THE ART OF CLEAR THINKING by Rudolf Flesch
I absolutely cannot get enough of this book! I carried it in my purse for 2 years, reading it whenever I was at a stoplight, at the drive-thru of junk food palace, in line at the post office, etc. Every chapter had nuggets of solid gold sanity and common sense, divested of junk psychology or trendy rationalizations. First published by Collier Books in 1951, this edition was from 1965 — the 3rd printing. I also found a hardcover edition on eBay since my little paperback is coming undone from all the handling it got. This edition cost 95 cents. I found it in my parents’ closet and took it. I asked them about it, but since they hadn’t read it since they bought it, they couldn’t tell me much about it. I was hooked from about the 3rd chapter. Sure, some of the examples Flesch uses are outdated, but the reasoning is not.
It doesn’t provide convenient answers. It doesn’t wow you with graphs and charts and medical research or psychological data. It stays close to the human being. Getting to clear thinking is a bit like filling in a map as you go along. Everyone seems to get to the same destination via their own route — some arrow-straight, some circuitous.
Another thing I learned from reading this book is that if you think you know what "clear" thinking is, you don’t. You can only command it so far. You might know some of the stops on the way to clear thinking, but there’s a whole lot of gray area where things like intuition, muscle memory and synapse sparking take over and you can’t control that. You can’t be inspired on demand. So of course, one of the main ideas mentioned is that there’s still so much we don’t know about how the brain works. So much that, even 57 years after this book was published, there’s still so much unexplored territory.
The discourse is a bit dry throughout the book, but Flesch does have a Bob Newhart-ish "button-down mind" sense of humor. The title of Chapter 1 is "Robots, Apes, and You". Wow, that’s quite a spectrum. And he scores points with me by quoting one of my favorite authors, E. M. Forster: "Unless we remember, we cannot understand." For me, the most edifying chapter is Chapter 6, The Pursuit of Translation. It has me chasing down translations of Schopenhauer. I got so much out that chapter! Translating languages is like Total Gym for the mind, basically because you don’t just translate words, you translate ideas and experiences. So simply put, and it felt like a splash of champagne in my brain.
A book about thinking would be feeble without a discussion of logic and arguing. Flesch handles it in such an earthy, humanistic manner. I won’t tell you his bottom line, but I will leave you with some "fightin’ words": "When you argue with someone, you pit your organization of nerve patterns against his."