book helps you identify the traps of life so you can have an adequate defense mechanism. Peter Bevelin packs the book with an elaborate collection of thinking concepts from some of the smartest people – from Darwin to Munger as the subtitle mentions.

Who is it for?

The book feels like it’s primarily for investors but it’s more than just learning how to operate with your money. It’s a book about teaching you how to invest your time. Peter Bevelin wants to help you have an error-free life. By reading how some of the smartest people in the world think and avoid going bankrupt, you start to create your own strategies for handling the obstacles of life.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“Every action has consequences. Both intended and unintended. No matter how carefully we plan, we can’t anticipate everything. Often we fail to consider what other events are likely to occur as a result of some action.” Peter Bevelin

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5. Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charles T. Munger

Poor Charlies Almanack by Charles Munger cover

What’s the book about?

Seeking Wisdom is a great introduction to Munger’s (and Buffet’s) way of thinking. But if you want more of Charlie’s wisdom. It makes sense to get his Almanack and access his full backlog of thinking concepts. The book is more than just the biography of Charlie Munger. It’s also a masterfully organized volume of mental models and transcripts of lectures Munger gave in different universities and organizations.

Who is it for?

People who want to know the basics of business and thinking. While the main concepts of the book are rather obvious – be honest, be patient, be reliable; don’t fool yourself – it’s still a valuable read that has much to offer and remind.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“Acquire worldly wisdom and adjust your behavior accordingly. If your new behavior gives you a little temporary unpopularity with your peer group…then to hell with them.” Charles T. Munger

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6. Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian

Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian book cover

What’s the book about?

Consisting of 11 chapters, Algorithms to Live By offers solutions to a unique set of problems. The author masterfully explains complicated topics and showcases how these can be applied in our everyday lives. While it’s strange to hear a book talking both about how to approach hiring people and at the same time how to find an apartment. The underlying goal of the author is quite simple: Think better regardless of the situation.

Who is it for?

People who want to minimize regret. You might think, how is a book about algorithms useful for minimizing regret? Well, it’s showing how things like mathematics can be applied to daily situations we all face so you can prevent yourself from losing money, wasting time, looking like a fool, etc. When maintaining positivism and a well-balanced checkbook is observed through the lens of algorithms. And when you learn how to solve them. We learn how to have better outcomes.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“Even the best strategy sometimes yields bad results—which is why computer scientists take care to distinguish between “process” and “outcome.” If you followed the best possible process, then you’ve done all you can, and you shouldn’t blame yourself if things didn’t go your way.” Brian Christian

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7. Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

Metaphors We Live By book cover

What’s the book about?

Metaphors We Live By explains that the language we use to express our ideas is not only a form of transferring thoughts from our brain into the open world – where other people can hear them. The language we use and intake molds how we’ll approach things. This beautiful book aims to explain that our daily language is more than just words. It’s influential to how we think and behave.

Who is it for?

Teachers and scholars commonly cite this work. But it’s not only for linguists. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson want to help people understand how the metaphors we use shape the way we think and act. A simple example is when we’re debating with someone. We think of our response as a counter-argument. Like we are involved in warfare. When this happens, we are defensive. Careful with our next move which weakens our position. Instead, we can pick another metaphor – a dance. When we are dancing. We don’t want to defend ourselves. We want to have a good time – both for ourselves and for our partner.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“One can be both free and economically secure while leading a totally meaningless and empty existence.” George Lakoff

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8. Mental Models by Indi Young

Mental Models by Indi Young

What’s the book about?

These days, anyone with a keyboard can create a product. But designing a product aligned with the interests of the users is a whole other game. Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior teaches developers and managers how to approach their apps, sites, e-stores in a more human way. Instead of purely rational. To involve emotion in the overall layout and create a more desirable product.

Who is it for?

Product managers or UX designers who want to design the best product for their target audience will find this book quite appealing. Indi Young creates an engaging narrative around mental models about crafting not only a product that works. But a product the users will actually enjoy using.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

The deepest form of understanding another person is empathy…[which] involves a shift from…observing how you seem on the outside, to…imagining.”

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9. The Fifth Discipline by Peter M. Senge

The Fifth Discipline by Peter M. Senge book cover

What’s the book about?

When first published in 1990, The Fifth Discipline uncovered something that was considered radical for the time – getting better at learning. In times when learning was tightly related to the school system – meaning that when you are done with school, you are done with learning. The only companies that kept progressing were the ones that kept learning. The book traces the 5 types of learning disabilities that plague the minds of individuals – who, in turn, underperform – and how this can be corrected.

Who is it for?

Surely a book for managers who can’t seem to find a way to motivate their staff members but also for you and me. People who are interested in personal development and looking for ways to stay curious and inspired along the long journey of ongoing improvement. Part of the text will definitely feel redundant – because of the time the book was published and especially if you’ve already read Thinking in Systems, know about mental models in systems thinking, and similar. But the overall presentation of the material will upgrade your mind, so you can easily spot the core issues in what initially looked like a complex situation.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“Vision without systems thinking ends up painting lovely pictures of the future with no deep understanding of the forces that must be mastered to move from here to there.” Peter M. Senge

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10. The Decision Book by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler

The Decision Book by Mikael Krogerus book cover

What’s the book about?

Mostly a reference book, The Decision Book packages 50 mental models in a couple of different sections. As the title suggests, the goal is to help you make better decisions. What makes this book good is that you can use it to remind yourself about the metal models. Each of the thinking concepts is around 2 pages long and most of them have nice visualizations giving you an even better idea of what is presented.

Who is it for?

I think that the book is a great starting point for people who are new to the concept of mental models. But not only. Mental models veterans will surely find the packaging valuable to ensure that what was previously learned won’t be easily forgotten. It’s one of those short and sweet books that you can leave on your coffee table and check occasionally.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“Models do not define what or how we should think; they are the result of an active thought process.” Mikael Krogerus

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Some Closing Thoughts

The strange thing about mental models is that when you learn about them, you start to see them everywhere.

You are no longer tempted to buy something because of the good reviews on a website. You know that the site owners deliberately chose the statements to persuade newcomers that the product is legit (implementing mental models for entrepreneurs). Of course, bad reviews or components that are unuseful are omitted – carefully hidden.

Probably the most useful thing about mental models is that you start to see what was previously hidden.

Usually, we ignore everything that contradicts our initial assumption. We are only interested in things that confirm it.

When the concept of mental models is adopted. We deliberately think about ways to challenge our ideas. We want to be sure that what we think can stand the test of time.

And finally, if the books above don’t seem enough. Here’s one more: Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Probably one of the best books about thinking and mental models but I deliberately excluded it from the list because it’s mentioned in every site talking about books on mental models. Still, it’s worth mentioning. And if you want the gist, make sure to check my summary.

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