Best Books For Mental Models

Here are my favorite books for learning new mental models. For those of you that don’t know what mental models are, check out this site.

I prefer books that simply list out the models and give brief explanations. My goal is to use books to find the models that work (most don’t). Once I find an interesting model from a book, I’ll do my own research to really grasp its importance.

The explanations provided in these books aren’t necessarily /bad/, but they seem too short to provide much benefit on their own. The 50 physics ideas mentioned in the first book could have a whole book to themselves. Reading all of them would be time consuming. I’d rather get a basic overview of a model before deciding whether or not it is useful.

Here’s the list:

1. 50 Physics Ideas You Really Need to Know, by Joanne Baker
2. 50 Economics Ideas You Really Need to Know, by Edmund Conway
3. The Laws of History, by Graeme Donald Snooks
4. Influence: Science and Practice, by Robert Cialdini
5. The Biology Book, by Michael and Gloria Gerald

That’s a lot of mental models. Filter the lists and find what’s useful to you. If you want more, the 50 ____ Ideas series has plenty more books. So does The _____ Book series by Sterling. I’ve heard good things about The Math Book in particular, but the series is light on mental models compared to the 50 ____ series. That being said, they also provide information about tools and the like that were used to discover models. The context is nice.

There are lists of ideas that I consider mental models in non-book form as well. These lists are even more succinct than the books, and contain ideas that aren’t really mental models at all. Nevertheless, if you’re looking to find more models, the responses to the latest Edge Annual Question is hardly a bad place to start. If you get tired of that, try the 2011 Annual Question.

The high-bandwidth route to mental models is probably useful for anyone that wants to expand the number of models they use and reduce “man with a hammer” syndrome. You should remember that models are not useful by default. You absolutely need to filter if you’re learning models one after the other. I think it’s still worth doing. Best case scenario: you learn some useful mental models that can be applied to your everyday life. Worst case scenario: you know why bridges can easily fall down and how antibiotics work.


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